Barn storming? I went to the Barn School in Much Hadham, Essex, near where Henry Moore lived; I met him, and Walter de la Mare. It was a very advanced, private primary school; I was learning French by the time I was six and Latin by the time I was seven.
A head of the game? I went away at eight to Westbourne House, near Chichester. I hated it at first; I was terribly homesick; but I soon fitted in. I wore the dragon's head in The Dragon Who Liked Peppermints, my first lead part. The school was taken over by my father's cousin, a nice man, but he was a mushroom farmer not a schoolteacher and I remember some anxious meetings about whether it would survive. (It has.)
All Greek to me: I got a minor scholarship to Bradfield, in Berkshire. The school has a Greek amphitheatre, hacked out of stone - a very uncomfortable place to sit, but with wonderful acoustics. I played the lead in Hippolytus, 400-and-something lines in Greek which I did not understand at all. The biggest event in my acting life was playing Macbeth there - the week after my father died. Don't tell me it's not an unlucky play. John Coldstream, my best friend, now literary editor of The Daily Telegraph, was Macduff; we extended the fight over 10 minutes - in the rain. The audience was ready to go.
Crabby? Anthony Chevenix-Trench, the "disciplinarian", later of Eton, was headmaster. His public face was utterly charming but he was the most terrifying person to boys on a one-to-one basis. If you had anything wrong with your Latin he drew a crab on it - some obscure classical joke - and if you had a certain number of crabs, you were beaten. Sometimes you would be woken at night and called to his book-lined study to explain the crabs.
Gospel truth: We went into a high-speed course: O-levels after a year, A- levels in the third year. I passed six O-levels and failed divinity; I hadn't done any work on the set text, St Mark's gospel, so I read it the night before the exam. It was the wrong book; the set text was St Luke.
Hip, hip, Hippolytus: With two A-levels, an A and a B, I was lucky to get to Cambridge, where I read French and German at Fitzwilliam. In my first term someone said, "We're doing Hippolytus at the Arts Theatre and the lead is ill ..." I'd forgotten all the lines and said no, but they leant on me. It almost finished my interest in acting. I lost a girlfriend because of it, and didn't do any work. In my second term I fell in with the Broadsheet, a duplicated magazine which was dying on its feet. We made it into a serious review. We used to climb in and out of colleges at night to get copy out of contributors. We went to plays and films on Monday and got the magazine out on Tuesday.
And finally: I was capable of a 2.1 but got a 2.2. I've no regrets; I could either have had the time I had - which I enjoyed - or have worked for a 2.1. But not both.Reuse content