My Best Teacher - Lynda Bellingham

28th May 2010 at 01:00
The one-time `Oxo mum' was too plummy to be popular, but her acting talent was nurtured

My father was an airline pilot so we moved around and I went to a lot of schools before 11. At 11, I went to Aylesbury High School, which was previously a grammar for boys. I hated every minute of it. I wasn't very happy because I wasn't very popular. I think I was probably regarded as a show-off. I spoke posh. My parents were never particularly posh, but I always had a plummy voice, which put people off. I wouldn't go as far as to say I was bullied, though. I learnt to be the court jester. I finally got to enjoy school a bit more in the sixth form.

I had decided that I wanted to be an actress, which, as far as the school was concerned, was a complete non-starter. When I decided I wanted to go to drama school, the only person to encourage me was this wonderful teacher, Julia Maclaughlan. She was American and a geography teacher. She never actually taught me but she got to know me as she assisted with the school plays. She could see how much I loved acting and she herself was very flamboyant. She was just the most supportive, warm and encouraging woman.

She had shoulder-length hair and wore red lipstick and nail varnish. She wasn't beautiful, but she was attractive and very vibrant. She wore court shoes. I've got an image of her wearing a skirt, blouse and a big wide belt and red shoes. Looking back, she was too old to have had long hair. She would always greet you in the corridor and treat you like an equal. She was so full of life. I felt this overwhelming warmth from her as a teacher.

I auditioned for the Central School of Speech and Drama in London while in the lower sixth. They accepted me on the understanding that I finished my A-levels. But when I went back the following year they said they were unsure. I was devastated. The person whose shoulder I cried on was Mrs Maclaughlan's.

She told me that she was a member of the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Club, she was going to see a play and that she would take me with her and it was up to me to get an audition organised.

She drove me to Nottingham and I sat outside the theatre all afternoon. I finally wangled my way in. I met several of the cast and talked my way into meeting John Neville, who ran the theatre, who said he couldn't audition me that day and I should come back the following day. I sat there thinking: "What am I going to do?" But Mrs Maclaughlan told me not to panic. She arranged for me to kip on the floor of one of her former pupils who was at the university there and she got a hotel, deciding to stay in Nottingham with me.

In the morning, I auditioned and she drove me back to school. I owe her so much for that because John Neville said he thought I was talented and he would happily take me on as an assistant stage manager, earning no money. But he advised me to go back to Central and have another chat with them. He said if I could get into Central, in three years' time I would be a fully-fledged actor and he would be able to offer me better work.

So I went back to Central. I stood outside and demanded to see the principal. I was told that I had to ring up in September before term started to see if I had a place. I got very upset and told them that John Neville thought I was good enough to be a professional. I cried all the way home.

When I got home, my dad opened the door with a big smile on his face and said we were going to celebrate. Central had rung up to say they would take me on a term's trial. I did the trial and I stayed for the next three years. Mrs Maclaughlan was absolutely thrilled when I got in.

  • Lynda Bellingham is a regular on the ITV show `Loose Women'. Her autobiography, `Lost and Found', is published by Ebury Press. She was talking to Sheryl Simms.

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