I will not dwell on my English boarding school trials which followed my two intriguing terms as the only boy in a girls’ school, for too many autobiographies have been written by sensitive authors about such academies ruining their lives. Suffice it to say that both Claremont Preparatory and Lancing College to which I was sent, had teaching staff whose only aim in life was to prepare their pupils to become Field Marshals in command of the Indian army, Archbishops of Cantebury or first class cricketers. Latin, Greek and Ancient History were indifferently taught by aged, bored and worn out masters, the younger, keener and more energetic staff were all at war.
Claremont School, five miles from Pangbourne, was chosen as it was close enough for my mother to believe I could walk home should something terrible happen - like the Germans invading the British Isles and all forms of transport being paralysed. It might as well have been a thousand miles away as far as I was concerned.
It was forbidden to venture beyond the school boundaries so we never made contact with other human beings. It was an alien world to me with not a girl in sight and only one friendly female, the matron, who had enormous teeth and a mouth large enough to contain them.
Being sent away from home did, however, reveal a surprising fact. I had never really thought about the relationship I had with my parents, I was too young to analyse such things and they were always there, but when I experienced the sudden separation I became aware of my mother’s love for me, seldom demonstrated, and my father’s apparent indifference to my existence except as a possible future managing director of the family firm.
When my mother first dropped me off on the doorstep of a building that looked as welcoming as any Dickensian institution, I naturally cried my eyes out.
When she waved at me from the back window of the taxi that drove her away and I saw that, she too, was in tears, I was quite shaken by this unexpected evidence of a hidden affection. During the term I received letters from her telling me how much she missed me and I started marking off the days in my diary till I would get home for the holidays and be hugged and kissed and loved as never before.
But this did not happen as expected.
I had to wait till we were alone for her to display any form of affection, and for the first time noticed that she was even more distant in the presence of my father
There was a reason for this which I recounted five posts back, but I was not to know it for another two years.
So the only joy I experienced in that hell-hole was my being cast as King Lear in an end of term production of the tragedy which allowed me to gaze in a mirror entranced at myself as the old lunatic monarch with white hair and white beard.
Slipping into another persona was fantastic. Hi diddle dee dee, it was going to be an actor’s life for me
At Lancing the teaching was decidedly better, the masters tried their best to get me interested in their particular subjects, but I lacked concentration except for play reading or any activities connected with the dramatic society. I was cast as an interpreter in a French play, astounding everyone with my perfect command of the language, and when I played Julius Caesar in toga and laurel leaves about my head, I knew for certain that the moment my school days were over I would go to drama school, then a year or two in repertory, then the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It didn’t quite work out that way...
King Lear - Sir Ian McKellen.