Golden times

May Bank Holiday weekend offers the best kind of refreshment: Stratford on Avon to see Anthony Sher in Greg Doran’s Death of a Salesman.

Stratford for me is so tied up with my being bitten by the English bug and therefore my route into teaching that I am tiresomely enthusiastic and nostalgic about it, so stop now if this is going to annoy you.

Growing up in one of the most culturally barren parts of the UK, the Fylde Coast (where the trees struggle to get past head height and seaside jollity is the main attraction), it was a revelation aged 16 to find myself in Stratford with a couple of friends from school at the RSC watching Macbeth – Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren bringing the dead butcher and his fiend-like queen to life. What a place! What trees! What people in this brave new world!

Inspired, I then found myself sitting in the garden at home (fringed by stunted trees) burrowing away in a tiny Collected Works that my sister and brother had given me for my 15th birthday. Here were some Shakespeare plays I hadn’t heard of – plays about a naughty young prince called Harry – sounded fun; I came from a family of historians, loved history and thought I would read history at university, so let’s start reading, it’s history after all. Hal’s and Falstaff’s muscular, irreverent prose is gripping. So, then I get a couple of friends together and we book to see Alan Howard in Henry IV Parts 1 & 2. It is riveting, amazing.  That pungent, sparky prose, those magnificently fluent series of insults that Hal and his fat mentor trade are brought alive: who couldn’t be captured by this?  Dazed by the power of the first show, we blunder into a good, earthy pub in Stratford – for me this is redolent with the whiff of Eastcheap and the circle is complete.

So, if you will forgive this unashamed nostalgia, those early visits to the other world of Stratford and the inspiration of the RSC are why I switched to English, why I started teaching and, I suppose, why I am here now. It is one of the reasons why I go back to Stratford, especially to see Death of a Salesman, which I was taught at A Level by the late Brian Slough, an extraordinary English teacher, who was the other big reason why I went down the route I did. He brought Arthur Miller’s greatest play alive and it has lived with me every since as a recurring caveat about family values and unchecked consumerism. Incidentally it has transferred to London now and shouldn’t be missed.

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.