My best teacher - Dave Prowse

25th March 2011 at 00:00
A hospital school head ensured the Force was with the future Darth Vader

I was at Fonthill Road Infant and Junior School from the age of five until I was 11. I started at the secondary modern that was attached to the school when I won a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School.

To be perfectly honest, I was never a great lover of school. I was top of the A stream at the secondary modern, but I was bottom of the X stream when I got to the grammar school, and then the Y stream the following year. I really felt out of my depth.

However, I was very good at sports when I was younger. I was one of the fastest athletes in Great Britain for the 12 to 13 age group. I used to train with two big athletic clubs in Bristol, and would go running with Mary Rand, who went on to be our Olympic champion (in 1960 and 1964).

Unfortunately I had a bit of a chequered career after that. At 13, within two years of starting at the grammar school, I had some trouble with my knee and had to spend nearly a year in hospital.

They thought I had tuberculosis on the knee but we later found out that it was just my joints reacting to my growing. With all the exercise and training, one of my knees started to swell up and I had all the symptoms of TB on the bone.

We had a school at the hospital and the headmaster was a guy called Harry Morgan. He was very excited to think that he suddenly had this grammar school pupil to teach. I think he wanted me as his prize pupil.

Harry Morgan was about 5ft 8ins, with glasses, and he was very thickset, like an ex-rugby player. He was strict, but he used to ask me questions about the grammar school and what it was like.

There were about 15 pupils there, but Mr Morgan used to give me a lot of individual tutoring. Primarily, he used to teach me colloquial French - he used to say that people speak French differently from all the grammar that we were taught in school. That was quite new in those days. I also remember doing a lot of art, and painting was something I excelled at.

I came out of hospital when I was 14, and I had grown so much. I was 5ft 9ins when I went into hospital, and I was 6ft 3ins when I came out. I was eating like mad when I was inside and we would get as much milk as you could drink - I was getting all the tuberculosis treatment - and I just shot up.

I had to wear this leg-iron, from my groin to my ankle, for another year. People don't realise how much trouble it was. I would go to get the bus to school, and I couldn't sit in the bus seats. I had to ask permission from the conductor to see if I could stand in the stairwell.

I was exercise mad before going into hospital, but being in bed for a year took all of that away from me. It really mucked my education up as well, because by the time I went back to school, I had missed so much that I really laboured when I went back. There are some things I've never really caught up on - trigonometry, logarithms for example, I have never learnt at all.

When the leg-iron came off, they told me to start exercising. I tried swimming, but I hated it and found it really boring. But one day, I was coming home from the pool and saw a Health and Strength magazine in the newsagents, with a big blonde giant on top of a mountain in France. I thought to myself; "I'd love to have a body like that," and that was the start of my bodybuilding career.

Dave Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy and the Green Cross Code Man, is an ambassador for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month this March He was speaking to Meabh Ritchie.

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