Education & Family

Kick-starting a campaign for better manners

Boot Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The idea of a club to boost manners began with an unapologetic kick

There are not many projects about manners and morals that begin with someone being kicked in the leg by a stranger.

But Howard Jameson's inspiration for a project to promote respect among young people began when he was the victim of an unprovoked kick in the leg from a child while walking in London's West End.

The theatre owner and entrepreneur described the moment: "A child kicked me and looked at me - and I said 'What's that for?'"

Mr Jameson approached the child's father. "I said, 'Excuse me your child has just kicked me for no apparent reason'.

"And he just looked at me. He didn't want to know. I asked him again and he thought I was confronting him.

"I said it's up to you to teach your child some respect and manners."

From that event, Mr Jameson decided he wanted to do something to encourage young people to behave in a way that was more positive, so that they could get their kicks in other ways than from the shins of strangers.

Lack of respect

"That sentiment stayed in my mind - and as a result I thought why have kids lost their respect and manners?"

Mr Jameson said that he spoke to a teacher to get their perspective. "They said that's nothing to what they have to handle in school."

Image caption Howard Jameson says improving manners will help young people's chances of getting a job

The result is being launched this month in a Kids Learning Club - a campaign which wants to teach "morals, manners and life skills".

With an initial base in his Jermyn Street Theatre, he is setting up a free Saturday morning club where young people can take part in learning activities and exercise and make friends - with the underlying intention to develop social skills and a more respectful way of behaving.

There will also be a bus taking the project to other venues in London.

This might sound like an old-fashioned ambition, but Mr Jameson says it has a very modern purpose - for young people who he says can be connected to their mobile phones, but not their parents or other people.

"We live in a digital age, but we still have to communicate with people, we still have to socialise, have to learn how to share, learn to be better citizens. Technology can't always give those values.

"I want a better understanding of manners, how you should conduct yourself. More respect, more consideration. Not just taking things for granted. People are very 'I want'."

Power of play

If this sounds like something of a leap in the dark, it won't be the first time.

Mr Jameson runs a theatre that has made its name by putting on experimental plays, new writers and challenging modern drama.

Image caption Howard Jameson put on the first stage production of Samuel Beckett's All That Fall

This included a high-profile world premiere of a Samuel Beckett play, All That Fall, produced by Trevor Nunn and starring Michael Gambon, which then transferred to New York.

Was this because he was a big fan of the great Irish dramatist?

Not really because Mr Jameson says he entered the theatre world as someone knowing nothing about such plays.

"The only time I was involved in the theatre was seeing Sooty with my kids. I was involved in nothing except working," he deadpans.

When it came to a playwright like Beckett, he says he came at it with complete honesty, having no pre-conceptions.

That applied to much of the theatre world, when he started putting on plays in the mid-1990s.

"I had no idea. Someone said we needed an artistic director - and I said, what's he going to do, paint the walls?"

Old-school entrepreneur

But as a late convert to the theatre, Mr Jameson is a passionate advocate of its power and its mood-altering impact on audiences.

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Image caption Theatres have a powerful ability to transform moods, says Mr Jameson

"You don't know what a person's difficulties are in life, but they come to the theatre and for two hours their emotions are transformed. It's not a tablet, but it's like a drug.

"Actors are spiritual healers, they transform people's emotions. We change things through the written and spoken word."

What makes his involvement in theatre - and his passion for education - even more striking is that he is dyslexic and has struggled with the written word.

His school did not recognise problems such as dyslexia and he says he was badly bullied. While still a child, he says he ended up selling "four coat hangers for a penny in Ridley Road Market" in London's East End.

Missing out on school turned him into an entrepreneur, working in everything from City dealing houses to diamond setters to setting up car boot sales, after seeing how they were expanding in the US.

As well as an entrepreneurial drive, he says his tough early years gave him a great dislike of bullies and a willingness to stand up for people who needed help.

He says his old-school, give-it-a-go approach to entrepreneurialism would stand little chance now in a business world dominated by technology and university qualifications.

"They've lost life skills," says Mr Jameson. "Technology has taken over from the entrepreneur."

But he says that his manners and morals projects will give young people skills that will help them in any line of work.

"If they've got good manners, people will always want to associate with them."

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