Lincoln Christ's Hospital School

Lincoln Christ's Hospital School
Educating in Lincoln since 1090


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John Hurt re-visits Lincoln

From the Garton Archive: Item of Interest No 10

John Hurt featured in an earlier Picture of the Month, and in an article in the Lincolnshire Echo from the Garton Archive at LCHS. Not everyone who reads this article may realise that John was a pupil at Lincoln School in the 1950s, before he went on to the Grimsby School of Art, and later on a scholarship to RADA. Even fewer will know that I was a fellow pupil, and that John sat behind me for a year when he re-took his ‘O’ levels! My one claim to fame!

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                                                                        John Vincent Hurt at Lincoln School in 1955 (centre, back row)

The purpose of this article is not to celebrate John’s glittering career, but to report on his recent visit to Lincoln. On 23rd January 2013 he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Lincoln at a ceremony in Lincoln Cathedral, described by John as ‘the Queen of cathedrals’. On the previous day, his 73rd birthday, he presented ‘An Evening with John Hurt’ at the LPAC theatre in the University, where he was interviewed by Professor David Sleight, a former pupil of LCHS, and now Dean of Public Engagement at the University. The focus of the article will be on John’s references to his time in Lincoln.

It is no secret that John did not enjoy his two years as one of 40 boarders at Lincoln School. His mother is reported in David Nathan’s excellent biography of John as saying that he was not happy at the school, probably due largely to the insensitivity of the headmaster, who apparently laughed when John told him that he wanted to be actor, telling him that he was all right in school plays but wouldn’t stand a chance in the profession! In fairness to the headmaster, the odds at that time were probably very much against it, and hindsight is a wonderful thing! John’s mother did not apparently attribute all the blame to Lincoln School, reportedly admitting that John was ‘a bit of a nightmare, so it worked both ways’! He was certainly a bit of a lad, and one of his fellow boarders, Geoff Eastgate, was astute enough to have observed that John was unusual in that he thought ‘outside the box’. In a somewhat repressive boarding department, irresistible force was destined to meet immovable object!

John admitted in the interview at LPAC that he had no interest in anything academic at Lincoln School, and in his oration at the Graduation he told the audience that he had a ‘miserable’ academic career. Of course it begs the meaning of the word ‘academic’, and had John enjoyed the facilities and the standards of teaching in drama and art that LCHS students currently enjoy, he might have found his own niche. Lincoln School, as a grammar school with public school pretentions in those days, was very much geared to those academic high flyers destined for an Oxbridge education, or at least a place at a ‘redbrick’ university. Drama was certainly not considered ‘academic’ and had no place on the curriculum.

Time is a great healer, and when David Sleight asked him about his visit to Lincoln School in 1962 during his first film role in ‘The Wild and the Willing’, (for which John earned the princely sum of £750 for ten weeks’ work – a considerable sum at the time), John alluded to a somewhat uncomfortable meeting with the headmaster, but didn’t feel in any way that he was getting his own back. He described it instead as a rather sad story, and wasn’t prepared to make any capital from it.

As a fellow pupil at Lincoln School, I had the privilege of meeting John during his visit to Lincoln, and found him to be the same rather unassuming and somewhat self-effacing and vulnerable person that he was at school. Despite all his achievements he was the same old ‘Vince’ (his second name was Vincent) whom we knew more than 50 years ago. This aspect of his personality was also brought out by David Sleight during his highly sensitive yet gently probing interview. John was very modest about his achievements, and when asked about how he acted, he replied that all interviews with him were based on six questions each of which was designed to elicit his views on how he was able to act. ‘I honestly don’t know how,’ he responded, ‘Analysis is such a dangerous thing’, and he claimed it was all intuitive and impossible to articulate. He amused the audience by going on to ‘pray’ that his gifts might continue! He also confessed that acting was better than working!

His sense of humour, not least against himself, also came out during the interview. David Slight suggested that John’s father, a clergyman in Grimsby during John’s time at Lincoln School, might have been somewhat confused when John told him that his ambition was to be an actor. ‘My father was a clergyman,’ replied John, ‘so being an actor shouldn’t have confused him’!

His time spent in Lincoln was not without its compensations. He referred, for example, to his burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, and recalled that on Sundays the boarders would attend Evensong at Lincoln Cathedral, where he was distracted by the boarders from Lincoln Christ’s Hospital Girls’ High School, who also attended the service, albeit at a safe distance of course! In his biography, he refers to them rather poetically as ‘jewels who came in from the night’. He also made references to the dances at the Teachers’ Training College (now Bishop Grosseteste University), to which sixth-formers were invited, but heavily chaperoned!

John reserved a special mention for an inspirational French teacher, who also directed the Lincoln School Dramatic Society plays, Mr John Granger. He described him both during the evening performance, and at the Graduation Ceremony as a teacher who nurtured his talent, and who encouraged him in his aspiration to become a teacher. John Granger produced and directed Oscar Wilde’s play, ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, in which John gave a stunning performance as Lady Bracknell. As John jested, ‘Not many men can claim that!’


Paper 10 3 John’s autograph on ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ Programme

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                                                       John Hurt, seated right, as Lady Bracknell, Lincoln School March 1957 (on the ‘Old Hall’ stage)

For the audiences in Lincoln at both events, it was clearly a delight to hear John articulate his thoughts on his outstanding career as an actor. However for four former Lincoln School pupils, Chris Pickering, Geoff Eastgate, Tim Kelsey and Peter Harrod, it was a particularly special, and highly nostalgic and poignant occasion. The good news is that John has promised to return to Lincoln, to visit his alma mater, and to address the Drama Department.

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                                              John Hurt with Mr John Granger in 1962 during the filming in Lincoln of ‘The Wild and the Willing’

Peter Harrod

Garton Archive at LCHS

January 2013