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CONTROVERSY IN CLASS; Phil Gould meets an actor who has changed the way we look at teachers forever.

Byline: Phil Gould

HE is still best remembered as one of the stars of cult series This Life, but now Andrew Lincoln is finding life at the chalk face much more to his liking.

He has just returned to our screens as Simon in Channel 4's controversial drama Teachers. It is the first time the channel has ever re-commissioned a drama series.

The first series featured drunkenness, smoking in the toilets, practical jokes and bullying - and that was just Simon and his staffroom colleagues. But the show became a hit with TV audiences.

Lincoln says: "I think Teachers is quite irreverent. It's quite refreshing.

One of the principal reasons why I decided to do it was because the teachers were not angst-ridden.

"It is just a light-hearted look at a group of friends who happen to be teachers. It is more about the characters. The kids in the show are more with it than the staff. They are all a bit tragic really, " he laughs.

The 28-year-old actor reveals he called on some expert advice close to home for the show as his older brother Richard is a teacher in real life.

"Richard teaches religious education and philosophy in Surrey. He read some of the scripts and said they were great. He told me stories that, frankly, are a damn sight worse than even the most provocative ones in this series. I shouldn't really tell you this, but his headteacher told him that the official line was they could not stand the show but he told him to tell me 'nice one'."

Born in Hull, the son of a civil engineer and nurse, Lincoln moved to Bath at the age of 10 where he went to a boys only comprehensive. "We were ruled with a rod of iron, " he says. "But not in a Christian Brothers kind of way, just very disciplined. I loved school. I had a really good time, even though I just coasted along. I was a bit of a joker and unruly. I used to giggle a lot - I still do now."

It was at school that Lincoln got his first encouragement to try acting. "The maths teacher, Mr Scrine, got me off the rugby pitch and into auditions for Oliver, " he recalls. "I played the Artful Dodger and our sister school was at the bottom of the hill, so rehearsals were the only time we got to meet up with the girls - that was a bonus."

Lincoln went on to train at top drama school RADA and, after the huge success of This Life, he was asked back to his Alma Mater for prize day - but he declined. "It had become a grant maintained school and I objected to that, so I refused to go."

Life changed dramatically for the actor as a result of the interest in the cult programme about a group of twentysomething lawyers. He was Egg, short for Edgar, a trainee lawyer who decided he was not cut out for a legal career and decided to run a local cafe.

"At the time, we made the most of the fame game. When it came out, all of us got very excited and probably pushed it a little bit too far, " he admits with hindsight.

He enjoyed all the showbiz invitations and even found himself attending the TV show An Audience With Elton John. For some time he dated actress Tara Fitzgerald, whom he met when they starred in the BBC drama The Woman In White.

But these days Lincoln is adopting a more down to earth approach to life and you are more likely to find him in his local pub than at a night spot in London's West End.

"I decided not to go to the premiere parties and hang out with people I don't know, " he explains. "I did it - that's why I don't do it now. I don't see it as part of my world and I'd prefer to be out with friends. If you act like a celebrity, then you get treated like one and I don't want to be. It must be exhausting to be a public commodity 24 hours a day."

Lincoln admits that Teachers is controversial but thinks this might even encourage people to join the profession. "Obviously people are going to be upset by it, and rightly so. But they should see it for what it is: just a bit of fiction that's quite humorous.

"In This Life you saw us lot as lawyers, doing drugs and sleeping with each other's parents - and I'm told applications to train in law went up by 30pc. So perhaps I'm doing my bit for teacher recruitment."

Teachers S4C, Wednesday, 10.30pm

CAPTION(S):

LEARNING CURVE: 'It is just a light-hearted look at a group of friends who happen to be teachers, ' Andrew Lincoln's response to critics of Teachers
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Media
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2002
Words:812
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