Bernice Rubens

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The Independent Online

Bernice Rubens was for a short time my English teacher at Burgess Hill School, an eccentric progressive school in Hampstead, writes Nicholas Tucker [further to the obituary by Peter Guttridge and Dame Beryl Bainbridge, 15 October]. A fiery, determined presence fresh from her university course, she took some time to adapt to our informal educational ways.

After an unsuccessful lesson on the principles of parsing, she took the unheard of step of setting the resident school clown an essay on discipline by way of punishment. When it came back, it consisted of two large ink blots. Over the first, he had written, "I think Bernice is lousy"; over the second, "And discipline." Faced by the enormity of such cheek, Bernice simply had to laugh. After that, she became more relaxed. Asked when her future husband was going to give her an engagement ring, she replied, "When he gets it off the chicken's leg."

Later on, despite never having had a dancing lesson in her life, she appeared briefly on the London stage performing the dance of the seven veils in Oscar Wilde's play Salome. The progress of each discarded veil was faithfully recorded in a two-page picture spread in Illustrated, a popular magazine at the time. I bought my own copy, partly to boast to friends at different schools about my new English teacher. Shortly afterwards she left, by now a popular as well as a glamorous figure in all our lives.

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