My best teacher

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
She's Emma Grundy in The Archers and now Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey -and this actress has an English teacher to thank for her love of literature

I went to Kings Norton Girls' School in Birmingham - a single sex state school which had a high level of expectation academically. It was quite disciplined -you were set homework and you did it, you were respectful to teachers, you wore uniform and turned up on time. But, you were given an immense amount of freedom to explore ideas and to achieve your potential.

Looking back, it was a brilliant school.

Academically, I was one of those annoying all rounders. I was good at most of my subjects. But English and drama were my passions.

My English teacher was a fantastic woman called Mrs Mulhern. We all loved her. She ran lessons that every-body looked forward to. She was my teacher from the age of 11 to 16.

We were all kids but Mrs Mulhern, who was probably in her early forties, had a special way of talking to us. She never talked down to us or patronised us or attempted to belittle us. She treated you as though you were a very important human being whose opinions counted.

There was also such a lovely, naughty streak to Mrs Mulhern. She could be a rebel. She'd tell us titbits about some of the other teachers that she probably should not have done. It was never anything major, but it had the effect of making you feel that she was one of us, on our side.

She was very open and funny about her own life. She'd come in and say.

"God, I had the most terrible row with my husband this morning. But come on, we're going to get on with the day. And what a day it's going to be.

We're going to read To Kill a Mockingbird. What could be better?"

All the class kind of loved the idea that their teacher had a life beyond the classroom. The result was that you always wanted to do well for her. So if she said your essay was excellent you felt fantastic. Without her I'm not sure that I'd have chosen to go on to do English at Oxford. I'd been an actress since the age of 11 so I might easily have tried the RADA route.

But I loved reading and exploring the world though literature - the side that I owe, at least in part, to Mrs Mulhern. And, in the end, I chose Wadham College, Oxford, because I thought I could probably keep both sides going at once.

And it worked for me. I got my 2:1 in English and got involved in drama at university. I appeared in some amazing productions as well as keeping my role of Emma Grundy in The Archers going at the same time. It couldn't have worked out better.

I heard soon after I grad-uated last summer that I had been offered the lead in ITV's Northanger Abbey. I was in Rome at the time with my two best friends. We sat in a beautiful piazza with the sun going down and I thought: "My God, I'm about to play Catherine Moreland, one of the biggest heroines in English literature". I think Mrs Mulhern would have been chuffed for me.

Sadly, I have not seen her since I left school. But I do hope she watches Northanger Abbey and likes it and that she reads this. If she does, I would like to thank her and to let her know that she really was a fantastic teacher

Felicity Jones, 22, is Emma Grundy in The Archers on Radio 4, stars as Catherine Moreland in the Andrew Davis adaptation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey for ITV and will be seen later this year in Cape Wrath, an eight-part thriller for Channel 4. She was talking to Daphne Lockyer

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