I never sat my 11 and over. On the day of the test, I walked around thehills near the golf club above my hometown of Mirfield in West Yorkshire. I ate my lunch sitting against a drystone wall, my eyes down on the city, where I could see my school mates in the courtyard during a break from exams. I doubt I would have succeeded, anyway. And, frankly, I didn't see myself as a high school boy.
If I had passed this test, I wouldn't have been able to - never met Cecil Dormand, a modern high school teacher where I ended up, who would change my life at 12, putting Shakespeare in my hands for the very first time. It was The Merchant of Venice . He gave copies to most of us and told us to look for scene 1 of act 4 (or the famous trial scene, as I was to learn). He threw out all the roles byants and told us to start reading. We have all done it, but in silence. "No, no, idiots, not for yourselves!" " He shouted. "Aloud! It's a play, not a poem. It's life. It's real.
The first words - " I have possessed your grace what I intend to "- was Shakespeare's opening line I've never read. I barely understood a word, but loved the feel of words and sounds in my mouth. A 400 year old writer reached out to invite me this morning I felt the feeling of an inner self, private, liberated and connected to something mysterious, foreign and exciting. I was addicted.
"Cec", as we called him, was my internship supervisor and my English teacher. I loved him straight away, like most children to whom he was teaching. His style was very relaxed, funny and provocative, but whenit was about teaching, it was articulate, interesting, engaging and most importantly, passionate.
I suspect Cec to have I had already the intuition that I loved to escape into the world of fiction and get out of my dull, uncomfortable and sometimes scary family life, living with an abusive father . But he also made literature and language part of our lives.
The same year he gave us The Merchant of Venice, he had me play a play with adults - mainly my teachers. I had never played before. The play was the war farce The happiest days of your life. I played a young student named Hopcroft Minor. There were 100 or more people in the audience, which should have been unnerving and intimidating, but I felt fearless and completely at home. I mI felt safe on stage and have always done so. Maybe it was because I wasn 't Patrick Stewart but Hopcroft Minor.
Shortly after, Cec called me at the office from the director, where I met another influencer from my youth, Gerald Tyler, the county drama advisor. He told me the council was going to hold an eight-day residential drama class at Calder High School in Mytholmroyd over the Easter break. The principal said that I could go there as a representative of the school. This is where I took acting lessons for the first time. Many years later, I learned that Cec had to pay for me to take the course himself.
I was not the only one no one in my one-up, one-down house who benefited from Cec's encouragement and kindness. He persuaded my older brother, Trevor, to try to enter tec collegehnique de Dewsbury, which he did, with great success. He also encouraged my father to become president of the PTA. He had been a superstar in the British Army - Regimental Sergeant Major of the Parachute Regiment. But, at this point in his life, he was nobody. The role gave him back some importance and a certain dignity.
A few days before leaving school, at the age of 15, Cec asked me if I had ever thought of taking up to act as a career. This made me laugh, as it was a ridiculous idea, but two years later I was offered a place at Bristol Old Vic Theater school , paid by a scholarship. Usually the recipients were exclusively Oxbridge students, but they thought I had something that maybe matched the other youngsters.they met - albeit from a very different background.
It took me years to find a way to thank Cecil Dormand , but, when I did, I was in my first of 12 years as Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, where I awarded him an honorary degree. A few years later, I gave him a second thank you by inviting him to the lunch celebrating my knighthood, presented by the Queen that very morning. The host invited everyone to say a few words. Cec said, "What the hell am I going to call him now?" For decades he called me Mister! "
Cec passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 96. 'saved when I was little and my education was failing - and was without a doubt the most important person in my life. If I hadn ' t met Cec, what would have happened to me? am so grateful for his trust in mei. Rest in peace, Sir.