Why Oxford High School never left Miriam Margolyes
Award-winning actor Miriam Margolyes OBE – who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films and appeared recently in TV’s Call the Midwife – tells us why she still loves Oxford High School
“I love my school passionately. I loved it then, and I love it now. I think what made it special was, of course, the people I was at school with, and the teachers. We had a very remarkable headmistress, Violet Stack, who was tall with a large bosom, sticky-out teeth and a very firm, authoritarian manner. She had taught at Holloway Prison, and I think she brought some of her expertise from the prison to the school.
The children at the school were nearly all the children of dons – so, massively intelligent parents, which I think is a challenge for most schools. And we felt that we were the cream of the cream.
We were given every opportunity for extra-curricular activities, which in my case, was mostly learning poetry and going to poetry festivals and recitals. So that was kind of the beginning of my being a performer I suppose. Actually I think one is born a performer – so I’d probably have become a performer if I’d gone to Milham Ford School, which was the school that I’d won free entrance to at 11+. But my parents, wisely and very generously decided that I should remain at the High School, where I’d been since I was four.
It would be impossible to sum up my school in five words. I can just tell you that the teachers were brilliant, the children were challenging and inventive and very different from each other. There was a variety there that was exciting. And we were there during the 1950s and 60s, which was a great time: the world was an exciting place then and school made it more exciting.
I was very naughty at school and very cleverly, when I got to the right age, the teachers made me a prefect, and I was much tougher on the naughty children than ordinary people would have been who’d been behaving properly. But as Miss Maddron, my beloved French teacher, said to me: ‘You were naughty, Miriam, not wicked.’
The High School wasn’t just for me until I was 18. It’s with me now. Because the people that I love in my life are my old school friends. Every now and again we have reunions, and we rush towards each other and we hug each other. We still send each other birthday emails. The school is with me – it has never left me.”