Bob Dylan is turning 80. Happy birthday to the man who taught me about gratitude – and shame | Adrian Chiles

I can link big moments of my life to the great man. It’s just unfortunate that some of the memories make me wince

I had been looking forward to reading and listening to all the stuff marking Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday. Then I heard a trail for a radio play called Dinner With Dylan, going out on Saturday afternoon. The title jolted me back 40 years to a dark moment of shame and embarrassment in my otherwise pretty blameless school days. It was 1981, when I was 14, and long before I had a Dylan collection to rival anybody’s. In fact I can only have been dimly aware of the great man when I saw a BBC2 Playhouse drama called Bobby Wants to Meet Me. It was, as the name suggests, about someone building up to meeting Mr Dylan; I can’t remember if the meeting did or didn’t happen, I’m afraid. What I do know is that this play made a great impression on me. It must have done, because a few weeks or months after it went out, upon being set a creative-writing task, I wrote a fine piece of prose entitled Bobby Wants to Meet Me. I suppose a more competent cheat would have nicked the idea but covered their tracks by bothering to think up a different title. Not me.

The English teacher concerned was a Miss Curtis. I always got the impression she didn’t much like me, and this unhappy incident may well be the reason. She enjoyed my piece of writing very much indeed, she said, and gave me a very high mark for it. She may even have accorded me the honour of reading it out to my sullenly impressed classmates. I remember feeling very proud, notwithstanding my dirty little secret. As the weeks passed, worries that my plagiarising ways would be exposed ebbed away. Miss Curtis, unfortunately, had somehow come to smell a rat. Perhaps, I fondly imagined, she rated my piece so highly that she had mentioned it to a fellow member of staff for whom the title rang a bell. Or maybe, in lining the cat litter with pages from an old Radio Times, something caught her eye. Either way, I was soon to find out that the game was up.

It was at the beginning of an English lesson, as the class was settling down, that Miss Curtis looked at me and said: “Adrian, could you stay behind after the lesson, please?” This was, as Dylan wrote in another context, a corkscrew to my heart. The minutes inched by; never did a lesson pass so slowly. As everyone filed out, I remained in my seat staring at the desk, my head bowed in dishonour. She opened my homework book at the relevant page for me to see she had crossed out the very high mark she’d given me and awarded a low one in its place. To be fair, she could have stretched out the agony a lot longer than this by giving me the chance to deny any wrongdoing and talk myself into yet greater trouble. As it was, I just pleaded, with a meekness meek enough to inherit the Earth, that “I only copied the title”. This didn’t wash.

On the countless occasions I have winced at this memory over the years, I always assumed that what I was feeling was guilt. Having now written it down, I realise it was never guilt at all; it was only the shame and embarrassment arising from being caught. On reflection, I am even more displeased with myself than Miss Curtis was.

I have another wince-inducing, Dylan-related memory. When I got a big job at ITV, I was chatting to the then controller, the suave, urbane and generally very nice Peter Fincham. It turned out that he, like me, was a big Dylan fan but with 10 times as much material in his collection. A couple of days later, he gave me an iPod with his entire Dylan hoard on it. I was blown away with this generosity; speechless, in fact. I was equally speechless not that many years later when he sacked me. I bear Peter no ill will, though – especially because he never asked for his iPod back.

• Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist


Adrian Chiles

The GuardianTramp

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