Skip to main content

My best teacher

Several of my teachers at Whitgift School, Croydon, south London, continue to play a big part in my life because I draw on my mem-ories of their voices and mannerisms in my work.

Maurice Etherington, for instance, who was head of English, had a voice with a dark timbre which I used for the voice of God in a recent reading of Michael Frayn's new book, Sweet Dreams. Another teacher I have copied was Mr Kelly, a mild man who taught English and history in the lower forms. We behaved terribly in his classes and laughed and jeered, and he would respond in his light voice saying: "Now look here. Every time I open my mouth, some damn fool puts his foot in it." Then there was Mr Hussey, the history master. Mr Wickfield in a recent recording of David Copperfield was a version of Mr Hussey. The voice and character of my former headmaster, Mr Marlar, have also been inspirational.

Mr Marlar was a great headmaster because he was accessible. The school biology club had a film camera with which they photographed squirrels and things. My chum David Nerdemann and I felt this was not the best use to which it could be put and persuaded Mr Marler to let us borrow it. We wrote a film script called Curruthor's Lost Case, a sort of Sherlock Holmes comedy parody, for our holiday project, which was passed to Mr Etherington, who gave the nod to the headmaster. David and I cast the film, acted in it and co-directed. I had the leading role. It did well; a clip was shown on television.

I was about 16 and already knew I wanted to be a professional actor. I remember being ticked off in the school library with the words: "Don't behave like that Jarvis just because you wear your hair long and act in the school plays." My chum David was pretty creative, too, but sensibly did not pursue a film or theatrical career. He became an accountant and is now vice-president of Visa in America.

Whitgift School had a tradition of literature and drama, which I latched on to enthusiastically. I met Mr Etherington, who produced all the school plays, several years before he taught me when I auditioned for a part in the school production of Romeo and Juliet. I had a vague hope of being Juliet (this was an all boys' school), but my voice was breaking and I was cast as Juliet's mum, Lady Capulet. I was keen but atrocious in the role. But Mr Etherington thought I had some talent and encouraged me. The next year I played Worcester in Henry IV part I. The following year I played Cassius, the next year, Macbeth, and in my final year at the school, Hamlet.

Mr Etherington taught me English from the fifth year onwards. He was a marvellous teacher because of his great enthusiasm. He made it pleasurable to read Shakespeare, poetry and Dickens in the classroom. He was very encouraging when I went to audition for scholarships for RADA and the Guildhall.

At O- and A-level I did very well in English and history because of my love for the subjects and because I had marvellous teachers. I did hopelessly at maths because I wasn't the slightest bit interested. I remember my form master's comment at the end of one report: "Good work, but Jarvis must remember that English and drama are not the only subjects worthy of his best attention. "

I was a bit of a rebel and, because of the acting, a bit flashy, but I was made a prefect and was head of my house. I was good at cricket, and I think being an actor and being able to bowl off-spinners helped my image. Mr Marlar apparently said: "We better have Jarvis as a prefect. I'd rather have him on the side of the angels than against them."

From 'Just William' to Dickens, Martin Jarvis' readings have made him a household voice, as well as a star of stage, screen and television. He played the cameo role of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon in the film, 'Titanic'.

Martin Jarvis was talking to Pamela Coleman

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you