Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Dormand by Patrick Stewart

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Dormand by Patrick Stewart

Article excerpt

The actor's enthusiastic English teacher sparked a lifetime love of Shakespeare by giving him his first role - reading the part of Shylock

One day when I was 12, Cecil Dormand, my English teacher at Mirfield Secondary Modern in West Yorkshire, handed out copies of The Merchant of Venice. He announced Act 4, Scene 1: the "Trial Scene".

He cast the characters, and gave me my first go - of six subsequent shots - at playing the character of Shylock. Sir said: "All right, start reading," and we did, silently, to ourselves. "No, no. Out loud, this is drama, not just poetry." And from that moment on, Shakespeare became a part of my life.

It is an odd thing, as I was not at all academic, but I was never afraid of Shakespeare, intimidated or bored. I guess, even though so much was incomprehensible to me, I just "got it" - and I have gone on getting it ever since, with an ever-deepening adoration and respect.

As an aside, Mr Dormand also put me in my first play with adults and was the very first person to ask me if I had thought of becoming a professional actor. I hadn't: it seemed a crazy and impossible idea, but the West Riding County Council held residential courses for amateur actors, directors and designers every spring. I went on my first course and a lifetime's love of theatre began.

It wasn't until many years later that I worked out that Mr Dormand and my school had paid the fees for the course. So no Cecil Dormand, no acting career for Patrick Stewart. Everything began with him, as I reminded him when I called him on his 90th birthday this past summer.

Cecil would have made a fine professional actor himself, but, thank the Lord, he stayed in teaching. Over the decades since I walked out of the school gates aged 15 and two days, his influence on me has been profound.

He was a well-organised teacher, but at ease in front of a class - I have even wondered if that was also his stage. He was humorous and fun. He managed to melt the distance between his educated self and the working-class lads and lasses in front of him. He rarely raised his voice - but he would not tolerate inattention.

He had a deadly aim with pieces of chalk and, though rarely, with a blackboard rubber. All, of course, conduct that would simply not be allowed in today's politically correct environment. …

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