Overture & beginners? My very first school was a primary school in Surrey. I remember being taught to read by the traditional ABC, instead of look- say - that is, whole words at a time - which was fashionable when my children were at school. Ma would read aloud to us during the war while we knitted socks and sweaters for my father, who went back into the army, and blankets for children in the shelters.
Change of scene: We were evacuated to north Devon, where Dad was posted, and went to the church school in the village, where we learnt reading, writing, arithmetic and catechism, first in a north Devon accent and then, when evacuees arrived from Northfleet, in a cockney accent. In 1940 my mum took a job as under-matron at her old school, which had been evacuated from Eastbourne to Windermere; I got a bursary and spent eight years as a boarder. It was a smashing education; I regret being at a single-sex school, but I had a brother, so knew what guys were. I was among the last to do the School Certificate exam. Tim [husband Timothy West] actually was in the very last year to do School Cert and the first to do A-levels. I got nine As, very embarrassing.
Don't Put Your Daughter in the University, Mrs Worthington: I stayed a year in the sixth form and there was talk of Cambridge, but I wanted to go to drama school. At 17 and three months I went to the Old Vic School in London. This most remarkable and brilliant drama school lasted only six years because the Old Vic Theatre hadn't the money to go on funding it. It was run by the triumvirate of George Devine, who went on to found the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Michel St Denis and Glen Byam Shaw. Keith Michell was the year before me, Joan Plowright the same year.
Darling, were you wonderful? It was a baptism of fire. I wasn't highly regarded; they had given me a scholarship and then spent the next two years wondering why. My dad gave me a pound a week and I also had pounds 27 a year maintenance grant from Surrey County Council. Digs were only 30 bob [pounds 1.50] a week; it wasn't living like a prince but I wasn't worried about money. These days, councils very rarely give grants to dance and drama schools, which is awful.
The final curtain? I left with a screaming inferiority complex - and a job as an acting assistant stage manager at the Bristol Old Vic. In 1954 I was on Broadway for five months in The Matchmaker and went once a week to the classes of Uta Hagen, a theatrical guru whose teaching in retrospect illuminated the whole of my training at the Old Vic.
Best notices? Hon D Litts from Bradford and East Anglia universities; I've sworn that I'll do a thesis on the science of acting - one day. I am newly appointed president of the CPRE, which is a terrifically good organisation, taking over from David Puttnam and Jonathan Dimbleby, who are very hard acts to follow. Please ring 0800 163680 and ask for the Contract for the Countryside. Thank you very much!nReuse content