Education: Passed/Failed - Beryl Bainbridge
Thursday 19 February 1998
Preface? I wrote two novels - juvenilia - before I was 14. If your parents were trying to get you up the educational ladder, you didn't play with not-nice girls, which meant you didn't go out to play, so my mother bought me notebooks and I wrote indoors.
Top of the Formby? I went at four and a half to girls' college in Formby, just up the line from Liverpool. We did proper lessons. The only French I remember was what I learnt when I was five.
Beryl The Peril? At about the age of seven I went to Merchant Taylors', a girls' public school in Crosby. The teachers were all women, who were not allowed to get married. Miss Williamson was the maths teacher; she was terrible: short hair, a suit and very cross. She was instrumental in getting me expelled. Just before my 14th birthday a dirty rhyme was going round the school and it was my turn to have it. It was rather good and ended: "Pull down her protection and plug in the main connection." I illustrated it and left it in my gymslip, where my mother discovered it. She went to Miss Brash, the headmistress, and I was put on probation for the term. I was sent to Coventry at home and my brother wasn't allowed to speak to me. Miss Williamson wouldn't have me in her class and I had to go out to the corridor. Miss Peck, the English teacher, spoke up for me but I was expelled.
An Early Bath? It was very difficult to get into another school at this age. I'd been doing some drama on the side and had some acting awards. I could have gone to RADA but would have had to live in London in digs on my own, so my parents chose a ballet school offering some drama, then known as Cone-Ripman after the two ladies who ran it, in a house in Tring which had been built by Charles II for Nell Gwynne. It was an enormous leap from a Liverpool childhood to being with these posh girls. For the first six weeks I was enormously unpopular, until I did my "dares", which were to have a bath at two in the morning and to alter my regulation pyjamas by doing a cut-out as if they were a piece of paper.
Don't Take Your Daughter Out of Stage School, Mrs Bainbridge? I left at 15; the first my parents knew of it was when my blankets were sent home. The school was very expensive for my parents - and every time they came down for a half-term, there was always some row going on between them and I didn't want to leave her alone with him. I became an ASM at the Liverpool Playhouse. When a boy who was supposed to be coming down from Scotland for a Scottish play wasn't allowed to join us, I had my hair cut off and took the part.
Doctoring The Books? I have a Litt.D from Liverpool University - and Liverpool's John Moore's University gave me a Fellowship. After I gave a lecture to it, I was made a Fellow by The Hunterian Society - a knockout. It's a medical society, and my next book, Master Georgie, which is set in the time of the Crimean War, has some medicine in it.
Further Education? At the Liverpool Playhouse, I was sent off to art galleries and given reading lists by the actors. My late publisher, Colin Haycraft of Duckworth, in many ways acted as a teacher. He was immensely helpful in telling me how to do research. By the time I wrote the Titanic book, I knew how to use the London Library. Until 10 years ago I didn't know about translations: I always thought Proust wrote in English. I didn't know that "Bibliography" at the end of a book means that you can look things up in other books: I thought it was something to do with the Bible.
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