I was born in Bournemouth, Dorset which was the biggest centre of ELT teaching in the UK outside of London, so it was inevitable that I would eventually get involved with ELT. I studied American Studies / Political Studies at Hull University with a Drama subsiduary. My first ELT job was as a first year university student teaching eight German teenagers in my mother’s front room, which was a pleasant change from selling ice cream on the beach. I used to call the material English for Zookeepers because it consisted of lists of things like ‘An ass brays. An ape gibbers’ and ‘drake, duck, duckling’. I had the sense to toss it in the bin and evolve strategies for teaching from Beatles, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan lyrics instead and soon doubled my class size. This was highly beneficial, because you were paid £1 per student per week. I did that for four summers. In the evenings, I was a lime light operator at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, casting the beam on Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Cooper, Tom Jones and Ken Dodd among others. One of the most useful bits of teacher training was watching someone do the same act twice-nightly, telling the same stories and jokes, six nights a week for an entire summer.
I went on to do a research MA in English and American Studies supervised by Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia, on Hollywood & The Novel, and then briefly worked as a road manager with what later became a well-known rock band. I fully intended to teach film studies, but I got diverted. The band were taking time off the road to work in new members and work on a new album, so I thought I’d work for a couple of months teaching. I re-entered ELT at the Anglo-Continental School of English in early 1971, where my first supervisor was Colin Granger, I sat next to Guy Wellman in the staffroom, and Leo Jones was just upstairs. Alan McInnes, who employed me and was the Director of Studies, was a major influence, especially on the need for clear, transparent, foolproof teachers notes. He told me to spend my first day watching Colin and Guy teach, and at 9 o’clock the next morning I was in front of a class clutching what was known to students as “the monkey book” but to others as Success With English by Geoffrey Broughton. It was illustrated by Quentin Blake, soon to be a major children’s illustrator and I hated the pictures in that series. So much so that when Quentin Blake was put forward as the potential illustrator for my first book, Survival English, I vetoed the choice. Then I handed back the roughs … originals. They’re probably worth a great deal now.
Anglo-Continental produced much of its own teaching material, and we were encouraged to write and record from an early stage. In those days, they believed that the school should have distinct material. Colin was writing a series of dialogues about two old men called Bill & Fred, who did all the normal structural/ functional / situational stuff but were ancient, crabby, crusty old boys. It worked perfectly with younger students, and often Colin would write in the morning, then we’d spend lunchtime recording the dialogues in the school studio, and we’d teach them the next morning. I assumed that was what everyone did. I also assumed that a humorous larger-than-life situation worked better than a bland one.
There was a weekly stage show for students, run by Colin Granger, and the restaurant converted to a 400 seat theatre, which was always full. I told Colin I’d done a drama subsiduary and I was soon taking part with Colin and Guy. In vain I explained that I’d specialized in production not acting. I met my wife and co-author Karen when she was brought in to do shows. In 1971, there were only two women teachers on the staff (!) and we had serious trouble finding women to do the shows. Karen had studied drama with Nick Keeping (short obituary linked here) who was also teaching there, and Nick introduced her.
Guy, Karen & Peter, Bournemouth, November 1971
When Colin left in September 1971, he bequeathed me the role of producer, for which I am eternally grateful. I started co-writing seriously with Karen, turning out new stage sketches on a weekly basis, as well as an annual pantomime for host families and students. We split duties between production (me) and direction (Karen). See here for pictures from the shows. We brought in my old friends John Hutcheson on Hammond organ and Dave Thompson on drums, and soon had a three-piece group backing us. When John left, ELT author Roy Kingsbury replaced him on piano.
With Nick Keeping in J.P. Donleavy’s short play “Peach Shoes” 1972
By 1975, I was Head of Elementary Studies at ACSE and was also writing with John Curtin (link to In Memoriam page) on new material for ACSE London. That became a very early precursor of Survival English and was published by Mary Glasgow. Karen was published just before I was with English Food, a Mary Glasgow reader. We organized two conferences for ARELS (The Association of Recognized Language Schools) on Teaching Through Drama and Teaching Beginners.
4th July 1975, in Corfu
Streamline English with Bernie Hartley followed in 1978, and I started touring the world doing teacher-training and seminars (see here for a list). The first tour I ever did was in Italy, with Paola Silvestrini of OUP / La Nouva Italia and Keith Rose, the editor of Streamline. I still remember the best pizza of my life in Naples, then a meal of two packs of peanuts at Milan airport the next evening during a cabin crew strike.
The first major conference I spoke at was in Athens at the Hilton in 1979.
PALSO Conference, Athens, 1979
At ACSE, the system involved students having four classroom lessons and three “lectures” a day, with lectures running simultaneously for the three departments, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced. As a result, I spoke to 150 to 200 students five or six times a week, and the weekly drama show was 400 +, so I wasn’t terrified by speaking to 500 in Athens. I enjoyed speaking, listening and socializing with other authors, and I have sharp memories of putting the world of ELT to rights in the hotel coffee shops and bars with Robert O’Neill and Brian Abbs.
Athens, 1979, Robert O’Neill on left. The topic must have been very serious.
Bernie Hartley and I split the touring. I became the visitor to Italy, Greece, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland. Bernie did France, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay. We both did Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia. Later when Bernie had stopped touring, I added France, and then Hungary and Poland.
The rest of the Streamline series and American Streamline followed.
In the mid 80s, I started writing videos and working with Karen again, as well as developing the Storylines Graded Reader series. Our first video was A Weekend Away, followed by A Week By The Sea then Mystery Tour, with Bob Baker. Bob Baker is an experienced TV scriptwriter and taught us a great deal. He was also the scriptwriter of the three Wallace and Gromit animations, so we were to meet him again, years later. Video takes us back to where Karen and I met, and started with comic situations and dialogues. We believed fervently that within a few years teachers would be using video in every lesson. How wrong we were.
In 1989, Mystery Tour was Highly-Commended in the Duke of Edinburgh English Language Competition, Buckingham Palace, London
At that time I also wrote the Departures in Reading and Connections in Reading series which combined intensive reading, reading skill development and extensive reading with a full-length story, a graded reader in itself, in each of the six books.
OUP Grapevine One catalogue picture, 1989
We specialized in video for several years, then co-wrote Grapevine (with an integrated video component) and its American version, Main Street. We added original songs, for which I did the lyrics and Vince Cross did the music. Grapevine was important to us. I had been so closely identified with Streamline for so long that I was keen to get away from that. Bernie had stopped writing altogether, and Karen and I wanted to establish our own identity as co-writers with textbooks as well as with video. Grapevine Two remains one of our favourite books, and the course was successful wherever it was promoted strongly. I’m always delighted when teachers tell me they learned English themselves through Streamline and that the fun approach made them want to teach. But secretly I’m even more pleased when they cite Grapevine as the inspiration.
Long Island, NY, 1995
Main Street leads to the Only in America video filmed in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey, which was Edward Norton’s first professional film role and it was a thrill to work with someone whose work was so stunning that the crew applauded after takes.
OUP stand with Handshake, Bangkok 1997
In the mid-90s we did one of the first (and last) ELT books with a Communication Skills syllabus, Handshake. Handshake was the most innovative book we’ve done, and we’re both particularly proud of it. We wrote a one hour video with a continuing story to go with it which was cancelled. It’s one of our best scripts, but has simply gathered dust.
Answering questions after the talk, Mexico City February 1997
Around the same time Heinemann approached John Curtin and me with a proposal to write a new course with the title and general approach of Survival English. I wrote the Student Book (which has little connection to the Mary Glasgow original beyond the title), and John was to write the Teacher’s Book and Workbook. He was too involved with other work in Brazil, and Anne Watson, working from France, wrote the accompanying books instead. To this I added Basic Survival, working on my own, with Anne again adding the extra components. I later rewrote both and they were republished by Macmillan in 2004.
Karen and I maintained our position of switching between work in British and American English, visiting the USA, where our oldest son lives and works, frequently. Karen and I have worked extensively in video, and we adapted the three Wallace & Gromit animations A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave into ELT versions, as well as writing the three part English Channel video series and then the IN English textbook series for OUP. We did a play for classroom use for Penguin, Striker.
On location, filming Double Identity Episodes 7 & 8, 1999
After the publication of IN English, we started doing joint talks, on IN English, Illustration in ELT books and A History of ELT dialogue.
Karen and Peter, July 2005, Bournemouth
We visited Poland, then toured the UK, Japan, Hungary and Italy with the joint talk. When you do these talks you’re reliant on people giving you photos, and our co-presenter in Hungary, Steve Jones, took lots.
A History of ELT Dialogue: Budapest December 2005.
We’re acting out a one thousand year old “teacher / pupil” dialogue by Aelfric The Grammarian.
We co-wrote the eighty video scripts for the My Oxford English project for OUP Spain, which was a huge scriptwriting task. There are ten levels, with eight episodes in each. There are nine “threads” or storylines which re-appear in the different levels. When we look back at video characters we wrote, Kevin and Sharon (played by David Jansen and Debbie Arnold) from our first two videos stand out. Then in the Grapevine series, the silent character, Dennis Cook (played by Steve Steen), stands out. In My Oxford English, everyone’s favourite strand was the celebrity couple Dallas and Tania. Dallas is an England footballer and Tania is a supermodel.
I turned to the reading problems of students from non-Roman alphabet cultures, a subject dear to my heart, and spoke around England on my book Fast Track to Reading (Garnet), as well as a visit to TESOL Arabia in Dubai. In 2010, Fast Track was shortlisted for the British Council ELTON‘s award for innovation.
TESOL Arabia 2010, Dubai, Garnet Education stand
Early in 2011, we re-issued our first videos, A Weekend Away and A Week By The Sea, on one DVD, with new study guides. The Study Guides feature the exercise types we had developed over the subsequent eleven video series. These are published by Three Vee, our publishing company.
Current work in progress is centred around the Storylines series of readers, which OUP had put out of print. I have completely rewritten the wordlists and the grading system, with major structural changes between levels. I also rewrote all the stories to fit the new grading scheme and also updated and lengthened them slightly. They have been re-published by Garnet Education as Oracle Readers. There are new titles too, and The Case Of The Dead Batsmen was a finalist in the Extensive Reading Foundation’s Language Learner Literature Award in 2013.
My adaptation of Wuthering Heights in the new Oracle Classics series was a Finalist in the 2015 Language Learner Literature Awards.
From 2016 on, I am also series consultant for Usborne English Readers.
Work in progress is divided between two non-ELT projects, a book on British & American English, and Around & Around a book on vinyl records and record collecting.
I review plays, films and concerts here. Theatre going has gone from an interest to a semi-obsession.
I’m currently working on two play scripts.
We live in Poole, Dorset. Our older son lives in Brooklyn, and our younger son (mainly) in China. Our daughter lives near us in Poole, and we have five grandchildren.
Three Vee now has a fiction list, and my fiction titles are under the pseudonym Dart Travis, not from a desire for secrecy, but to keep them clearly separate from the ELT writing and non-fiction work.
There are two Dart Travis projects in the writing stages, Japanese Affairs and a second collection of short stories, Rolling Down The Road.
Dart Travis titles include theELT trilogy, set in 1972, then 1982 then 1985:
The Sixties Trilogy consists of:
there is a related series of short stories:
I’ll Tell Everything I Know (1964-65)
June 2010, Tintern
August 2012 San Francisco
Our website is at www.viney.uk.com
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