Before we found out what he’d been up to, half the girls at Weald fancied Mr. Rogers. Of course we did; it was an all girls grammar school and he was the only male teacher under thirty. We didn’t mind that he was a maths geek, at a time when NHS specs and ankle-swinging chinos weren’t a mark of roguish self-awareness and a killer record collection but a sign that you lived with your mother. Think Christian Slater in ‘He Was a Quiet Man’.
Mr. Rogers was in a band. That fact alone put him right up there with Alex James from Blur (this was well before the Tory-voting, cheese-farming crisis), even though it was the Salvation Army band and he played trombone. What did we know about music anyway? Most of my classmates thought ‘Now 35’ was the greatest album ever released.
It was the shock news of Mr. Rogers ‘moonlighting’ that surpassed even his rock-star appeal. On the afternoon we were called to an emergency afternoon assembly so the headmistress could deliver ‘the facts’, and thus strategically minimise wild gossip, our mild-mannered maths teacher went up to number one in fantasy boyfriend status for the other fifty percent of the school.
“Girls, you must stop sending cards and flowers to the police station. Mr. Rogers has been moved to a high-security prison where they do not allow gifts.” The head informed us, in customary Helen Mirren-like fashion.
“Shit”, I whispered to the lass beside me, “I can’t believe this is really happening”.
That morning, I’d heard the news from Katie Robbins the second I stepped through the main gate. She was known for telling massive lies, so I had at first brushed it off with the same disdain as when she told me that her family had been staying at the Whitehouse over half term because her mum was having an affair with Bill Clinton.
“Rach, guess what?” Katie had said with unreserved glee. “Mr. Rogers has been arrested for armed robbery. He’s been holding up off-licenses with a sawn-off shot-gun.”
“Yeah right.” I’d said. “Hey, weren’t you supposed to be going into a hospice at the weekend? I though you said that disease you picked up in Africa last summer was terminal?”
“Oh no”, Katie replied, “They’ve just found a cure so I can still do my GCSE’s. The drugs have some pretty bad side-effects though. I’ll probably be bald soon.”
“That is some really bad luck.” I’d told her.
Clusters of girls in Burgundy sweaters were forming on the main steps. The words ‘Rogers’ and “shot-gun” peppered the air around me. Wow, Katie’s fibs were nothing if not compelling. Conversation that day focused on little else and we managed to work out why Mr. Rogers had done it before it was officially confirmed that he had.
You know how Sainsbury’s opens for 24 hours in the run-up to Christmas? Well, we remembered someone saying they had been dragged in for a midnight turkey purchase and seen Mr. Rogers mopping the floor by the fish-counter. Then someone else had seen him coming out of William Hill the bookies on a Saturday afternoon. These suspicious sightings, added to an analysis of his teaching style; delivered mainly to the toes of his Clarkes shoes, or tiredly towards the window, with homework kept to a minimum, led us to the obvious conclusion: he had a secret family in Eastern Europe and he had to earn extra money to send to them for clothes and food whilst he tried to make it in the music business over here.
“I just can’t imagine him saying, ‘GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY, BITCH!’ can you?” I said to the others. “I thought he was a born-again Christian.”
In that nail-biting assembly, our Headmistress corroborated the line that Mr. Rogers was a Christian of one denomination or another. Apparently, a sixth-form girl had been working in the third off-license he held to ransom, and wracked with guilt at ramming algebra down her throat one day and shoving a gun in her face the next, he had broken down and confessed all to his mother (we were right about that too; he did still live with her). Mrs. Rogers senior had then convinced her son to turn himself in to the police, as it was the moral thing to do.
The head looked oddly proud when she announced that if he hadn’t confessed, they would never have caught him. “He was a very methodical man and left no evidence whatsoever.” She said, whilst running the fingertips of one hand lightly over her silk bloused bosom.
The Eastern European family angle was proven somewhat off the mark. It turned out instead that Mr. Roger’s was a gambling addict and had been trying to get himself out of a seemingly insurmountable debt. When we were told this, a lot of girls started crying. I was tempted, but I held back because, I’m ashamed to say, my grief was born out of selfishness more than sympathy. That was it; I wouldn’t one day after leaving school bump into him in Bentall’s department store and have him fall in love with me. We’d never smoke Heroin together on his tour-bus. And I’d probably fail GCSE maths because there was no longer a reason to do my homework.
Mr. Rogers criminal activity was hot gossip for about a week and then sadly, he just became someone we used to fantasise about. The Omagh bomb and the Monica Lewinski sex scandal were of far greater import to our parents (Katie’s mum must have been especially affected); and for us, it was time to find a new heartthrob. By 1998, Brit-pop was as dead as Mr. Rogers career, we couldn’t just go back to fancying Alex James.
Mr. Rogers got 4 years. I was moved down to the bottom maths set, but scraped a B in the exam.
Here’s some evidence that I didn’t just make all that up:
By Rachel James