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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own