My best teacher - Samantha Bond

10th December 2010 at 00:00
The former Miss Moneypenny had the opportunity to repay the director who was her inspiration

Berenice Goodwin taught me art and history of art at Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, west London. She also directed all the school plays I was in between the ages of 15 and 18 and was one of the most important women in my life.

Godolphin was still a grammar school in those days, it wasn't private as it is today and Miss Goodwin was very much a product of the Sixties - a radical, free-thinking person. She must have been in her mid-30s when she first taught me and I remember her wearing character shoes, which are the shoes dancers wear when they're not wearing ballet shoes, and what I would describe as knitted jazz pants. Miss Goodwin was very small with a thick mane of dark hair. She was incredibly dynamic and seemed to fly around the school.

She had worked in the theatre, so her approach to drama was very intense and professional. She also had a background in ballet and opera and was passionate about art. The first play I did with her was Electra when I was 15, and she gave me one of the most brilliant director's notes I've ever had. The play was being put on at the Cockpit Theatre, which is in the round. I was prostrate on a rock crying - Electra does a lot of sobbing - and Ms Goodwin had written, "Sam, your toes aren't crying" (that came from her ballet background). "If you are in grief, your entire body is in grief."

Now, as a grown-up actress, I've never been afraid to turn my back on an audience because I know if I'm working through my body, my back will be as pertinent to the audience as my front.

When we were with Miss Goodwin, we would start rehearsals at about 4pm and very often work through until 9pm. It was very, very intense and obviously we needed a break. There was a room called the little art room, where she taught history of art, and in the evening you were allowed in there to have a coffee and a cigarette - she didn't smoke herself, but she turned a blind eye to what we got up to.

She made teenage girls feel incredibly safe - you might be rebelling against your parents but you always had Miss Goodwin.

I lost touch with Miss Goodwin after I left school until I went to her retirement party about 10 years ago, and that was when we started seeing each other again. She used to sneak in to see my plays, although she only ever came to the previews. Then she would ring me up to give me my notes, which was amazing.

About two years ago, she went blind. Can you imagine what that must have been like for a woman whose life revolved around the arts and who had spent her retirement travelling the world?

She had no family, so about 30 or 40 of her ex-pupils, some of whom were old enough to have bus passes themselves, formed this extraordinary support network. Everyone would visit her and report back to each other online, and a smaller group of about eight of us helped her out with day- to-day needs. She had given her life to her work and now her beloved pupils were looking after her, paying her back as it were.

Samantha Bond is appearing in `An Ideal Husband' at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, until 19 February. For tickets, call 0844 412 4663 or visit www.anidealhusbandwestend.com. She was talking to Hilary Whitney.

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