I attended primary and secondary boarding schools, which were so wonderful for me because I didn’t grow up in a traditional family environment. I was brought up by two women who ran a farm in Devon, but occasionally lived with my father and whichever wife he had at the time. [Pam’s father married five times. Her mother, his second wife, died of tuberculosis shortly after her birth.]
Boarding school gave me structure, direction, discipline, companionship and guidance from elders, all of which are missing from society nowadays. At The Warren, my secondary boarding school, I had lots of teachers who I felt were wise, kind and calm. The best thing about the teachers was that they were not disciplinarians. If you violated the school’s rules, you were disciplined by sixth-form prefects, who could give you detention. If you committed a serious crime, such as breaking bounds, then the head would deal with you.
The name of the teacher who stood out for me at The Warren was Miss Millicent Mather. She taught me English and drama for four years from the age of 14. Miss Mather stood out because we shared a love for these subjects, and she had more empathy and humour than some of the other teachers.
Like most teachers at the school, Miss Mather was probably in her forties. I doubt that she had children and a spouse as we called her “Miss”.
She was the most exotic-looking creature, with long hair – light brown with golden threads, not chemical highlights – that was loosely wrapped up in a bun. She wore jewellery, which fascinated me as her earrings and bracelets dangled and made music. She wore necklaces too, but they were covered up by the shawls she wore.
Miss Mather was very English, with a lovely north-country accent and was definitely suited to drama and English. I was really passionate about acting. It made my soul happy. Under her guidance I took part in the school’s productions of Vanity Fair and Pride and Prejudice. And dipping into my Black’s Veterinary Dictionary made the rest of me happy – I had it with me all the time. I wanted to be a vet, but I never shared my desire to do this with Miss Mather because it was another side of me.
A careers adviser said that I needed Latin to study at veterinary college but I gave it up after O-levels, as I didn’t feel I could fit it in with all my A-level subjects. I have no regrets about not becoming a vet, as I’m now totally and completely involved with animals and wildlife. As well as being an ambassador for Age UK, I support several animal charities.
I had an academic education and acting wasn’t taken seriously as a profession at The Warren, so when I left school in 1960, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. One of my “adoptive” aunts advised me to take a job for a year as a student teacher. But I felt I was more of a “doer” than an “imparter”, a performer rather than a teacher, so I did a final year at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, before becoming an actress.
I didn’t keep in touch with Miss Mather. If I had gone straight on to drama school, I might have done. I did keep in touch with two other teachers, though, including my Classics teacher, but I lost contact with them by the time I started working on EastEnders in 1986.
Pam St Clement was talking to Adeline Iziren. She is an ambassador for Age UK and its “No one should have no one at Christmas” campaign to raise awareness about older people facing loneliness this festive season. To donate, volunteer or sign the charity’s petition, go to ageuk.org.uk
Pam St Clement
Born 12 May 1942
Education The Warren School, Romford, Essex; Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, Kent
Career Actress and animal rights supporter, most famous for her former role as Pat Butcher, one of the longest-running characters on BBC One