Here be Dragon: I went to the Dragon School in Oxford when I was nine. It's an amazing school. It had girls, even in the Thirties. I was allergic to games so they sent me to see plays at the Oxford Rep. At school we had a Shakespeare play every winter and a Gilbert and Sullivan every Easter. I played Richard II, the single most important achievement of my life. I went with my father to all the plays in Stratford, where we would sit in the front stalls. He would say every line very loudly, before the actors could get to it.
Chaps of the world, unite: I didn't get much education after that. Harrow was boring. It was neither enlightened, nor was it Eton. There was only about one stimulating master, the English teacher who introduced me to Wordsworth. And we had a good art master: we would bicycle off to sketch churches and drink gin-and-lime. I was a Communist, a one-boy Communist cell. During the Hitler-Stalin pact I got instructions to slow down production on the factory floor, so I went down to the Classics Sixth and asked them to translate Virgil more slowly.
Cheque point: I got seven credits in School Certificate [O-levels] but at Harrow we didn't bother with Higher Cert [A-levels]. I read History in the sixth form. I went for interview at Oxford while the war was on. If you had a cheque to pay the fees - which my father had - they were pretty interested in seeing you. The vice-principal of Brasenose put me in the library with some Latin to translate and left me. The library was full of Latin dictionaries so I translated the passage. He came back, looked at it and said: "Come along to Brasenose."
This means war degree: I read Law because I was eventually going to be a lawyer. A big mistake. Law isn't a proper academic subject, not creative, and you should read something else. It only becomes interesting when you start doing cases. I didn't read much of it; I read my way through Proust and Dostoevsky. I did a bit of acting and drew nudes at the Slade, which had been evacuated to Oxford. You got a "war degree" which wasn't classed and I think it lasted just two years.
Dog's dinners: Then I went into the Crown Film Unit, making government documentaries about the war. I had a uniform with "scriptwriter" on it. After the war I did Bar exams. As a student you have to eat dinners at your Inn of Court. The food is disgusting, but it only takes half an hour and finishes early, so you can go somewhere afterwards and have something nice.
Interview by Jonathan SaleReuse content