I by no means sat my eleven-plus. On the day of the take a look at, I wandered across the hills close to the golf membership above my house city of Mirfield in West Yorkshire. I ate my lunch sitting in opposition to a dry stone wall, trying down in town, the place I may see my college friends within the playground throughout a break within the exams. I doubt if I might have handed, anyway. And, frankly, I simply didn’t see myself as a grammar-school boy.
Had I sat that take a look at, I would by no means have met Cecil Dormand, a trainer on the secondary fashionable the place I ended up, who would change my life once I was 12, by placing Shakespeare into my arms for the very first time. It was The Service provider of Venice. He gave copies to most of us and informed us to search for Act 4 Scene 1 (or the well-known trial scene, as I used to be to study). He solid all of the talking roles and informed us to begin studying. All of us did, however silently. “No, no, you idiots, to not yourselves!” he yelled. “Out loud! This can be a play, not a poem. It’s life. It’s actual.”
The primary phrases – “I’ve possessed your grace of what I function” – was the primary line of Shakespeare I ever learn. I barely understood a phrase, however I liked the texture of the phrases and sounds in my mouth. A 400-year-old author reached out a hand in invitation to me that morning. I felt a way of an inner, personal me being launched and connecting with one thing mysterious, alien and thrilling. I used to be hooked.
“Cec”, as we referred to as him, was my kind grasp and my English trainer. I appreciated him without delay, as did many of the youngsters he taught. His fashion was very relaxed, humorous and provocative, however when it got here to instructing he was articulate, attention-grabbing, participating and, most of all, passionate.
I think Cec had already intuited that I liked to flee into the world of fiction and out of my uninteresting, uncomfortable and typically scary house life, dwelling with an abusive father. However he made literature and language really feel like part of our lives, too.
The identical yr as he gave us The Service provider of Venice, he solid me in a play with adults – largely my lecturers. I had by no means acted earlier than. The play was the wartime farce The Happiest Days of Your Life. I performed a younger pupil named Hopcroft Minor. There have been 100 or extra individuals within the viewers, which ought to have been unnerving and intimidating, however I felt fearless and completely at house. I felt protected on stage and I all the time have since. Maybe it was as a result of I wasn’t being Patrick Stewart however Hopcroft Minor.
Not lengthy afterwards, Cec referred to as me to the headmaster’s workplace, the place I met one other influencer of my youth, Gerald Tyler, the county drama adviser. He informed me that the council was going to run an eight-day residential drama course at Calder highschool, in Mytholmroyd, throughout the Easter break. The top mentioned I may go as a consultant of the varsity. This was the place I first had formal performing classes. A few years later, I realized that Cec will need to have paid for me to go on the course himself.
I used to be not the one individual in my one-up, one-down home who benefited from Cec’s encouragement and kindness. He persuaded my older brother, Trevor, to have a go at moving into Dewsbury technical faculty, which he did, to nice success. He additionally inspired my father to turn out to be chair of the PTA. He had been a celebrity within the British military – regimental sergeant main of the parachute regiment. However, by this level in his life, he was no person. The function gave him significance and a few dignity again.
Just a few days earlier than I left college, on the age of 15, Cec requested me if I had ever considered taking on performing as a profession. It made me chortle, as a result of it was a ridiculous concept, however two years later I used to be supplied a spot at Bristol Previous Vic Theatre College, paid for by a scholarship. Normally the recipients have been solely Oxbridge college students, however they believed I had one thing that, maybe, fitted in with different younger individuals they encountered – though from a really completely different background.
It took me years to discover a method to thank Cecil Dormand, however, once I did, I used to be in my first of 12 years as chancellor of the College of Huddersfield, the place I offered him with an honorary diploma. Just a few years later, I made him a second thank-you once I invited him to the luncheon celebrating my knighthood, offered by the Queen that very same morning. The host invited everybody to say a couple of phrases. Cec mentioned: “What the heck am I going to name him now? For many years he referred to as me Sir!”
Cec handed away a couple of weeks in the past, on the age of 96. He saved me once I was a boy and my training was failing – and has doubtless been probably the most important individual in my life. If I had not met Cec, what would have occurred to me? I’m so grateful for his perception in me. Relaxation in peace, Sir.