Actor turned Russian teacher creates course for tongue-tied teens

School leavers in the 21st century need to be able to hold an audience and must cast off the tongue-tied teen image that suggests inexperience if they are going to succeed, according to actor-turned-Brighton College teacher Basher Savage.

The Russian teacher, who has starred alongside George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Brad Pitt in World War Z as well as playing Russian charmer Dimitry in Radio 4’s Ambridge Extra fans for two years, has created what the school believes to be the country’s first Presentation Skills course for Year 9 pupils after head Richard Cairns decided his students needed more confidence when speaking to audiences.

The course sees the teenagers mimicking Churchill’s and Malcom X’s speeches, examining Colin Firth as George VI in The King’s Speech and copying the physical mouth shapes of Mersey poet and BBC R4’s Poetry Please presenter Roger McGough.

There are no exams or tests set and homework is fun, with tasks such as “find an object that characterises your voice and be able to explain why” and “select an accent and practise it”.

Said Mr Savage: “I start the course off by asking the children what they want to do when they are adults. The answers, whatever they are, (and they are as varied as professional footballer to Apple executive) all require the ability to be able to speak in an interesting and engaging way, whether it be in a post-match interview or at a business conference. The confidence and ability to speak publicly and sound interesting are key to so many careers in the 21st century – more so than ever before – and it’s crucial that children know that tortured tongue-tied appearances in front of an audience will not help their careers at all.”

The former Oxford University Russian student fell into acting after landing a place on the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and it was there that he first realised the importance of presenting well.

“Lots of the non-acting technical people at Bristol – the lighting crew, the sound engineers, the carpenters and electricians – all used to say how great it would be to get the training we were getting on how to project yourself and come across effectively and I remembered that when the headmaster at school asked me to put the course together. It just makes perfect sense.”

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Mr Savage says he does not know of any other similar course to his in UK schools at the moment.


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