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".

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

Geography Teacher

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

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

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

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor