Neil Franklin, 76, of Yaxley, first qualified as a driving instructor in November 1978, but after helping almost 2000 people in Peterborough to pass their tests he has decided to call time on a career spanning over 46 years.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I hope my learners have also”, he said. “I apologise to them all - having to listen to my constant moaning and picking them up on whatever they consider to be a minor fault. But in the end it was all worth it when they all got their licences.”
Mr Franklin made the decision to retire when a knee replacement operation which he was supposed to have in November last year was delayed because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“I would have gone on but I needed to have a knee replacement operation”, he said. “As a driving instructor, whenever you need to be off for an operation you have to run your book down, so I ran my book all the way down to just four lessons in November and then the operation was cancelled.
“I was left with a blank book and no operation. My last four have all now passed their tests so I had nothing left in my book and I thought to myself it was time to pack it in.”
Mr Franklin was Peterborough's longest serving full-time driving instructor. He has seen it all from the passenger’s seat of 13 dual controlled learner cars, clocking up well over one million miles.
“It’s all about anticipation”, he said. “A good driving instructor will always see the mistake coming before it’s performed.”
“I once had a customer who, believe it or not, didn’t know which way to turn the wheel. When she wanted to turn right she would turn the wheel left.
“After a bit of investigating I learnt that she was a boat person. So when she would turn a rudder at the back of a boat she would pull it the other way.
“We had a near miss and nearly ended up in a dike in between the back of Perkins and Thorney. It was only at the last minute that I looked down into the dike and managed to get on the pedals.”
When Mr Franklin first qualified as a driving instructor Peterborough’s test centre was based on the site of the old airfield on Saville Road. The centre then moved to Lincoln Road before returning to Saville Road and it is now located in Second Drove, Fengate.
“When learners are on test their minds completely go sometimes because they get so totally involved with what’s going on.
“I once had someone who was driving along and got caught up in a funeral procession. They were driving down the road and as the funeral procession pulled into the church the learner followed and pulled in behind.
“All the mourners got out to go into the church and the examiner turned to the pupil and said: ‘did you know the diseased?’ He responded: ‘no’, to which the examiner said: ‘well we better drive on then please!’”
After 46 years as an instructor Mr Franklin has taught several generations of families in Peterborough how to drive. One of his former students recently followed in Franklin’s footsteps and qualified as driving instructor. He has even been recognised while on holiday in Spain.
“I’ve always loved it”, he said. “You meet different people everyday and a lot of those become friends.”
“I was sat in a restaurant on holiday in Spain once and this girl sat opposite me on another table kept looking at me. We both recognised each other and eventually when she finished her meal she walked by and said: ‘excuse me…are you Neil?’ I said that I was and she said: ‘you taught me how to drive!’.
“I’m not very good with names and faces because when you’re teaching someone to drive you’re mainly looking ahead. But when they tell me where they live and give me their address then it immediately comes back because it’s where you pick them up from.”
And what’s next for Neil after retiring?
“I’ll miss it”, he admitted. “I’ve got three children and six grandchildren and I’ve got a lot of gardening to do - so that’s what I’ll be doing.”