Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Edward Fox, actor

'Harrow wasn't the school for me'


Edward Fox OBE, 70, is a star of big and small screen, and stage. His many films include The Day of the Jackal and The Importance of Being Earnest, and his television work includes Edward and Mrs Simpson. He is the brother of the actor James Fox and is married to the actress Joanna David. He is currently starring in John Mortimer's Legal Fictions at the Savoy Theatre, London, which runs until 26 April

Miss Steele was a lady with beautiful soft, flowing silver hair, and she ran a marvellous infants school in the darkest years of the war. We'd moved from Chelsea to Cuckfield, in West Sussex, and I went to her school in Haywards Heath. There was no money around, so how she got paid I don't know. I remember happiness there.

At eight, I was a border at Ashfold School near Handcross, also in West Sussex. It was run by such kind, brilliant, eccentric and wonderfully English staff. Miss Ticehurst, who was known as "Tishy" and taught music, was one of the great teachers. The headmaster was James Harrison. If there was a caterpillar on his lettuce, he would eat it, to teach us not to be dripping wet. There was no question of complaining.

If a misdemeanour was committed but no one admitted to it, he would line up and beat the whole school with a hairbrush. Most of us would receive just a tap, but the person who had actually done it would receive something harder, to show him that "Jim" knew.

I almost didn't get into Harrow. I got three per cent in maths in the entrance exam, but I got in because my father had gone there. My younger brother James was two years behind me in the same house. One of the best things about the school was the Harrow songbook – we were always singing "Forty Years On". Winston Churchill came twice to the ceremony known as "Songs", which he loved.

I don't think it was the school for me – I would have liked more of an accent on artistic things. Music was certainly taught, but as a 13-year-old boy, you are at the mercy of the ethos of the school. There was acting, but by today's standards for young people, it was pretty drearily done. Drama was run, very worthily, by a very good Shakespearean scholar, and I was bored to death by it. It wasn't their fault, it was mine. I did no acting and would rather have flown to the moon than got on to the stage.

Work in general I did apply myself to – and wasn't very successful. I liked French and German – language is what appeals to one. O- and A-levels? I suspect very few. I wasn't expelled but I left early. I was probably pretty useless to the house and I had had enough. I expect my father was glad to be relieved of a year's fees, poor man.

I was in the Army at just 18, and I did like my two years of national service. When I came out, I had no particular wish to do anything much, but there must have been an itch towards being an actor because I found myself drifting towards drama school.

I left Rada's two-year course before the end. It was undoubtedly useful to many, but not to me. I did enjoy the chance to show off and behave badly, and I met some wonderful people who were very helpful. There were some good teachers, and to this day, I follow the lessons in speaking from Clifford Turner, but in terms of real significance, it doesn't compare to an apprenticeship in repertory theatre.

I had auditioned for Glen Byam Shaw, a wonderful Stratford Festival director. He advised my father that there wasn't a glimmer of talent in me, but added that if I found myself reciting poetic speeches while walking down the street, just possibly it was a sign of ability. This was something I in fact did, and have done throughout my life. Lady Thatcher once asked me, "Do you have an office?" I said, "No, the street is my office".

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game