My best teacher

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Up to the age of 11, I attended Elmwood elementary school, in Hackbridge, Surrey. One particular teacher, Mrs Grace King, was of astonishing importance. I don't think any other single human being had such an influence on my development and growth. In many ways she was responsible for my eventual career.

Mrs King taught music and English literature, and was also responsible for various drama clubs in the school. This wonderful lady encouraged me to take an active part in all of this, including school plays. Above all, Mrs King gave me the ability to talk with people, the ability to contribute something to society. With her help I was able to overcome my natural shyness and start to think intelligently about what I wanted to say.

I was particularly shy with adults, but Mrs King inspired me to fight this timidity; she encouraged me to act, read and generally to get my mind working. I have remained so grateful for her input throughout these intervening years. She died in her late 90s, only a couple of years ago. We had stayed in touch and she had been to see several of my plays.

What was so amazing about Mrs King was her humility; she would not come forward for my appearance on This is Your Life. Typically, her opinion was that: "I am only a teacher."

She had a total influence on me, yet she would have denied it completely. I didn't go on to university; with Mrs King's influence, I didn't need to - I was already fully educated. School was a happy time for me; I was always involved in the theatre, and enjoyed performing above all else.

In other areas I wasn't such a success. I was quite hopeless with figures and mathematics in general. I had a specific learning difficulty with numbers that would have been noted much more readily these days. Maths tests were a familiar ritual. Every time, I would write my name and form at the top of the paper. Then, in perfect copper plate, I would write out the questions over two pages of paper. I never had any of the answers, not a single one. Every result was the same: 5 per cent for "neatness".

My maths teacher at the time hought I was being deliberately obstreperous. He really was quite upset with me on occasions. It didn't help that he would castigate drama and tell me that I should be applying myself more to maths. In reality it didn't matter how hard I tried; number work was beyond me.

In later years, this same maths teacher became quite a well-known figure, associated with the teaching unions. One day I saw him declare, in an interview, that: "The greatest pupil I ever had was Edward Woodward." I had to smile. He had originally said to me that I was the greatest despair of his teaching career, yet here he was declaring that I had "always been bright".

From those mostly happy times at Elmwood, I went on to Kingston community college. For a time I thought I would like to become a journalist. Fortunately, several teachers there had an enormously positive influence on me, furthering my desire to be professionally involved with drama, but none could have the same impact as Mrs King, my first inspiration.

This early influence has very much become part of my family life too. Of my four children, three are already involved in the acting profession. My best teacher would have been amazed at the effect she has had.

The actor Edward Woodward was talking to Caroline Rees

The story so far

1930 Born in Croydon, south London

1955 First London stage appearance, Where There's a Will, Garrick Theatre

1957-60 Various roles with Royal Shakespeare Company

1963 Receives New York Drama Critics Award for Rattle of a Simple Man

1964 Stars on Broadway in High Spirits, directed by Noel Coward

1967-70 Title role in Callan TVseriesand 1974 film

1978 Awarded the OBE

1985-89 Plays Robert McCall in The Equalizer. Wins Golden Globe Award in

1987, one of15 stage, film and TV awards in career

1994 Plays Nev in Common as Muck for BBC

1998-2000 Stars in The New Professionals for Sky TV

TES FRIDAY april 13 2001

Mrs King would not come forward for my appearance on 'This is Your Life'. Typically, her opinion was that:'I am only a teacher'

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