Wednesday 28 November 2018

The Queen's First House ! A Wendy house fit for a Queen: The secrets and history of the tiny Welsh cottage in the grounds of Windsor where generations of royals have played / Unseen Photos Show A Young Princess Elizabeth ...

A Wendy house fit for a Queen: The secrets and history of the tiny Welsh cottage in the grounds of Windsor where generations of royals have played
UPDATED: 08:25 GMT, 13 February 2012

The Diamond Queen, the BBC’s three-part series celebrating Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne, is perhaps the most intimate ever portrait of Britain’s monarch. Its presenter, Andrew Marr, was given unprecedented access to the Royal family, whose personal recollections offer a rare glimpse of the woman behind the role. 

Among the most intriguing stories in last Monday’s first programme was that of The Little House, the miniature cottage in the grounds of Windsor’s Royal Lodge where the Queen played as a child. Long forgotten by the public, it was revealed that it has recently been refurbished by Princess Beatrice, who charmed Marr and viewers alike when she spoke of her love for the tiny property and gave him a tour.

Another tantalising scene showed the Queen - dubbed Reader Number One by Parliament for her insistence on poring over every official paper - sitting at her favourite writing desk in Buckingham Palace. It was described as having once belonged to the Bourbons of France prior to the Revolution, but with no further explanation.

Behind the fleeting insights into these aspects of her life are fascinating stories, which can now be revealed by the Mail on Sunday...

Tucked away from public view in the south side of the gardens of Windsor’s Royal Lodge stands a miniature thatched, white-washed cottage described by the Queen’s granddaughter Princess Beatrice as ‘the most glamorous wendy house ever.’ Called Y Bwthyn Bach, or The Little House, it has been a play den for the Queen and subsequent generations of her family for the past 80 years.

The two-thirds size cottage, which measures 24 feet long, eight feet deep and with five feet high rooms, was presented to Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret in March 1932 on behalf of ‘the people of Wales’ on the occasion of Elizabeth’s sixth birthday. 

Designed by architect Edmund Willmott, who had earlier built a less grand little house for his own daughter to play in, it was intended as a symbol of the love and fascination of the Welsh people for the little princess who was, at that stage, never expected to become Queen. 

The mining communities of the valleys had suffered more unemployment than any other part of Britain during the Depression, and the house, built exclusively by Welsh labour and from Welsh materials left over from the Llandough Hospital, was a poignant reminder of a workforce in despair.

It was also designed as a link between the two privileged little princesses and those who lived in genuine cottages. It gave the sisters the chance to play at keeping an ordinary house - although it was far more luxurious than the vast majority of family homes at the time. 

The layout of a typical Welsh cottage was followed for the interior. The front door opens onto a small hallway with a kitchen to the right and the ‘siamber fach’, or Little Chamber, on the left. A staircase gives access to a bedroom and a bathroom, which, when it was first built, was very modern, with hot and cold running water, a heated towel rail and electricity.

The contents included a tiny radio, a little oak dresser and a miniature blue and gold china set. There was linen with the initial ‘E’ and a portrait of the Queen’s mother, the Duchess of York, hanging over the dining room mantelpiece. A bookcase filled with Beatrix Potter’s little books, including Jemima Puddleduck, ensured the girls never grew bored. Lattice windows, blue and white checked curtains, blue carpets and white walls finished off the decor.    

The house also contained little books, pots and pans, food cans, brooms, a packet of Epsom salts and a radio licence, all made to order and to scale. In the kitchen, there was a gas cooker and a fridge which both worked. There was even a working, miniature-sized telephone. The house also had its own front garden with scaled down hedges and flower borders. 

The presentation of the finished house was preceded by a narrowly averted disaster. When the house was in transit, first by low loader and then by a steam traction engine, the tarpaulin protecting it caught fire, destroying the thatched roof and many of the timbers. Luckily, the Sea Insurance Company had issued a miniature fire policy for £750 on the building and £500 on the contents. 

Craftsmen worked day and night to repair the damage, with the final bill for all the work coming to an estimated £1,100. When it was finally ready, it was displayed at the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia for the masses to see. It was then reconstructed in Windsor Great Park for Elizabeth and became a favourite pastime.

The princesses spent many hours cleaning and tidying their tiny home, with Elizabeth in particular developing a reputation for being exceptionally neat. This was the children’s domain, and adults, who had to crounch to fit through the door, were admitted only by invitation.

Over the years, the Queen’s children have also played in the house and latterly, her grandchildren. It holds a special place in the hearts of all the royal children, but Beatrice was especially captivated it, adding, as a child,  a selection of her own teddy-bears to the living room sofa.

She has recently overseen its complete refurbishment over the course of a year, believed to have been paid for by her father, the Duke of York, who has resided at Royal Lodge since 2004. In the first episode of The Diamond Queen, the princess was seen showing presenter Andrew Marr the results.

Under Beatrice’s guidance, new curtains and upholstery were put in, the paintwork was refreshed, the roof was rethatched and the cottage was rewired. The original blue colour scheme was replaced by pale green sofa coverings and cream curtains with tiny dark pink flowers.

‘Granny was very clear that for all the fabric she wanted very little designs. It’s such a little house that she wanted little flowers and patterns,’ she said.    

‘It’s beautiful. I’ve been lucky enough to play here and now Granny’s a great-granny, so now Savannah [Peter and Autumn Phillips’s daughter] can enjoy it too.’    

My father put in the plumbing... and I played in the house before Elizabeth
The honour of presenting the keys of Y Bwthyn Bach to Princess Elizabeth’s parents, then the Duke and Duchess of York, was bestowed  Welsh schoolgirl Jean Blake.

On March 16 1932, the seven-year-old dressed in Welsh national costume and accompanied her father William, a plumber and engineer, to Cardiff’s Drill Hall. There, Jean was allowed to explore the little house before greeting the future King and Queen and proudly posing with them.

The Mail on Sunday has tracked down Jean, now 86 and living in Ontario, Canada. Eight decades on, she still recalls the excitement of the day she spent with Royalty.

‘It was luck that I was chosen really,’ she says. ‘I was a similar age Princess Elizabeth and my dad had installed all the plumbing and electricity in the cottage and knew the architect who designed it.

‘My first thought when I saw the house was that it was absolutely beautiful, unbelievable because everything was so life-like but in miniature.  The tea sets, the pictures, a fridge and a cooker, all perfect for a child to use.

‘I remember sitting down at the kitchen table and pouring myself a cup of tea in the little cups. Everything worked just like in a normal house, yet it was a toy.’

Jean, a retired secretary who moved to Canada with her husband Frank Sharman, 90, in 1968, presented a bouquet of flowers to the Duchess of York. The princesses themselves were unable to attend, but their parents were thrilled with the little house.

Jean Sharman on the day she handed over the keys in 1932

‘It was really difficult for adults, especially men, to get into the house easily but the Duke of York ducked down and had a look around. I can’t remember what I said to them, but I do remember they were impressed with the cottage. It would be hard not to fall in love with it.

‘The highlight for me was peddling round in a toy car that was also being given to Princess Elizabeth. It had a little space in the back with a small puppy sitting in it that was another gift from the people of Wales. I’ve always loved dogs and if I’d had the chance I would have taken him home with me rather than hand him over,’ she adds, laughing.

Jean and her husband, who have six great grandchildren, still come back to Britain every year to visit family and friends.

‘A couple of years ago we went to Windsor Castle and asked about The Little House but we were told that it was tucked far back in the gardens of Royal Lodge away from public view and no-one except the Royal Family are given access, which is a great shame.

‘We are coming back to Britain next month and it would be lovely to see it again. At the age of six I didn’t really think about the part I was playing in this historic event, but now I feel very privileged to have been one of the few people outside the Royal Family to have played in the house - even more so knowing I got to go inside it before the Queen herself.’

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Menswear: Vintage People on Photo Postcards (Photo Postcards from the Tom Phillips Archive) Foreword by Eric Musgrave

 Menswear: Vintage People on Photo Postcards (Photo Postcards from the Tom Phillips Archive)
Foreword by Eric Musgrave
Publication Date: 3rd October 2012
Hardback: 112 pages
Publisher: The Bodleian Library
ISBN: 978-185124-378-5

To celebrate the acquisition of the Tom Phillips archive, the Bodleian Library has asked the artist to assemble and design a series of books drawing on his themed collection of over 50,000 photographic postcards. These encompass the first half of the twentieth century, a period in which, thanks to the ever cheaper medium of photography, 'ordinary' people could afford to own their portraits. Menswear presents men in all manner of outfits, formal, practical or casual  but always as individuals nudging the stylistic vocabulary this way and that, in fashion’s wide, rich and entertaining spectrum. Each book contains 200 images chosen with the eye of a leading artist from a visually rich vein of social history. Their covers will also feature a thematically linked painting, especially created for each title, from Tom Phillips' signature work, A Humument.

Tom Phillips  and Eric Musgrave

Sunday 25 November 2018

KURT HAHN and Gordonstoun School

Kurt Matthias Robert Martin Hahn CBE (5 June 1886, Berlin – 14 December 1974, Hermannsberg) was a German Jewish educator. He founded Schule Schloss Salem, Gordonstoun, Outward Bound and the United World Colleges.

Early life
Born in Berlin to Jewish parents, Hahn attended school in Berlin, then universities at Oxford, Heidelberg, Freiburg and Göttingen. During World War I, Hahn worked in the German Department for Foreign Affairs, analyzing British newspapers and advising the Foreign Office. He had been private secretary to Prince Max von Baden, the last Imperial Chancellor of Germany.[3] In 1920, Hahn and Prince Max founded Schule Schloss Salem, a private boarding school, where Hahn served as headmaster until 1933.

Hahn was raised as a Jew and served as the Salem School's headmaster during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Hahn began his fierce criticism of the Nazi regime after Hitler's storm troopers killed a young communist in the presence of his mother. When he spoke out against the storm troopers, who had received no punishment, Hahn spoke against Hitler publicly. He asked the students, faculty and alumni of the Salem school to choose between Salem and Hitler. As a result, he was imprisoned for five days (from 11 to 16 March 1933). After an appeal by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Hahn was released, and in July 1933 he was forced to leave Germany and moved to Britain.

United Kingdom
Hahn settled in Scotland, where he founded Gordonstoun with Sir Lawrence Holt on similar principles to the school in Salem. Later, Hahn converted to Christianity and became a communicant member of the Church of England in 1945 and preached in the Church of Scotland. He also started an international organisation of schools, now called Round Square. Hahn was also involved in the foundation of the Outward Bound Organisation, Atlantic College in Wales and the wider United World College movement, and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

Return to Germany
Hahn divided his time between Britain and Germany after the war. He founded several new boarding schools based on the principles of Salem and Gordonstoun: Anavryta, Greece (1949); Louisenlund, Germany (1949); Battisborough, England (1955); Rannoch School, Scotland (1959); Box Hill, England (1959); International School Ibadan, Nigeria (1963); The Athenian School, USA (1965). He resigned from the headship of Gordonstoun on health grounds and returned to Hermannsberg near Salem in 1953. He died there on 14 December 1974 and was buried in Salem.

Hahn's educational philosophy was based on respect for adolescents, whom he believed to possess an innate decency and moral sense, but who were, he believed, corrupted by society as they aged. He believed that education could prevent this corruption, if students were given opportunities for personal leadership and to see the results of their own actions. This is one reason for the focus on outdoor adventure in his philosophy. Hahn relied here on Dr. Bernhard Zimmermann, the former Director of the Göttingen University Physical Education Department, who had to leave Germany in 1938 as he did not want to divorce his Jewish wife. Hahn's educational thinking was crystallized by World War I, which he viewed as proof of the corruption of society and a promise of later doom if people, Europeans particularly, could not be taught differently. At the Schule Schloss Salem, in addition to acting as headmaster, he taught history, politics, ancient Greek, Shakespeare, and Schiller. He was deeply influenced by Plato's thought. Gordonstoun is based less on Eton than on Salem. Hahn's prefects are called Colour Bearers, and traditionally they are promoted according to Hahn's values: concern and compassion for others, the willingness to accept responsibility, and concern and tenacity in pursuit of the truth. Punishment of any kind is viewed as a last resort.

Hahn also emphasized what he called "Samaritan service", having students give service to others. He formulated this as focusing on finding Christian purpose in life. It has however been adopted by the IB program and secularized.

Gordonstoun School
Gordonstoun School is a co-educational independent school for boarding and day pupils in Moray, Scotland. It is named after the 150-acre (61 ha) estate originally owned by Sir Robert Gordon in the 17th century; the school now uses this estate as its campus. It is located in Duffus to the north-west of Elgin. It is a "public school" in the English usage of the term as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868. The school follows certain practices such as usage of the Common Entrance Exam for the 13+ entry age.

Founded in 1934 by German educator Kurt Hahn, Gordonstoun has an enrolment of around 500 full boarders as well as about 100 day pupils between the ages of 6 and 18. With the number of teaching staff exceeding 100, there is a low student-teacher ratio compared to the average in the United Kingdom. There are eight boarding houses, formerly nine prior to the closure of Altyre house in summer 2016, including two 17th-century buildings that were part of the original estate. The other houses have been built or modified since the school was established.

Gordonstoun has a few notable alumni. Three generations of British royalty were educated at Gordonstoun, including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.Due to Dr. Hahn's influence, the school has had a strong connection with Germany. It is part of the Round Square Conference of Schools, a group of more than 80 schools across the globe based on the teaching of Hahn. Around 30% of students attending Gordonstoun come from abroad.

The British Salem School of Gordonstoun was established in 1934 by Kurt Hahn after he was asked by friends to give a demonstration in the UK of his "Salem system".He was born in Berlin in 1886 and studied at the University of Oxford.[8] After reading Plato's The Republic as a young man, Hahn conceived the idea of a modern school. With the help of Prince Max of Baden, he set up the Schule Schloss Salem in 1919.After the First World War, both men decided that education was key in influencing the future. They developed Salem in order to develop its students as community leaders. By the 1930s Salem had already become a renowned school throughout Europe. In 1932 Hahn spoke out against the Nazis and was arrested in March 1933.

He was released and exiled to Britain in the same year through the influence of the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who was familiar with Hahn's work.[10] At the urging of British friends, Hahn decided to start a new school in Morayshire.

Gordonstoun was started in a small way and had financial difficulties in its early years. After the death in 1930 of Sir William Gordon-Cumming, 4th Baronet, his house at Gordonstoun was obtained by Kurt Hahn, whose offer for the lease was accepted on 14 March 1934. The buildings needed repair and renovation, and at the start of the first academic year, the school had only two enrolled pupils. Hahn expected Gordonstoun to operate for only a few years, as an example of his vision. The number of pupils steadily increased, and some additional pupils transferred from Salem, including Prince Philip of Greece, now the Duke of Edinburgh. By the start of the Second World War, 135 boys were attending.

In June 1940 the school was evacuated and the Gordonstoun estate was taken over by the army for use as barracks. The school was relocated temporarily to quarters in Montgomeryshire in Mid Wales when Lord Davies, a parent of two pupils, allowed the school to use one of his houses. The buildings were insufficient, and finances and pupil numbers began to drop. The school survived the war, pupil numbers increased again, and the school became well known throughout Wales and the Midlands. Once the war had ended, the school returned to the Gordonstoun estate.

By the end of the 1940s, the school achieved its primary target of 250 pupils and continued growing in size. It built dormitories on the estate, removing the need of maintaining a house in Altyre, Forres, many miles away from the main campus. Gordonstoun also developed its academic offerings. It arranged to admit poorer children from the surrounding areas, and to deepen the "Outward Bound"-type activities that were central to Hahn's system. Skills in mountaineering and seamanship were always taught at the school. The introduction of the Moray Badge, from which the Duke of Edinburgh's Award was borrowed, expanded the types of physical challenges for students to conquer.
From the 1950s onwards, the school administration concentrated on improving the facilities and expanding the curriculum. Major changes since then include: the founding of Round Square in 1966,[6] an international community of schools sharing Hahn's educational ideals; the school becoming co-educational in 1972; and the moving of Aberlour House, Gordonstoun's preparatory school, from Speyside to a purpose-built Junior Schoola[›] on campus in 2004.

In the beginning, Hahn blended a traditional private school ethos, modelled on his experiences at Eton and Oxford, with a philosophy inspired by Plato's The Republic and other elements of ancient Greek history. This is seen in the title "Guardian", denoting the head boy and girl, the adoption of a Greek trireme as the school's emblem, and a routine that could be described as Spartan. Outdoor activities and skills such as seamanship and mountaineering are emphasized. The school had a reputation for harsh conditions, with cold showers and morning runs as a matter of routine. It also used physical punishments, known as "penalty drill" or PD, in the form of supervised runs around one's house (dormitory) or the south lawn of Gordonstoun House (pictured). Physical education and challenging outdoor activities are still practised, but cold showers and punishment runs have been dropped.

Hahn's views on education centred on the ability to understand different cultures. Gordonstoun incorporates this in a number of ways including its association with Round Square and in offering pupil exchanges to the different schools within the association. Additionally there is a chance to join one of the annual international service projects which take pupils abroad to help a foreign community, for instance there have been projects to build schools in Africa, build wells in Thailand and help orphans in Romania. Hahn believed that an important part of education was to challenge a person and take them out of their areas of familiarity and comfort, improving a person's ability to deal with difficult situations. The school requires that every pupil takes part in a series of outdoor programmes particularly expeditions in the Cairngorms and sailing training on the school's 80-foot vessel, Ocean Spirit.

Hahn believed that "The Platonic view of education is that a nation must do all it can to make the individual citizen discover his own power and further more that the individual becomes a cripple in his or her point of view if he is not qualified by education to serve the community."[29] The idea of service at the school is thought to encourage students to gain a feeling of responsibility to aid other people and is implemented in creating an array of services to the community which every student becomes involved in.

Gordonstoun offers a series of grants, drawing on its investments and other funds from which the school can draw upon in order to support pupils who are unable to pay the full fees.[30] In the academic year 2009/10 the school provided financial support for 163 pupils including 11 with 100% fee coverage and 95 with 50% fee reduction.The school is a registered charity: Scottish charity number SC037867.

Flannelled Fool: A Slice of a Life in the Thirties

Flannelled Fool: A Slice of a Life in the Thirties is an autobiography by T. C. Worsley, published in 1967. It takes its title from a phrase in "The Islanders", a poem by Rudyard Kipling.

Though Flannelled Fool is subtitled A Slice of a Life in the Thirties, much of it treats the author's childhood and education at Marlborough College before he began a schoolmastering career at Wellington College in 1929.

The frank accounts of many of its personages, only thinly disguised by false names, led, according to Alan Ross, the book's eventual publisher, to several rejections:

At least three leading publishers turned it down on legal advice, and Cuthbert Worsley himself admitted that he had been warned it was folly to expect publication. Re-reading it now I feel there were good reasons for anxiety, but at the time, with little to lose, it seemed worth the risk. Worsley had assured me that all the 'college' [Wellington] masters likely to cause trouble were dead, and Kurt Hahn, whose possible reaction had done most to scare off the others, was, safely, we hoped, back in Germany.

In the event, nothing happened. Far from bankrupting us or putting Cuthbert and me in gaol, the book both sold well and received a wonderful press.

Flannelled fool: A slice of life in the Thirties (1967)

by Thomas Cuthbert Worsley

REVIEW by jbarnabasl

3.0 out of 5 starsIs he a fool?

19 December 2006

T. C. Worsley is disarmingly -self-deprecating, in a way that is rather out of fashion now. He was brought up in what would now be considered a dysfunctional family. His father, the Dean of Llandaff, abandoned his senior post in the Church of England, his house and his family, and spent most of his time playing golf. For Worsley, his father's life and character represents the kind of ineffectuality that he desperately wants to avoid in his own life, but fears he will ineluctably become.

Worsley is clearly good at some things, particularly cricket. At his public school, Marlborough, he takes on the character of a "hearty", one who loves games and despises learning. When he goes up to Cambridge, though, he eventually comes to love English literature and spends his early adulthood trying to find a balance between the various things he loves.

He repeatedly makes it clear that he is a late maturer in many ways. He is sexually repressed, but comes to recognize that his preference is for boys. Nowadays, this would earn him nothing but obloquy, but in the less censorious 1930s, when he was a young master at "College", it was believed by some that men who are paederastically inclined sometimes make the best teachers of boys. As far as we can tell from the book, he did not have any kind of sexual contact with the boys he taught, although he was subject to insinuations of inappropriate behaviour by "the old guard", the older masters at "College".

I recognized "College" (which is how Worsley refers to the school at which he taught) as Wellington College, my alma mater. Worsley's description of the buildings would be recognized by any Old Wellingtonian (and I am one), as would the name of the Master (the head master), Malim, and one of the outstanding teachers (in a Mr Chips kind of way), Talboys.

Worsley suffered from the illusion that he had to write a novel and left his post at Wellington to dedicate himself to writing. He encountered Kurt Hahn, the founder of Gordonstoun (the boarding school in the north of Scotland where Prince Charles was sent). Hahn invites him to spend a term at Gordonstoun, where he could live and write in return for advising Hahn about how the school was developing - it was a new school in those days. Worsley very soon realizes that Hahn, a Jew who had left Hitler's Germany to escape persecution, is as much an elitist as the Nazis whose attentions he had fled from. Worsley neatly undermines the Hahn myth and shows Hahn himself to be rather an unpleasant, if charismatic, character.

Just before the Second World War starts, Worsley finds a niche at the New Statesman, work he's able to resume after grappling with the stupidities of bureaucracy and the Services during the War (all amusingly described); he has a breakdown and is invalided out of the RAF, returns to the New Statesman and in due course becomes the Literary Editor and Drama Critic.

The book is subtly written, easy to read, but not one of great or universal significance. I enjoyed it, partly because Worsley had been a teacher at my old school, Wellington and partly because I recognize Worsley's fear of falling into the kind of ineffectual life his father (despite his promotion to a senior post in the Church) had lived and the kind of character his father had been. In fact, Worsley cannot have been as ineffectual as he feared, far from it. He fought many battles with those whose views he found repellant and found subtle ways to deal with the bullying of senior officers to which he and others were subject during the War. Clearly he is a good writer, but I was left with a sense of a man who yearned to have had a loving and strong father - the failure of his father to form a strong emotional bond with him seems to have stunted his (Worsley's) capacity to form strong, lasting and healthy relationships with others.

In 1934, through his lectures in London to the New Education Fellowship, Hahn met the educationalist T. C. Worsley and persuaded him to spend a summer term at the newly founded Gordonstoun in the capacity of consultant.In his memoir Flannelled Fool: A Slice of a Life in the Thirties, Worsley records his impressions of Hahn's penetrating character analysis, and his energy and commitment in the cause of human development, but as time went on he became critical of Hahn's "despotic, overpowering personality":

He revealed himself as having a fierce temper, a strong hand with the cane, and a temperament which hated being crossed. Especially damaging to my very English view, was his dislike of being defeated at any game. Hahn was an avid tennis player. But was it an easily forgiveable weakness that his opponents had to be chosen for being his inferiors or else, if their form was unknown, instructed not to let themselves win?

Hahn's behaviour came to seem to Worsley "so ineffably, so Germanically silly" that he was unable to share the clear adulation of the teaching staff:

We were going through the classrooms when, in one, he suddenly stopped, gripped my arm, raised his nostrils in the air, and then, in his marked German accent, he solemnly pronounced:

'Somevon has been talking dirt in this room. I can smell it.'

Hahn's views on Shakespeare led to an open disagreement:

He had what I have since learned to be a common German belief that Shakespeare was better in German than in English. I refused to allow this. I argued that the German translation might indeed be very good, but that the English original must be better. No, he assured me, the German was better; and as I didn't know German and he did know English, he must be right. We grew absurdly heated.

 This is the story of Worsley’s acquaintanceship (ending badly) with Kurt Hahn, the forceful German exile who founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland in 1934. Having met him twice, Worsley was invited to spend a summer term observing Gordonstoun without being enrolled as a teacher.

He [Hahn] took me over one day to show me this coastguard watch in action. As we walked towards it there came, trotting towards us away from it, one of the duty boys, dressed in the shirt and shorts which all Gordonstoun boys sensibly wore. The lad trotted by, and Hahn stopped me and in that familiar gesture of his gripped my arm:

‘Did you notice that boy?’

I had noticed him only because he was well known as the school tart; but I wasn’t sure whether Hahn would have been aware of that so I replied non-committally:

‘Not particularly.’

‘You didn’t,’ said Hahn, ‘notice his eyes?’ I admitted that I hadn’t.

‘Ah!’ Hahn said sadly. ‘You should have noticed that. That’s what coastguard watching does for a boy. His eyes were crystalline and pure. You only see such eyes in two kinds of people,’ and with immense emphasis, ‘ze hunter home from ze hill and ze sailor home from ze sea.’

This remark, and the other in the classroom seemed to me so ineffably, so Germanically silly, that I couldn’t take Hahn completely seriously from then on.

The Lonely Heir: Inside the Isolating Boarding School Days of Prince Charles
Growing up, Prince Charles struggled to please his parents and to fill a role that was against his nature. In an adaptation from her new book, Sally Bedell Smith chronicles the brutal bullying the heir endured at school, and the unlikely place in which he found solace.
APRIL 2017

Before the stroke of midnight on November 14, 1948, Prince Charles Philip Arthur George officially became public property. While his 22-year-old mother, Princess Elizabeth, rested in her bedroom suite in Buckingham Palace, her newborn heir was brought to the vast gilded ballroom by the royal midwife, Sister Helen Rowe. Under the 46-foot-high ceilings—juxtaposed with the monarch’s massive throne draped in red-and-gold embroidered velvet—the infant was swaddled in white blankets and placed in a simple cot for viewing by the royal courtiers who served his grandfather King George VI and his grandmother Queen Elizabeth.

“Just a plasticine head,” observed Major Thomas Harvey, the Queen’s private secretary. “Poor little chap, two and a half hours after being born, he was being looked at by outsiders—but with great affection and good will.”

Charles was hemmed in by high expectations and scrutiny from the start—unlike his mother, who had 10 relatively carefree years of childhood. It was only when her father unexpectedly took the throne, in 1936, on the abdication of his older brother, King Edward VIII, that Princess Elizabeth assumed her position as next in line.

In December, four-week-old Charles was christened beneath the ornate dome of the Music Room at Buckingham Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury doused the little prince with water from the river Jordan that had been poured into the gold Lily Font, designed by Prince Albert and used for all of his and Queen Victoria’s children. Delighted with her firstborn, Elizabeth breast-fed him for two months, until she contracted measles and was forced to stop. Yet she was often away from Charles in his infancy, spending as much time as she could with her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, an officer in the Royal Navy, who was posted to Malta in October 1949. She managed to celebrate her son’s first birthday, but afterward she was abroad, and separated from her son, for long intervals.

Prince Philip scarcely knew his son for the first two years of the boy’s life, though on his return from overseas duty he did take the time to teach Charles to shoot and fish, and to swim in the Buckingham Palace pool. When Prince Charles hit bottom after his separation from Diana, in 1992, he unburdened himself about the miseries of his youth to Jonathan Dimbleby, who was writing an authorized biography. Dimbleby noted that, as a little boy, Charles was “easily cowed by the forceful personality of his father,” whose rebukes for “a deficiency in behaviour or attitude . . . easily drew tears.” While brusque, Philip was “well-meaning but unimaginative.” Friends who spoke with Charles’s permission described the duke’s “belittling” and even “bullying” his son. Charles was less harsh about his mother, but his opinion had a bitter edge. She was “not indifferent so much as detached.”

Nearly two decades later, in 2012, Charles tried to make amends in a TV documentary tribute to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee. Home movies depicted an idyllic childhood at the family’s country estates at Sandringham, in Norfolk, and Balmoral, in Scotland. Footage of Prince Philip teetering on a tricycle and zooming down a slide on the Royal Yacht Britannia contradicted his reputation as a tetchy martinet, and scenes of the Queen romping with her children were meant to dispel the notion of her being distant and unaffectionate.

Charles was sensitive from the start, and his finely tuned antennae were susceptible to slights and rebukes. During one luncheon at Broadlands, the home of Philip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten, the guests were served wild strawberries. Charles, aged eight, methodically began removing the stems from the berries on his plate. “Don’t take the little stems out,” Edwina Mountbatten said. “Look, you can pick them up by the stems and dip them in sugar.” Moments later, his cousin Pamela Hicks noticed that “the poor child was trying to put all the stems back on. That was so sad, and so typical of how sensitive he was.”

As Philip watched these traits emerging, he worried that Charles could become weak and vulnerable, so he set about toughening him up. Asked in an interview when he was 20 years old whether his father had been a “tough disciplinarian” and whether he had been told “to sit down and shut up,” Charles answered without hesitation: “The whole time, yes.”

More often than not, the duke was a blunt instrument, unable to resist personal remarks. He was sarcastic with his daughter, Anne, as well. But Charles’s younger sister, a confident extrovert, could push back, while the young prince wilted, retreating farther into his shell.

When Elizabeth became Queen, her dedication to her duties meant even less time for her children. She relied increasingly on her husband to make the major family decisions. Neither parent was physically demonstrative. That lack of tactile connection was achingly apparent in May 1954, when the Queen and Prince Philip greeted five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne with handshakes after an absence of nearly six months on a tour of Commonwealth nations. Martin Charteris, Elizabeth’s onetime private secretary, observed that Charles “must have been baffled by what a natural mother-son relationship was meant to be like.”

Charles was indulged by his maternal grandmother, the Queen Mother, and visited her frequently at Royal Lodge, her pale-pink home in Windsor Great Park, when his parents were away. As early as age two, he would sit on her bed playing with her lipsticks, rattling the tops, marveling at the colors. When he was five, she let him explore Shaw Farm, in the Windsor Home Park. She also opened up a world of music and art that Charles felt his parents didn’t adequately appreciate. “My grandmother was the person who taught me to look at things,” he recalled.

As heir to the throne, he made an inviting target for school-mates, who ridiculed his protruding ears.

She never hesitated to give her grandson the hugs he craved. She encouraged his kind and gentle nature—the eagerness to share his candy with other children, and, when choosing sides for games, to select the weakest first for his team. “Her protective side clocked in on his behalf,” said her longtime lady-in-waiting, Dame Frances Campbell-Preston. At the same time, with the best intentions, she fueled the young prince’s tendency to self-pity, which fed one of his strongest traits, known as “whinging”—the more pointed British word for whining.

Charles’s early home-schooling was supervised by Catherine Peebles, his sensible Glaswegian governess, nicknamed “Mispy,” who felt compassion for his insecurities and his tendency to “draw back” at the hint of a raised voice. Eager to please, he plodded diligently through his lessons but was easily distracted and dreamy. “He is young to think so much,” Winston Churchill remarked after observing Charles shortly before his fourth birthday.

One book that caught the prince’s eye and helped hone his sense of humor was Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses, a volume of poetry about the consequences of bad behavior. It brimmed with quirkiness and bizarre characters—a precursor to the sketches by the Goons and Monty Python comedy troupes, two happily subversive influences in his life. But by the time he was eight, the Queen and Prince Philip had decided that he needed the company of children in a classroom, making him the first heir to the throne to be educated outside the palace.

Early in 1957, he arrived in a royal limousine at Hill House School, in Knightsbridge, London. For all his parents’ efforts to put Charles in a normal environment—taking the bus to the playing fields and sweeping the classroom floors—he had difficulty mixing with the other boys. A newsreel of the school’s “field day” of sports competitions that spring showed a solemn prince introducing his parents to his classmates, who obediently bowed.

Charles had ability in reading and writing, although he struggled with mathematics. His first-term report noted that “he simply loves drawing and painting” and showed musical aptitude as well. But after a mere six months, his father transferred him to Cheam School, in Hampshire, where Philip himself had been sent at the age of eight. Although it was founded in 1645, the school had a progressive tilt, avoiding the exclusive atmosphere of other preparatory boarding schools.

Charles was just shy of his ninth birthday but considerably more vulnerable than his father. He suffered from acute homesickness, clutching his teddy bear and weeping frequently in private. “I’ve always preferred my own company or just a one to one,” he has said. As heir to the throne, he made an inviting target for school-mates, who ridiculed his protruding ears and called the pudgy prince “fatty.” He fell into a routine that included weekly letters home—the beginning of his passion for written correspondence. In the tradition of the time, he braved beatings from two different headmasters for flouting the rules. “I am one of those for whom corporal punishment actually worked,” he grimly recalled.

Charles lacked his father’s resilient temperament, and he lacked the physical prowess to command respect.

Charles had a fragile constitution. He suffered from chronic sinus infections and was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy in May 1957. Later that year, when he was bed-ridden at school with Asian flu, his parents didn’t visit him. (Both had been inoculated, so there was no fear of contagion.) Instead, before leaving for a royal tour of Canada, in October, the Queen sent him a farewell letter. The Queen and Prince Philip were again on tour, in India, when Charles came down with measles, at age 12.

Physically uncoordinated and slow as well as overweight, Charles had no talent for Rugby, cricket, or soccer—the prestige schoolboy sports. During vacations he joined local boys who lived near Balmoral for cricket matches. “I would invariably walk boldly out to the crease,” he recalled, “only to return, ignominiously, a few minutes later when I was out for a duck”—that is, having failed to score any runs. Elizabeth had taught Charles to ride, starting at age four. He was timorous on horseback, while his sister, Anne, was bold. Mostly he feared jumping. Anne’s equine prowess pleased her mother, and Philip saw a kindred spirit in her confidence and fearlessness.

Charles’s loneliness and unhappiness at Cheam were painfully obvious to his family. In a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Eden at the beginning of 1958, the Queen wrote, “Charles is just beginning to dread the return to school next week—so much worse for the second term.” She knew that Cheam was “a misery” to her son, according to a biography of Charles by Dermot Morrah, which was sanctioned by the royal family. Morrah observed that the Queen thought her son was “a slow developer.”

Asked as he was approaching his 21st birthday to describe the moment he first realized as a little boy that he was heir to the throne, Charles replied, “I think it’s something that dawns on you with the most ghastly inexorable sense . . . and slowly you get the idea that you have a certain duty and responsibility.” He did, however, experience an unanticipated jolt in the summer of 1958 while watching the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, on television with some school-mates in the headmaster’s study at Cheam. Suddenly he heard his mother declare in a recorded speech that she was naming him the Prince of Wales—a mortifying moment for a shy nine-year-old boy who wanted desperately to be seen as normal and already carried the burden of his six other titles. Even as a very young boy, he was marked out as different.

The most important experience at Cheam was Charles’s discovery that he felt at home on a stage—a helpful skill for a public figure. For his role in a play about King Richard III, called The Last Baron, he spent hours listening to a recording of Laurence Olivier in a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. It was November 1961, and once again his parents were abroad, this time in Ghana. In their place, the Queen Mother and Princess Anne watched the heir to the throne perform as Richard, the 15th-century monarch famous for his deformity.

“After a few minutes on to the stage shambled a most horrible looking creature,” the Queen Mother wrote to her daughter, “a leering vulgarian, with a dreadful expression on his twisted mouth; & to my horror I began to realize that this was my dear grandson!” She added that “he acted his part very well” and that “in fact he made the part quite revolting!”

Charles formed no lasting friendships during his five years at Cheam. The Queen Mother made a strong pitch to his parents for him to continue his education at Eton College, the ancient boarding school near Windsor Castle. She knew that Philip had been pushing for his own alma mater, Gordonstoun, located in an isolated part of northeastern Scotland. In a letter to the Queen in May 1961, the Queen Mother described Eton as “ideal . . . for one of his character & temperament.” If he went to Gordonstoun, “he might as well be at school abroad.” She pointed out, quite reasonably, that the children of the Queen’s friends were at Eton.

But Philip doubled down on the value of a rough-and-tumble education, arguing that Gordonstoun would be the best place for his timorous son. The Queen sided with Philip, sealing Charles’s fate.

The Queen did not accompany her husband in May 1962, when he delivered Charles to Gordonstoun. A certified pilot, Philip flew Charles to a Royal Air Force base in Scotland and drove him the rest of the way. With a 17th-century gray stone building at its center (built in a circular design, according to legend, by Sir Robert Gordon so that no devils could fly into corners), the campus had an undistinguished collection of seven pre-fabricated wooden residences that had previously been used as R.A.F. barracks. The prince was assigned to Windmill Lodge with 13 other boys, the start of an ordeal that he viewed as nothing less than a “prison sentence.”

The school’s founder, Kurt Hahn, was a progressive educator who had been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and ran a school in southern Germany called Salem. Hahn, who was Jewish, fled to Britain after Hitler came to power. He established Gordonstoun in 1934, with Prince Philip among the first students. The school’s motto: “There is more in you.”

Hahn sought to develop character along with intellect. He promoted Plato’s idealistic vision in The Republic of a world where “philosophers become kings . . . , or till those we now call kings and rulers truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” Contemplating his future reign, Charles would identify with the philosopher king, a notion later encouraged by well-meaning advisers who championed the idea of an “activist” monarch who would impose his wide-ranging worldview on his subjects.

Physical challenges at Gordonstoun were at the heart of building character. The testing began with the boys’ attire (short trousers throughout the year) and the living conditions (open windows at all times in the grim dormitories). The day began with a run before breakfast, followed by a frigid shower. “It was a memorable experience, especially during the winter,” recalled Somerset Waters, a school-mate of Charles’s. The prince nevertheless became so accustomed to the morning ritual that as an adult he continued to take a cold shower each day, in addition to the hot bath drawn by his valet.

Hahn aimed to create an egalitarian society where “the sons of the powerful can be emancipated from the prison of privilege,” an ethos that suited Philip when he was there. His assertive personality and Teutonic sensibility helped him adjust to the school’s demands. He was also a natural athlete who served as captain of both the cricket and hockey teams. Charles had neither his father’s resilient temperament nor his relative anonymity, and he lacked the physical prowess to command respect. Encumbered by his titles and his status as heir to the throne, he was singled out as a victim from his first day. “Bullying was virtually institutionalized and very rough,” said John Stonborough, a classmate of Charles’s.

The housemaster at Charles’s dorm was Robert Whitby, “a truly nasty piece of work,” recalled Stonborough. “He was vicious, a classic bully, a weak man. If he didn’t like you, he took it out on you. He was wrong for Charles.” Whitby, like the other housemasters, handed over the running of the houses to senior boys, who imposed a form of martial law, with ritualized psychological and physical abuse that included tying boys up in laundry baskets under a cold shower. Few students would walk with Charles to meals or class. Those boys who tried to befriend the prince were derided with “slurping” noises. Many years later Charles complained, with evident anguish, that since his schooldays people were always “moving away from me, because they don’t want to be seen as sucking up.”

As at Cheam, he was taunted for his jug ears, which his great-uncle Earl Mountbatten unavailingly urged his parents to have surgically pinned back. During intra-house Rugby matches, teammates and opponents alike pummeled Charles in the scrum. “I never saw him react at all,” recalled Stonborough. “He was very stoic. He never fought back.” At night in the dormitory, the bullies tormented Charles, who detailed the abuse in anguished letters to friends and relatives.

Charles found one escape at the nearby home of Captain Iain Tennant and his wife, Lady Margaret. She was the sister of a childhood friend of the Queen’s, David Airlie (the 13th earl). Tennant was chairman of Gordonstoun, so he could extend the privilege of weekend visits, when Charles would “cry his eyes out,” said Sir Malcolm Ross, who served as one of the Queen’s longtime senior advisers. “Iain and Margy really saved him from complete misery,” said David Airlie’s wife, Virginia.

A crucial day-to-day support for Charles was Donald Green, the royal bodyguard who, in time, became a father figure. Green stood six feet five, dressed well, drove a Land Rover, and seemed “slightly James Bond-ish” to the other boys. Green was Charles’s one constant friend, although there was little he could do about the abuse that occurred within the dormitories. This friendship, more readily made than with Charles’s peers, set the prince’s lifelong pattern of seeking company with his elders.

In June 1963, during Charles’s second year, he was sailing on the school ketch, the Pinta, to the Isle of Lewis. The boys were taken to a pub in the village at Stornoway Harbor, where the 14-year-old prince ordered a cherry brandy. “I said the first drink that came into my head,” he recalled, “because I’d drunk it before, when it was cold, out shooting.” Unbeknownst to Charles, a tabloid reporter was present, and his foray into under-age drinking became banner headlines in the tabloids as “the whole world exploded around my ears.” Afterward, the Metropolitan Police fired Don Green, robbing Charles of an ally and confidant. Charles was devastated, saying later that “I have never been able to forgive them for doing that. . . . I thought it was the end of the world.”

Charles had middling success in his coursework—with the exception of his declamatory ability—but he found a creative refuge in the art room presided over by a kind and somewhat effete master in his 20s named Robert Waddell. The prince gravitated toward pottery rather than painting—“like an idiot,” he later said. Classical music served as a balm as well. His grandmother had taken him to see a concert by cellist Jacqueline du Pré, inspiring him to take up the instrument at age 14. “It had such a rich deep sound,” he recalled. “I’d never heard sounds like it.”

Gordonstoun nearly extinguished Charles’s budding interest in Shakespeare, as he and his classmates “ground our way” through Julius Caesar for standardized tests. The Bard came alive only after the arrival in 1964 of a new English master, Eric Anderson—like the art teacher Waddell, also in his 20s—who encouraged Charles to act in several of Shakespeare’s dramas. In November 1965 he played the lead in Macbeth. His interpretation, said Anderson, evoked “a sensitive soul who is behaving in a way that is really uncharacteristic of him because of other forces.” Charles was excited about the prospect of his parents’ coming to see a performance. But as he “lay there and thrashed about” onstage, he wrote in a letter, “all I could hear was my father and ‘Ha, ha, ha.’ ” Afterward, he asked Prince Philip, “Why did you laugh?” “It sounds like the Goons,” said his father—a dagger to the heart of a young man so eager to please.

He similarly disappointed Philip in team sports, although he did develop considerable skill in the more solitary pursuit of fishing, along with traditional upper-crust shooting. At 13, Charles shot his first stag, steeling himself to the sight of the beast being eviscerated by servants on the hillside at Balmoral.

In 1961, he took up polo, eager to follow his father. “I was all for it,” said Charles. “At least you stay on the ground”—as opposed to jumping over fences in fox-hunting. By 1964, Charles was applying himself to the sport more seriously. That year, he also started playing practice matches with Philip at the Household Brigade Polo Club, on Smith’s Lawn, at Windsor Great Park. Still a censorious figure, Philip nevertheless was idolized by Charles. The young prince began to mimic his mannerisms—walking with one arm behind his back, gesturing with his right forefinger, clasping his hands for emphasis, and pushing up the sleeve of his left arm.

With renewed determination to give his son backbone, Philip made the unusual decision to send him to Australia at age 17 for two terms in the outback at Timbertop, the wilderness branch of the Geelong Church of England Grammar School, in Melbourne. Other than a trip on the Britannia to Libya, at age five, it was Charles’s first time leaving Europe.

Philip assigned David Checketts, his equerry—an aide-de-camp entrusted with logistics—to supervise his son’s stay Down Under. Unlike other royal advisers, the 36-year-old Checketts was decidedly middle-class. The product of a state-run grammar school, he had served in the Royal Air Force. His down-to-earth manner put the uncertain prince at ease.

Charles and Checketts arrived in Australia in early February 1966. They were greeted by a daunting contingent of more than 300 reporters and photographers that the prince endured with gritted teeth. At Timbertop he shared a bedroom and sitting room with a handpicked roommate, Geelong’s head boy.

The prince was liberated by the informality of a country where, as he quickly discerned, “there is no such thing as aristocracy or anything like it.” For the first time, he was judged on “how people see you, and feel about you.” Students and masters treated him as one of them, and to his surprise he felt little homesickness. He was mildly teased as a “Pommie,” Australian slang for Englishman, but faced none of the sadistic hazing endemic at Gordonstoun.

The boys did only a modicum of studying. Timbertop was all about physical challenges, which Charles now embraced with surprising success. He undertook cross-country expeditions in blistering heat, logging as many as 70 miles in three days—climbing five peaks along the way—and spending nights freezing in a sleeping bag. He proudly relayed his accomplishments in his letters home.

He encountered leeches, snakes, bull ants, and funnel-web spiders, and joined the other students in chopping and splitting wood, feeding pigs, picking up litter, and cleaning out fly traps—“revolting glass bowls seething with flies and very ancient meat.” It was a more physically testing experience than Gordonstoun, “but it was jolly good for the character and, in many ways, I loved it and learnt a lot from it.” On his own terms, in the right circumstances, he showed his toughness and proved to his father that he was not, in fact, a weakling.

On weekends he relished ordinary life with David Checketts’s family at the farm they rented near the small town of Lillydale. He indulged his passion for fishing, helped David’s wife, Leila, in the kitchen, played with their three children, and watched television in his pajamas. In completely relaxed surroundings he perfected his talent for mimicry by performing routines from his favorite characters on The Goon Show, which to his “profound regret” had ended its run on the radio in 1960. One of his best efforts was Peter Sellers’s falsetto “Bluebottle.”

Charles reveled in the sheer Goons silliness. (Seagoon: “Wait! I’ve got a hunch!” Grytpype-Thynne: “It suits you!”) Later in life he would rely on a sense of absurdity as an antidote to his oppressive surroundings. Goons humor, typically British, was all about breaking the rules, which carried an extra frisson of pleasure for the heir to the throne.

Charles enjoyed his six months in Australia “mainly because it was such a contrast to everything he couldn’t stand about Gordonstoun,” said one of his advisers, recalling the bullying that had so tormented him. He also showed his mettle during some 50 official engagements—his first exposure to crowds on his own. “I took the plunge and went over and talked to people,” he recalled. “That suddenly unlocked a completely different feeling, and I was then able to communicate and talk to people so much more.” The Australians, in turn, discovered “a friendly, intelligent, natural boy with a good sense of humor,” said Thomas Garnett, the headmaster of Timbertop, “someone who by no means has an easy task ahead of him in life.” When he left, in July 1966, his mates gave him a rousing “three cheers for Prince Charles—a real Pommie bastard!”

After an extended summertime stay at Balmoral, Charles returned to Gordonstoun in the autumn of 1966 for his final year. Headmaster Robert Chew named him head boy, known by the Platonic term “Guardian.” Among the prince’s privileges as Guardian was his own bedroom in the apartment assigned to Robert Waddell, “the quiet alter ego of Gordonstoun,” in the view of Charles’s cousin and godson Timothy Knatchbull, who later attended the school. “With his tittle-tattle and his mini-snobbery . . . [Waddell] had the sort of mind of a Victorian matron. He was a wonderful other pole of Gordonstoun, away from the sort of knobby-kneed brigade.” Charles’s only lasting friendships from his five years on the shores of the Moray Firth were with his older masters, Anderson and Waddell.

After he left with his parents for Balmoral at the end of July 1967, Charles obediently said that Gordonstoun had taught him self-control and self-discipline, and had given “shape and form and tidiness” to his life, although in fact he was personally disorganized. Always a correct, dutiful, and seemingly mature figure in the public eye, Charles nevertheless remained socially awkward and emotionally immature, even as he appeared old before his time. Surprisingly, his parents acknowledged to authorized royal biographer Dermot Morrah that the Gordonstoun experiment had fallen short of their hopes, and that Charles was “a square peg in a round hole.” Morrah wrote in To Be a King, his 1968 book about Charles’s early life, that the school had driven the prince only “further in upon himself.” Well into his 60s, Charles continued to complain about the unhappiness he had felt at Gordonstoun. And as his cousin Pamela Hicks observed, “he can never leave anything behind him.”

Adapted from Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, by Sally Bedell Smith, to be published this month by Random House; © 2017 by the author.

Friday 23 November 2018

EILEEN ATKINS "I believe I was put on this planet to act" / VIDEO:Dame Eileen Atkins: 'We have to stop thinking it's all over at 80!'

Eileen Atkins
Dame Eileen June Atkins, DBE (born 16 June 1934) is an English actress and occasional screenwriter. She has worked in the theatre, film, and television consistently since 1953. In 2008, she won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for Cranford. She is also a three-time Olivier Award winner, winning Best Supporting Performance in 1988 (for Multiple roles) and Best Actress for The Unexpected Man (1999) and Honour (2004). She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1990 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2001.

Atkins joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1957 and made her Broadway debut in the 1966 production of The Killing of Sister George, for which she received the first of four Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Play in 1967. She received subsequent nominations for, Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1972), Indiscretions (1995) and The Retreat from Moscow (2004). Other stage credits include The Tempest (Old Vic 1962), Exit the King (Edinburgh Festival and Royal Court 1963), The Promise (New York 1967), The Night of the Tribades (New York 1977), Medea (Young Vic 1985), A Delicate Balance (Haymarket, West End 1997) and Doubt (New York 2006).

Atkins co-created the television dramas Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–75) and The House of Elliot (1991–93) with Jean Marsh. She also wrote the screenplay for the 1997 film Mrs Dalloway. Her film appearances include Equus (1977), The Dresser (1983), Let Him Have It (1991), Wolf (1994), Jack and Sarah (1995), Gosford Park (2001), Evening (2005), Last Chance Harvey (2008), Robin Hood (2010) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Atkins was born in the Mothers' Hospital in Clapton, a Salvation Army maternity hospital in East London. Her mother, Annie Ellen (née Elkins), was a barmaid who was 46 when Eileen was born, and her father, Arthur Thomas Atkins, was a gas meter reader who was previously under-chauffeur to the Portuguese Ambassador. She was the third child in the family and when she was born the family moved to a council home in Tottenham. Her father did not, in fact, know how to drive and was responsible, as under-chauffeur, mainly for cleaning the car. At the time Eileen was born, her mother worked in a factory the whole day and then as a barmaid in the Elephant & Castle at night. When Eileen was three, a Gypsy woman came to their door selling lucky heather and clothes pegs. She saw little Eileen and told her mother that her daughter would be a famous dancer. Her mother promptly enrolled her in a dance class. Although she hated it, she studied dancing from age 3 to 15 or 16. From age 7 to 15, which covered the last four years of the Second World War (1941–45), she danced in working men's club circuits for 15 shillings a time as "Baby Eileen". During the war, she performed as well at London's Stage Door canteen for American troops and sang songs like "Yankee Doodle." At one time she was attending dance class four or five times a week.

By 12, she was a professional in panto in Clapham and Kilburn. Once, when she was given a line to recite, someone told her mother that she had a Cockney accent. Her mother was appalled but speech lessons were too expensive for the family. Fortunately, a woman took interest in her and paid for her to be educated at Parkside Preparatory School in Tottenham. Eileen Atkins has since publicly credited the Principal, Miss D. M. Hall, for the wise and firm guidance under which her character developed. From Parkside she went on to The Latymer School, a grammar school in Edmonton, London. One of her grammar school teachers who used to give them religious instruction, a Rev. Michael Burton, spotted her potential and rigorously drilled away her Cockney accent without charge. He also introduced her to the works of William Shakespeare. She studied under him for two years.

When she was 14 or 15 and still at Latymer's, she also attended "drama demonstration" sessions twice a year with this same teacher. At around this time (though some sources say she was 12), her first encounter with Robert Atkins took place. She was taken to see Atkins' production of King John at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. She wrote to him saying that the boy who played Prince Arthur was not good enough and that she could do better. Robert Atkins wrote back and asked that she come to see him. On the day they met, Atkins thought she was a shop girl and not a school girl. She gave a little prince speech and he told her to go to drama school and come back when she was grown up.

Mr Burton came to an agreement with Eileen's parents that he would try to get her a scholarship for one drama school and that if she did not get the scholarship he would arrange for her to do a teaching course in some other drama school. Her parents were not at all keen on the fact that she would stay in school until 16 as her sister had left at 14 and her brother at 15 but somehow they were convinced. Eileen was in Latymer's until 16. Out of 300 applicants for a RADA scholarship, she got down to the last three but was not selected, so she did a three-year course on teaching at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. But, although she was taking the teaching course, she also attended drama classes and in fact performed in three plays in her last year. This was in the early 1950s. In her third and last year she had to teach once a week, an experience she later said she hated. She graduated from Guildhall in 1953.

As soon as she left Guildhall she got her first job with Robert Atkins in 1953: as Jaquenetta in Love's Labour's Lost at the same Regent's Park Open Air Theatre where she was brought to see Robert Atkins' King John production years before. She was also, very briefly, an assistant stage manager at the Oxford Playhouse until Peter Hall fired her for impudence. She was also part of repertory companies performing in Billy Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness, Lincolnshire. It was there when she met Julian Glover.

It took nine years (1953–62) before she was working steadily.

She joined the Guild Players Repertory Company in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland as a professional actress in 1952. She appeared as the nurse in Harvey at the Repertory Theatre, Bangor, in 1952. In 1953 she appeared as an attendant in Love's Labours Lost at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Her London stage debut was in 1953 as Jaquenetta in Robert Atkins's staging of Love's Labour's Lost at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park.

Atkins has regularly returned to the life and work of Virginia Woolf for professional inspiration. She has played the writer on stage in Patrick Garland's adaptation of A Room of One's Own and also in Vita and Virginia, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for the former and screen (the 1990 television version of Room); she also provided the screenplay for the 1997 film adaptation of Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway, and made a cameo appearance in the 2002 film version of Michael Cunningham's Woolf-themed novel, The Hours.

Atkins joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1957 and stayed for two seasons. She was with the Old Vic in its 1961–62 season (she appeared in the Old Vic's Repertoire Leaflets of February–April 1962 and April–May 1962).

She appeared as Maggie Clayhanger in all six episodes of Arnold Bennett's Hilda Lessways from 15 May to 19 June 1959, produced by the BBC Midlands with Judi Dench and Brian Smith. In the 1960 Shakespeare production An Age of Kings she played Joan of Arc.

She helped create two television series. Along with fellow actress, Jean Marsh, she created the concept for an original television series, Behind the Green Baize Door, which became the award-winning ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–75). Marsh played maid Rose for the duration of the series but Atkins was unable to accept a part because of stage commitments. The same team was also responsible for the BBC series The House of Eliott (1991–93).

Her film and television work includes Sons and Lovers (1981), Smiley's People (1982), Oliver Twist (1982), Titus Andronicus (1985), A Better Class of Person (1985), Roman Holiday (1987), The Lost Language of Cranes (1991), Cold Comfort Farm (1995), Talking Heads (1998), Madame Bovary (2000), David Copperfield (2000), Wit (2001) and Bertie and Elizabeth (2002), Cold Mountain (2003), What a Girl Wants (2003), Vanity Fair (2004), Ballet Shoes (2005) and Ask the Dust (2006).

In the autumn of 2007, she co-starred with Dame Judi Dench and Sir Michael Gambon in the BBC One drama Cranford playing the central role of Miss Deborah Jenkyns. This performance earned her the 2008 BAFTA Award for best actress, as well as the Emmy Award. In September 2007 she played Abigail Dusniak in Waking the Dead Yahrzeit (S6:E11-12).

In 2009 Atkins played the evil Nurse Edwina Kenchington in the BBC Two black comedy Psychoville. Atkins replaced Vanessa Redgrave as Eleanor of Aquitaine in the blockbuster movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, which was released in the UK in May 2010. The same year, she played Louisa in the dark comedy film, Wild Target.

Atkins and Jean Marsh, creators of the original 1970s series of Upstairs, Downstairs, were among the cast of a new BBC adaptation, shown over the winter of 2010–11. The new series is set in 1936. Marsh again played Rose while Atkins was cast as the redoubtable Maud, Lady Holland. In August 2011, it was revealed that Atkins had decided not to continue to take part as she was unhappy with the scripts. In September 2011, Atkins joined the cast of ITV comedy-drama series Doc Martin playing the title character's aunt, Ruth Ellingham. She returned as Aunt Ruth for the show's sixth series in September 2013, the seventh in September 2015 and eighth in September 2017.

Atkins starred as Lady Spence with Matthew Rhys in an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's The Scapegoat, shown in September 2012.

She has portrayed Queen Mary on two occasions, in the 2002 television film Bertie and Elizabeth and in the 2016 Netflix-produced television series The Crown.

Atkins portrayed graduate school professor Evelyn Ashford to Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson) in the film Wit. Wit is a 2001 American television movie directed by Mike Nichols. The teleplay by Nichols and Emma Thompson is based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same title by Margaret Edson. The film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival on 9 February 2001 before being broadcast by HBO on 24 March. It was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Warsaw Film Festival later in the year.

Dame Eileen Atkins: 'I'd rather be content than happy'
"I believe I was put on this planet to act"
Eileen Atkins
'I have a tendency to blow up'
 Richard Barber
26 SEPTEMBER 2017 • 6:22PM

She may now be 83 but Dame Eileen Atkins still works just as often as she likes. There are rumours of a West End role on the horizon and, in the meantime, she’s back in ITV’s feelgood series, Doc Martin, playing Martin Clunes’s irascible aunt, retired clinical psychiatrist, Ruth Ellingham.

If she existed would Eileen like Ruth? “Oh, very much,” says Atkins, “although she might frighten me a bit.” That would take some doing. “I know. Everyone says that a lot of people are frightened of me but I’ve no idea why.”

Well, she’s quite formidable, not someone to suffer fools. “That’s silly when I’m such a fool myself,” she insists. “I do admit, though, I have a tendency to blow up but then it’s all over for me in five minutes.” But perhaps not for everyone else? She chuckles. “Yes, I can leave people in pieces.”

 Eileen Atkins with Michael Gambon and director Trevor Nunn
Eileen Atkins with Michael Gambon and director Trevor Nunn in 2012 CREDIT:  ANDREW CROWLEY
She was at her most combustible when the BBC decided to revive Upstairs, Downstairs in 2010. (Atkins and actress Jean Marsh had created the original hit series in the early 70s.) “That’s when I blew up outrageously,” she admits.

Initially, she didn’t want to be in it but it was made clear they’d only go ahead with the revival if she agreed. She wanted to play the cook; they wanted her to be the matriarch. There were several rows and she lost. She was cast as Maud, Lady Holland.

Everyone says that a lot of people are frightened of me but I’ve no idea why
This new series was written by Heidi Thomas, creator of the enormously successful Call The Midwife. “Heidi writes brilliantly for the lower middle classes,” says Atkins, witheringly. “But she simply cannot write for the upper classes. I was endlessly trying to change my lines which must have driven her crazy.”

Atkins was also determined to make Lady Holland as distinct from Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton as possible. The two actresses are friends and knew they were going to be in rather similar rival shows. “So I suggested Maud ought to have a pet monkey called Solomon.”


"There were some [illicit liaisons]. It would have been odd if there weren’t"

Heidi Thomas was unconvinced. “If she’d said right at the beginning she hated the idea of the monkey, then I would have chosen another pet – a parrot perhaps.” But it had gone too far by that stage and Eileen, well, blew up. “I said: ‘If you don’t get the f***ing monkey, then you don’t f***ing get me.’”

The Dame got her monkey.

She’d won the battle but not the war. She kept asking for the scripts for the second series, which finally arrived a matter of weeks before filming began. “I had about six lines in three different scenes – and in one of them I was wearing a gas mask.” It was time to quit.

I believe I was put on this planet to act and it’s given me huge fulfilment. I feel I’ve realised my destiny
She was quickly snapped up by Clunes for Doc Martin, where she and I meet on the set in Port Isaac, Cornwall, and then enjoyed much acclaim for her one-woman show about Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry. More recently, she graced Netflix’s global hit, The Crown, as Queen Mary.

How does she explain all the Bafta nominations it garnered but failure to win a single one? “I think it was something called jealousy. People – by which I mean the panel – were envious of Netflix having such a big budget. I thought it was absolutely stunning.”

Atkins loves her work, always has done. “Does it define me? Yes, I’d say it does. And I never had children. In fact, it was only when I turned 80 that I began to realise the point of grandchildren. I see other people with theirs and they seem quite sweet.”

But motherhood just didn’t pan out. She got married the first time to actor Julian Glover when he was 21, she a year older. “By our mid-20s, people began asking when we were going to have children. Well, we tried but nothing happened and then Julian was told that no way could he ever become a father.”

As it happens, his second wife, actress Isla Blair, got pregnant almost immediately after they married. Their son, Jamie, is also an actor. So how did Atkins react to the prospect of being childless? “To be honest, I hadn’t got married wanting children and my career was then beginning to show signs of possibility.”

She and Julian applied to adopt; “It was what everyone did then. What’s more, we both had to agree that, if it came to it, we’d be happy to have ‘a child of colour’, as they were called then.

“We lived in a flat on the top floor of a large house and there was no intercom. One day, the doorbell rang so I went downstairs and opened the front door. On the step was a baby in a cradle, a little black baby.

 “I stood and stared at it and my only thought was: ‘They’ve delivered our baby.’ And the feeling that swept over me was as if the blood was running out of the ends of my fingers.

“I remember thinking: ‘This is your life now, looking after this baby for the next 20 years.’ And then a woman appeared from the basement. She’d left the baby on the doorstep while she went downstairs to collect more things and she’d rung the doorbell so someone would keep an eye on it until she got back.

It was only when I turned 80 that I began to realise the point of grandchildren
“I’m not a particularly spiritual person but I knew that moment was sent to me. It was a sign. The only thought running through my head was that I had to tell Julian I couldn’t ever adopt. And when I did, his instant reaction was: ‘Thank God, neither can I.’ As it turns out, Jamie is like my godson, a wonderful addition to my life.”

Divorced at 29, Atkins didn’t marry again until she was 43. “And there was no way I’d have chosen to be a single mother in the meantime. Anyway, I was having a high old time.”

So were there many illicit liaisons? “Well, there were some. It would have been odd if there weren’t. As it happens, I’ve been reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard and she had lots and lots of affairs. It’s made me feel quite virginal by comparison.”

"I believe I was put on this planet to act"

Bill Shepherd was nine years Eileen’s junior, unmarried and without children, when they met. “I said to him early on that I was getting a bit old for motherhood and anyway I didn’t really want a child. But then nor did he.

“I’ll never forget Miriam Stoppard saying to me when I was about 50: ‘It’s a terrible thing not to have children. But I can help you.’ I said: ‘Miriam, please, I’m OK.’ I don’t want to sound like Edith Piaf but being childless has never been a matter of regret.

“I believe I was put on this planet to act and it’s given me huge fulfilment. I feel I’ve realised my destiny and I’ve had a very, very good time doing it.

Atkins believes “people look down their noses at the word ‘ambition’ – and especially when applied to women. But I was ambitious and I don’t see anything wrong in that. I know some people feel you’re not quite a woman if you’re ambitious. Not me.”

And she’s happy? “No, I’m content and I think contentment is rather underrated. I’m content to be an old woman. I’m vastly lucky that I can still work. And that makes me content, too.

“Mark you, I’m thinking of putting a contract out on Angela Lansbury. Still acting at 91? Utterly ridiculous!”

Doc Martin is on ITV on Wednesday at 9pm