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Monday, 02 November 2009
Sir Ian McKellen left Bolton School in 1958 as Head Boy.
An article ran recently in the TES in which Sir Ian reminisced
about his days at the School and on the Edwardian gentleman with a
posh accent who set him on the path to meet Gandalf, King Lear and
the X-Men. The article is published in full below:
"From the age of 12, I was at Bolton School, which was direct
The headmaster was Fred Poskitt. He'd come to the school in his
30s but by the time I knew him was in his 50s or 60s. He had
established an enlightened, liberal, public- school ethic, although
it was really a grammar school.
We had magnificent buildings near the centre of Bolton. There
was a boys' school and a girls' school and ne'er the twain did
Fred Poskitt assumed that if anyone had any talent whatsoever,
it was the school's job to encourage it.
That applied to academic talent, of course, and sport, but other
things as well, such as scouting and travel. The school took us on
camps all over the world. And we were under canvas, roughing it.
The most influential ones I enjoyed were the Stratford camps: I
went four years running and each time saw all the plays over the
course of a week.
That attitude - bringing out the best in the boys - affected
every other teacher. They were always involved in extra-curricular
activities and working out of school hours, giving their time
generously. We had a miniature theatre, which seated about 50, and
the masters helped us, directing and sometimes writing plays,
It wasn't the sort of school where one teacher made a particular
difference, although the general attitude was, I suppose, the
result of Fred Poskitt's leadership. All the teachers were informal
and friendly to the boys. Fred was an Edwardian gentleman with a
posh accent. Everyone in Bolton had a northern accent, but he
didn't. He was garrulous, he loved argument and would often leave
us behind in discussion.
It is unlikely I would have got into Cambridge without his
encouragement as he got St Catharine's to accept me on a
scholarship and I read English there. And without Cambridge, I
probably wouldn't have become a professional actor because it was
then that I really took up acting.
I remember once, after the school play - I'd played Henry V -
Fred Poskitt saying to me: "Don't get any ideas you're anything
special. John Gielgud was much better at your age."
I think he was just trying to put me off acting as people feel
they ought to. It didn't work though; I went straight into it after
Sir Ian McKellen was knighted in 1991. He has won more than 40
major awards for performances on stage and screen and recently
returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company after 15 years for Trevor
Nunn's production of King Lear at The Courtyard Theatre, in
Stratford. Meanwhile he has played Widow Twanky, visited Coronation
Street and filmed The Da Vinci Code, Gods and Monsters, Richard III
- and two trilogies - X-Men and The Lord of the Rings.
Sir Ian does stay in contact with his old school and has
returned in recent years to give the School's prestigious Tillotson
Lecture and was Patron at the 2006 Bursary Ball where he commented:
"The money raised at the Midsummer Night's Dream Bursary Ball will
change the lives of some bright children who deserve to have their
sights raised and horizons broadened."
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