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The Worst of Times: I'd rather my nose had been smashed at school: Jeremy Brett talks to Danny Danziger

I REMEMBER the desolation when Mummy's car left and I was marooned. I found that so frightening. And having my own room made me instantly lonely. I cried the first night because I was alone.

Well, I was scared. I found the uniform alarming. I don't think black is a frightfully good idea for someone that young.

I remember the first morning trying to open my starched collar with a nail file so I could breathe. I was crippled by a kind of beauty, which was hell for me, and I got a lot of wrong responses.

I had blondish, long hair, and in a school full of boys that is the nearest thing to a girl you can get. It makes you very self-conscious. I watched other pretty boys do better than me.

I remember walking around holding my mouth differently, and out-staring people, and I cut my hair and poked at my face with a pin, and tried to infect the wound with dirt.

The older boys could send junior boys on errands, and I was sent by one of the top members of my house to take a message to a boy in another house. And when I got there, after a few minutes, I was aware that I had been sent for other reasons, and I began to retreat. He said: 'I want a picture of you, that's all.' But I felt threatened by him, and frightened by the fact I had been set up by the boy in my house.

But you never told your parents you were unhappy, because you knew, especially me, the youngest of four, that it was costing them practically everything they had to keep you there.

I was beaten a great deal. You had to wait until after the beating when they asked: 'Do you have anything to say?' You would say: 'No.' 'You may leave,' they then said. And you must then say: 'Thank you.'

The first time, I got up, and out of panic, I immediately said thank you. 'Oh,' they said, 'he likes it, bend over,' and I got another five. I got 158 strokes altogether, which now seems unbelievable.

Sometimes I wasn't quite certain why I was being beaten. I hope they got their kicks . . . but that made me very bitter.

The experience haunted me for quite a time after I left. It made me very unsure of my gender, because I was attractive. When girls found me attractive, that was the most enormous relief.

I went to drama school, and I overheard two girls talking about me: they were saying that I was attractive, and I ran back to my digs and had a look at myself in the mirror.

Later on, I had my nose smashed, on stage at the National Theatre. I wish I had had it smashed at school, if I was going to have it smashed at all, it would have been nice to have had it done then.

I have seen people who have gone through that school and had a wonderful, mesmeric time, a beautiful time, full of education, full of friendship. They stepped out the other side, and it has not rippled across their psyches. And I envy that, I really envy that.

It gave me an enormous amount of anger: I can't think of Eton except with rage. And for many years I used to have a nightmare that I was back there. But that's gone now. I've had such a wonderful life since.

I'm now playing a part as Sherlock Holmes where I'm wearing almost exactly what I wore at Eton, the tucked-under tie, the black frock coat, I'm almost dressed the same. It's very strange, extraordinary.

(Photograph omitted)