A diffcult divorce

16th May 1997 at 01:00
NED SHERRIN TALKS TO PAMELA COLEMAN. I am a living example of school days being the happiest days of your life - and the rest of my life has been rather happy too. I went to Sexey's in Somerset as a weekly boarder and enjoyed it enormously. My father was a farmer but I didn't like getting my hands dirty and found it easier to be a swot.

I was a goody-goody at school, and pushy. When I reached the sixth form I thought I'd have to study chemistry, physics and biology like everyone else because there was no arts sixth at Sexey's. After one term I realised this was counter-productive - I was never going to get anywhere if I was restricted to these appalling subjects. A conspiracy with three teachers, Messrs Brockhouse, Morgan and Williams led to a successful coup and the establishment of an arts sixth form with one pupil. Me.

Manipulating my divorce from science was not easy. The school, which had been founded in 1898 as Sexey's Trade School, had never taught arts subjects beyond School Certificate and the headmaster, Mr Page - a physicist himself - was reluctant. I shudder to think what would have become of me without my three allies.

The only aspect of science I was interested in was botany. Pressing flowers had always been something of a passion, so I did botany and Latin as subsidiary subjects, and history and English as my major ones for Higher School Certificate.

Eric Brockhouse taught me history in a spirited and lively manner. He was keen on cricket and football, as I was. He was English. The other two teachers in the conspiracy were Welsh. E A Morgan taught me Latin and D J Williams, English. Later in life when he had retired to Bournemouth, Mr Williams used to write me rather pained and disappointed letters because he thought That Was The Week was subversive. More in sorrow than in anger, he suggested it was a pity how I had turned out!

Mr Williams had a Welsh freedom with words and a great ability to provoke an affection for literature. He was a dapper little man who wore striped suits and a gown. He was a great chapel-goer and a bachelor. I think his sentiments were more left-wing than mine. I was a stern unbending Tory, even then, and I think we used to tease each other a bit.

There was no dramatic tradition at Sexey's in my time. The nearest we got to it was an annual end-of-term concert. I was particularly proud of a platinum blond wig made out of binder twine from the farm which I wore in productions. I thought it was the last word in realism.

We had school outings to the Bristol Old Vic and to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-Upon-Avon. I remember seeing Godfrey Tearle and Diana Wynyard in Macbeth. With a party of Sexey boys, I also saw Peter Brook's production of The Winter's Tale with a young Paul Schofield as the shepherd.

English and history came very easily to me and I was top of the class. I had no natural aptitude for languages, but I needed Latin to go to Oxford - which I arrogantly expected to do. E A Morgan got me through. I was terribly behind, so I sometimes had extra tuition outside school hours and I remember he had a nice cosy homely Welsh wife who was inclined to stuff me with food. Mr Morgan was tall and bald, and dressed in sports coats and flannels. He, too, was a chapel man. I think he relished the chance to teach Latin - I was the only pupil studying the subject at that time.

My older brother, Alfred, was three years ahead of me and at first I was given the nickname Trailer because I followed him around. Alfred wasn't interested in school and at weekends was keen to get home to the farm whereas I would have been quite happy to have stayed over.

We both got caned for playing pitch and toss for money behind the bike sheds. Mr Page was a short man who bounced. When he beat me, he took a little spring and bounced up and down swishing his stick and then bounced across his study and launched himself at me. Six bounces and it was over.

Thanks to Messrs Brockhouse, Morgan and Williams, I passed Higher School Certificate and got a county scholarship and a state scholarship to Oxford to read history or English or both.

Then my father found out there was a thing called a means test and unfortuntely he would have to pay anyway. He thought that studying history and English would inevitably lead me to becoming a schoolmaster and, like most farmers, he had a profound contempt for schoolmasters. So I said I'd read law instead. That was all right. He thought that was impressive and practical. I left Sexey's in a blaze of glory, first to go into the Army for National Service and then to Oxford and become a barrister.

Ned Sherrin, CBE, producer, performer, writer, director, ends his touring one-man show this Saturday at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, and on Sunday at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. He also hosts two weekly radio programmes, Loose Ends and Counterpoint. As the man behind That Was the Week That Was, he is acknowledged as the instigator of a new wave of television programmes in the 1960s

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