PASSED/FAILED: Jenny Agutter

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The Independent Online
Jenny Agutter, 44, starred in 'The Railway Children', which was made in 1972 and is now re-released, and she is producing a film based on E Nesbit. Later films include 'The Eagle Has Landed', 'An American Werewolf in London' and 'Equus', for which she won a British Academy Award. Television work includes the forthcoming BBC series on slavery, 'A Respectable Trade'. She appears in 'Mendelssohn to Mendelssohn', an Ambache Chamber Ensemble production at St John's Smith Square, London SW1, next Thursday .

Raw recruit? From three to six, I was at an army school in Singapore. I played the White Rabbit in a school production of Alice in Wonderland and I had to say, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date." I was cross because I wasn't long-haired enough for Alice. There was a school on the boat back to England; it was a four-week journey.

Goody-New-Shoes: I went to Farnham Preparatory School for just a couple of years. All I can remember is a school dance, and someone treading on my toes. Then my father was posted to Cyprus, where we were taught privately. Someone taught me Greek - Greek-Cypriot, that is, which is quite useful in London restaurants.

A merry dance? From eight to 16 I went to a small ballet school in Camberley. It was like something out of Bunty [the girl's comic]. There was a kind of enthusiasm for acquiring information, but they were not terribly good at teaching it. We had Latin, which I loved, for a year, but it stopped. There was a good biology teacher but he was overwhelmed by all these girls and he left. A very eccentric woman from, I think, Morocco, taught us French.

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Agutter: They weren't pushing girls into professional work, but had somebody who kept an eye on opportunities. I got a part in Ballerina by a fluke. Walt Disney were making a film about the Royal Danish Ballet but wanted someone who spoke English, not Danish. Five of us were sent up to screen-test; the school told my parents I wasn't expected to get it and I thought it was for the part of a great Dane in a pantomime. Then I was seen by the producer of East of Sudan, who cast me as a little Arab girl; he wanted someone lightweight - that is, light enough to be picked up and carried about by Sylvia Syms and Anthony Quayle.

Off the rails? At 11, that didn't interfere with school too much. I took English language and literature O-levels early, just to get them out of the way, and then Art - and that was all. Apparently I put my foot down at 14 and said I wanted to take the [professional] work that was being offered. When I was 15 I did the television version of The Railway Children.

On the right track? I left school when I was just 16 and went to Arts Educational, right on Hyde Park, allegedly studying for O- and A-levels. I did three films - The Railway Children, I Start Counting and Walkabout - and that was it; there was no time for school. Going into theatre was quite a struggle. At 20, I was Miranda in The Tempest and hardly knew what an iambic pentameter was. John Gielgud would go over my lines with men