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My Best Teacher: Mr Farquhar by Miranda Raison

The 'Dark Heart' actress remembers the strict English teacher who made her focus on her energy on school work, rather than the theatre

Miranda Raison

The 'Dark Heart' actress remembers the strict English teacher who made her focus on her energy on school work, rather than the theatre

Peter Farquhar had a funny, squeaky voice. It was quite posh and other-worldly. When I arrived at the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire (it was my seventh school, I was one of those kids that went from school to school), I thought: this guy is such a pushover.

He was what you’d describe as a "funny man", he seemed both older and younger, eight going on 80. It was easy to laugh at him and not take him very seriously. At first. He was actually very, very strict.

He was both my English teacher for A level and my form tutor. He could be terrifying but he would never shout or raise his voice. He had a way of slightly standing on tiptoes when he was cross (he was quite a short man, only 5'5'') and you know, the fact that he was small was more intimidating than when he was big. He was very "schoolmaster" – corduroy trousers, comfortable shoes and blazer, and he used his eyebrows a lot when he was talking.

We didn’t see eye to eye at all. In my first term at sixth form, I was cast in the lead of a play called The Millionairess, by George Bernard Shaw, and I spent all my time in the theatre. I didn’t do any work, and we were at loggerheads the entire time. Eventually (despite him threatening to pull me from the play countless times), we did the show just before Christmas. He came to see it and afterwards, he pulled me into his study and said: “OK, two things: 1. I’m really sorry, I can see that you were born to do this and well done. 2. You’re not going to do another play all year because you have to do some work.”

It was a really good thing because he was absolutely right, I didn’t do anything. I was never well behaved and my energy was always channelled into things I shouldn’t be doing. We kind of started afresh, and then became friends. He used to stay in a B&B near my dad’s and would have dinner with him and my step-mum, even when I wasn’t around.

Miranda Raison

He was the most passionate English teacher. We did Chaucer and he spoke it in how he believed it would have believed it would have been spoken. He’d get us to read it out (no matter how laddy anyone was) and to start off with, we all found it completely ridiculous, but as time went on we really looked forward to his lessons.

He was very instrumental in me having faith in what I wanted to do, but also in teaching me to start taking responsibility a bit. I ended up getting a B in my English A Level. He told me beforehand that he thought I would get a B, even though I should have got an A. At the time, I thought, bullshit. I don’t know why I did, because I hadn’t done any work for it. I had done a bit more work because he was a form tutor, but in the end, I did get a B and I was gutted. He did play the role of, I’m a bit disappointed in you, but not in a horrible way. It all came from the right place.

He was also really, really funny. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to say that. He was somebody that you’d think a lot of the time, "Oh God, is he being serious?" He was incredibly dry, some of the things he’d say in a very dry voice or a minor key, you’d know he was joking. They’d quite often be at your expense, but very funny.

When he died, his family got in touch with me to say that I was mentioned in his journals and that my career meant a lot to him. He had actually sent me a book that he’d written in the years before, and I agreed to read it on Radio 4. We’d been in touch right up until he died.


CV

Born: Norfolk, 1977

Education: Gresham’s School, Felixstowe College and Stowe School

Career: Miranda Raison is an English screen and stage actress, she’s staring in Dark Heart, currently airing on ITV on Wednesdays at 9pm

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