Passed/Failed: Martin Jarvis

An Education in the Life of Martin Jarvis, the Actor whose Autobiography, `Acting Strangely', was Published Last Week as a Book and as an Audio- Book
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The Independent Online
Primary colours: At Dulwich College Prep School I landed the part of the Forest Woodman in Form 2B's play. My difficulty was that I couldn't sort out which parts of the script were stage directions and which were my lines of dialogue. I joined the puppet club because I knew I was good at reading and performing.

Most boys from Dulwich Prep got into Dulwich College. I failed. This might have been because of the trick question at my interview, when I was nine. The headmaster said to me: "What do you want to be, Jarvis?" "I want to be a journalist, sir." He said: "Do you want to leave school at 15 and be a cub reporter on a newspaper?" I said: "Yes, sir."

Secondary characteristics: I passed the exam to Whitgift, a minor public school that was Croydon's pride. I had the ambition to be an off-break bowler, but hadn't managed it at Dulwich. At Whitgift, I told them I was: I acted the part of an off-break bowler and did very well. I played for the first 11 for three years. In my first year, I did wonderfully well; by the next season, I didn't play too badly, but by the final season I was so involved with acting that I was only just about able to keep my place in the team.

Whitgift let you get on with what you wanted to do (in my case English and acting) and didn't bother you unduly with things you didn't like (maths, physics and chemistry).

I managed to make a film with the school's 16mm Arriflex news camera. The headmaster would give you pounds 25 for what was called the "summer project". Our first presentation to him was to study Parisian theatre: we would go to Paris, rent a flat and get laid. He turned us down. Our second presentation was to make a film. We cast girls from the local high school. Carruther's Last Case won some award for amateur films.

Liar education: I remember somebody ringing me up and congratulating me on getting into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada). I was so involved with acting that I told everyone that I had got in before I had. It wasn't to do with deceiving people, it was to do with playing a character; as a would-be actor, I simply had to be at Rada. Then I did take the scholarship and got in. At the time, people such as Peter Barkworth, who was often performing in the West End in the evening, came to direct and teach.

In 1962, a man called Yat (we never knew whether it was his first name or his surname) arrived. He was an extremely gifted man but his coaching was eccentric. He once told me: "Maybe you have the possibility to be a model - but not an actor."

In our final year, Gemma Jones got the gold medal and I got the silver, and at the end of the summer term I received the Vanbrugh award.

The joke going round was that you couldn't leave Rada without getting an award. There was even an award for "A Good Performance in a Thankless Role". Or, as we used to say, "a thankless performance in a good role".