Chapter 19 : Enough is Enough
It was my last year at Prince Edward and my second attempt at my Matrics and a sense of doomed failure pervaded my life. To get into a South African university, you had to get five Matrics, and I had passed three. So I’d come back to school to try and get two more. By this time I was older than nearly every other bloody kid in Prince Edward. Burt Robertson (who was head of the rugby team) and I were the oldest kids in the whole school. And I was still playing for the second team in rugby – albeit as captain, but it was second bloody team nonetheless. Since my dad had been sacked from the army, the Andersons were the most unpopular people in the country, we were pariahs – certainly amongst the school teachers at Prince Edward. Except for Patricia Skyrme-Jones and John Emery, the two English teachers, who were a little bit more liberal-minded. But Keith Youds, the PT master who also taught Geography to Form 4G so his brain was probably in his little toe, had decided he didn’t like me one bit. And whatever I did, as far as he was concerned, it just wasn’t good enough.
Keith Youds was a real little racist from the North of England: ‘Oh well, Anderson,’ he said, ‘wi’ your sorta rugby you drink ’ard, don’t yer?’ He had no time for drinking, and he accused me of being a bit of playboy, which was completely untrue, but he simply didn’t like me. The truth was, he loathed me.
Given my hopelessness academically, I was determined I was going to get my school colours doing something. Clearly I wasn’t going to get them playing rugby, as I only played for the second team. But I was quite good at athletics, so I decided to embark on athletics training. It turned out that I was rather better at athletics than most people expected, and before long I became athletics captain of my house. I ran the 100 yards, the 220, the 440, the 880, the mile, the long jump, the high jump, the hop-step-and-jump and the javelin. When it came to the school athletics competition that year, I had to drop three of the contests because no boy could be in more than six finals, so I dropped the javelin, the high jump and the hop-step-and-jump.
As it was, I only came second. In every race. This increased my adolescent desperation: not only was I in the second team for rugby, but when it came to athletics, I’d come second in the 100 yards, second in the 220, second in the 440, second in the 880, second in the mile, and second in the long jump. Second, second, second, second, second, and second – and the bloody second team! Nonetheless, I ended up with my school colours at the end of the year because Youds was forced to give them to me as I’d been in more bloody events than any other pupil in the whole of Prince Edward.
Then suddenly one day during that final year at school, the tide turned.
Bob McCleary played fly half for the first team and – although he’d saved me from the jaw-trap in Chimanimani – he was naff when it came to rugby. He couldn’t tackle to save his bloody life. And on that fateful Friday, McCleary crocked himself at training. The second team used to train against the first team and maybe I’d tackled McCleary rather hard; whatever happened, he’d hurt his knee. (If I’m honest, my great desire had always been to knock him out of the side. Even though I guess I owed him one, what with the jaw-trap and everything, I’d never been patient with mediocrity – especially when it came to rugby.)
That Friday afternoon after practice, Youds sought me out and he said, ‘Anderson,
McCleary’s out. So I’m going to have to put you in the first team on Saturday’.
It took a moment for the reality to sink in. Then it hit me.
‘Oh my God, I’ve made the Rugby Tigers! I am a Rugby Tiger! I’m going to have Number 10 on my jersey!’ It was the proudest day of my whole life.
Rugby in Rhodesia in the 1950s and ’60s was completely different from any rugby you’d find in most schools today. Every single boy in the school had to attend the rugby match, which kicked off at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, otherwise you were beaten on the Monday morning. Four of the best with the malacca cane. So there were a thousand kids from Prince Edward manning one stand, and a thousand kids from the other school manning the opposition stand, not to mention all the mums and dads and members of the general public. So there were probably 5000 people in the grounds, as many as you’d find at a major division, première league rugby match in England today. And the Prince Edward Rugby Tigers were hot stuff. So hot, that thirty years later – in the 2007 Rugby World Cup – there were three players in the various international teams all from Prince Edward School. Three world class players from one school out of all the schools in the whole world, playing in one world cup – that’s pretty impressive. And we had had a wonderful war cry: ‘Silapa Madoda!’ which would echo like thunder round the grounds.
That Saturday, we were playing against our arch rivals, Churchill. I set off to the game with my jersey pressed and my track suit on. I was as nervous as hell. I knew that Mum and Dad would be in the stands to celebrate the honour.
At 4 o’clock, the whistle blew and the match began.
On the first two or three passes from the scrum half, I dropped the ball. Groans rang out: ‘Oh, God, Anderson…’ A couple of times, I hung on to the ball, which was just as cardinal a sin. But I’d kept trying to pass it to Irwin Smith, the guy at the centre, but he’d kept dropping it. So in the end, I’d grab the ball myself and try and go through the opposition. Then I’d get dumped by them and tackled by them, and we’d end up losing the ball.
The whistle blew for half time. We were losing the game and we were in a bad state.
Back in the changing room, Youds got us together and he looked at me. He was spitting feathers. ‘Anderson,’ he glowered, ‘you keep on keeping the ball!’ I got the message loud and clear and I knew that the second half had to be about passing the ball – even if Smith was a butter-fingers.
Second half. Hearts pounding. On the touch line. The whistle blew and off we went.
Thirty minutes of tough playing ensued, each team an equal match to the other in defence and attack. Churchill’s big bloody fly half kept tackling me. He thumped me and thumped me, and every single time it was like an express train knocking me down. I kept passing as Youds had demanded, but no one was making anything of my throws. All I really wanted to do was to keep the ball and have a go at a try. I might be small, but I was nimble, I could dodge, and I could surely run like lightning.
I looked towards my dad who was sitting in the front row of the seating. He mouthed the words distinctly: ‘Run With The Ball.’ And the next thing I knew, I got this ball. It was about ten minutes from the end of the match and the score was level at 6 all. (It was three points for a try in those days, not five points as it is now.) I dummied the bloody fly half, then I dummied someone else, and I dummied a third boy, and then I just ran. I had six people thundering down on top of me, but I just kept running and running and running…
And – glory of glories – I scored the try! And with that try in the last few minutes, I won the match for Prince Edward!
All the other boys went completely berserk, and before I knew it, they’d hoisted me onto their shoulders and they cheered and cheered! I was Boy of the Match – and the feeling was fantastic.
And Sunday was a fantastic day too, because I just felt so incredible from the day before! I – Miles Roderick Anderson – had won the match for Prince Edward. I was the King of the Jungle, a real Rugby Tiger!
Monday I went to school – still the hero. The result of the match was read out in Assembly. Everybody whooped and I was flushed with pride.
Tuesday was rugby practice day, and I was looking forward to my certain promotion. I had shown my mettle, and I was worthy at last – after seven years at the school, including two failed O level years and one failed Matric – of being in the Rugby first team.
First thing that Tuesday morning, I looked at the sports teams notice board and I checked the practice schedule.
My eye glanced across the rugby notice. Then flickered and took a double take. Surely my eyes deceived me?
No, there was my name in black and white.
Lo and behold, on the Tuesday’s practice schedule…I was back in the second team. My heart sank. A warm bilious feeling filled my innards.
‘Right, that’s it!’ I thought, ‘Fuck ’em. Fuck the lot of them!’
That afternoon at 12 o’clock, we were sitting in the English class reading Hamlet with John Emery, our English master who had bored me rigid with classical records in the Music Club. He was reading the role of Hamlet and he’d given me the part of Laertes. Half way through the lesson, I could hear him drifting off and at that moment I thought, ‘No, enough is enough. I simply have to go.’
I closed my copy of Hamlet, I stood up and walked up to Emery’s desk at the front of the classroom. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ I said.
‘Yes?’ he replied and looked up, momentarily startled to find that Laertes had suddenly appeared twelve inches in front of him.
‘I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve got to go and see the Headmaster.’
‘Oh?’ he said. ‘Well, I –’
But I didn’t wait for a reply. I just walked out of the door, through the school corridors, up the steps of the Headmaster’s building and I knocked on the door of the secretary’s office.
‘I’ve come to see the Headmaster.’
The secretary looked up from her Olivetti. ‘Have you got an appointment?’ she asked.
‘No, I haven’t got an appointment, but I’d like to see the Headmaster.’
‘And what do you want to see the Headmaster about?’
‘I’d like to leave school,’ I replied.
The secretary was too shocked to stop me. And I walked into the Headmaster’s office – it was still Owen – and he said, ‘Yes, Anderson?’ (He remembered me all too well– from my father’s military demise and the shock waves round the school, from the Halitosis Letcher incident and my poor sore arse, not to mention Jock’s repeated pleas over the years that Owen should allow me back to re-sit yet more exams.)
‘I’d like to see you, sir.’
‘Well, can’t it wait until lunchtime?’ he asked.
‘No, sir,’ I replied. ‘It can’t.’
‘Well, what do you want?’
‘I want to leave school.’
‘Well, come back and see me at lunchtime.’
‘No, sir, I can’t come back and see you at lunchtime, sir, I’d like to leave now.’
‘Oh?’ he said, perplexedly. ‘I think you’d better sit down.’ So I sat down and Owen said, ‘What do you mean, you want to leave school? Your father has been asking if you can come back for the last two years. You failed your O levels and we took you back. You failed your Matric and we took you back.’
‘Yes, I know, sir, and thank you. But I’d like to leave school. Now.’
And he said, ‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to become an actor.’ The answer came out without pause or hesitation. (For years, I’d really wanted to be a game ranger, but Daph had warned me that, with the growing tide of civil unrest, I’d be killed within a matter of years. So if I couldn’t be a game ranger and since I liked making people laugh, becoming an actor seemed the next best thing.)
‘Ha!’ laughed Owen. ‘An actor? You don’t know what you’re talking about. Do you know how hard it is to make a living as an actor?’
‘No, sir, I’ve no idea.’
‘Well, all I can say is jolly good luck. And if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.’
And with that our brief conversation ended, I turned to the door and left Owen’s office. I walked down the steps, through the school corridors, back into the classroom, and up to John Emery, who was still reading Hamlet. And I said, ‘Sir, I’m really sorry, but I’m leaving school. Now.’ I shook his hand, and he muttered something bemusedly. Then I walked to my desk, took out my books, put them in my bag, and walked out of the classroom.
I went to the staff room to find Miss Letcher of the Bad Breath. She was sitting in a saggy armchair, drinking a cup of tea. ‘I’ve come to say goodbye,’ I said. ‘I’m leaving school.’
And she said, ‘What are you going to do?’
And I said, ‘I’m going to become an actor.’
And she said, ‘Good luck.’
Then I walked down the corridor and into the quadrangle, where I met Keith Youds the rugby coach, and I said, ‘I’ve just come to say I’m leaving school, so goodbye and thank you very much.’
And Youds said, ‘What are you going to do?’
And I said, ‘I’m going to England and I’m going to become an actor.’
‘Ah,’ he smirked, ‘they’ll like your sort o’ rugby in England. All they do is drink beer ’n’smoke cigarettes. Yeah…well…good luck to yer.’
And off I walked. Out of school. And that was the end of it.
On that Tuesday I was out of Prince Edward forever and the whole thing stemmed from the fact that I’d been dropped from the rugby first team. It was the sheer injustice of being demoted from the side that I had in fact saved. It was just not fair. And ever since then, my attitude to justice and injustice has played a really important part in my life. I can’t bear injustice in any form. I guess it’s linked to Mother Oliver and the beatings. When something like that happens to you at 6 years old and then again at 18 years old, you make major decisions in your life based purely on the injustice of what’s happened. Injustice makes me angrier than anything else I can imagine.
My mum was at home when I arrived and she said, ‘Oh, what are you doing back so early?’
‘I’ve left school,’ I said.
She paused for a moment.
‘I think you should go out,’ she said. ‘Your father will be back at 4 o’clock and I think you should probably go for a walk and let me break the news to him gently.’ Daph was wonderfully cool about the whole thing. In many ways, she’d been the one to put the idea of becoming an actor into my brain in the first place. After my debut performance as Lieutenant Gloria Dennis in The Reluctant Heroes, I’d become a bit of a hit in the Drama Club, especially with Gilbert and Sullivan operarettas. I was a whiz at silly buggers like the Judge and the Duke of Plaza Toro, so Daph suggested that if I couldn’t be a game ranger, I should try a career in acting. In fact, she’d sent me to a Vocational Psychologist in May 1965. After a lengthy interview, Mrs J. M. Galloway had come up with a number of observations. With regard to my personality, she considered me: ‘Ascendent, very self-reliant, sure of himself and independent-minded. Has a good straightforward approach and the capacity to get his own way in working conditions. Cheerful, frank and expressive. Alert. Not easily put out of countenance.’
With regard to a possible profession, she wrote: ‘Of the type to be chosen as leader. Sociable, participating, abundant in emotional response. Will be able to deal easily with difficult people. Rather irresolute at present, inclined to change his mind a lot and indulge in daydreams. Original in his thinking, with good, sensitive imagination. Inwardly at least is not over-concerned by customs and convention. Has good social sense and grooming. Will develop “presence” as he grows older. Values the good opinions of his associates. Cautious and moderate, ready to work and make decisions with other people.’ Yes, it all boded well for my chosen career path!
That Tuesday afternoon – while my mother waited for my father to return home – I went to Salisbury library and I looked up plays on the shelf marked ‘Plays’ and spotted someone called George Bernard Shaw. He looked promising, so I took a copy of Shaw’s plays off the shelf and a copy of something by Shakespeare. (I can’t remember what it was.) And I sat in the library reading Shaw and Shakespeare until I thought, ‘It’s probably time to go home now’. So I put the books back in the library carousel, feeling that at least I knew a couple of plays now, which seemed a jolly good start for an actor. I did actually know a little bit about Shakespeare already thanks to John Emeryand Hamlet. But I had no idea he’d written such a huge amount of plays, I thought he’d only managed three or four.
I came back home and my dad was fantastic.
‘I hear you’ve left school,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I replied quickly but certainly.
‘Well, I hope you know what you’re doing. Are you serious about becoming an actor?’
‘Yes, I think I probably am...’
And to deflect any possible delayed anger on my father’s part, I now said, ‘I really want your advice, Dad. Should I go to America to train, or should I go to England?’ (As if I really had a choice…)
‘Ah well,’ replied Jock confidently. ‘You want to go to England. That’s where they train proper actors. Yes, England’s where you want to go. They’ve got proper actors in England.’ (Why I thought a sacked army general would know the first thing about acting, I’ve no idea.)
‘Well, then. That’s what I’ll do, dad. England, yeah… Acting, hmm….’
Jock and Daph were already scheduled to go to England in a matter of weeks to watch John pass out of Sandhurst. After resigning his commission over UDI, John had done bugger all work at Sandhurst, he’d had no uniform, no dress kit, nothing – but he still managed to come in the top 20 soldiers, winning a £250 prize which was the equivalent of six months’ pay. And now he was joining the 1st Battalion 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha rifles. In fact, in retrospect, I think there may have been something in me that wanted to be part of both John being British and my dad wanting to be British; after all, Jock had been called ‘the Queen’s Man’ in the newspapers when he was sacked. So this whole British thing was very exciting.
The decision having been made that I was to become an actor, Daph set about all the legwork. She sent off to Gabbitas Thring Educational Trust for a list of exclusive drama schools, one of which was Birmingham, one of which was the Royal Scottish Academy in Glasgow, and one of which was the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. And I just looked at the list and thought, ‘Oh God, it’s got to be the Royal Academy. After all, it’s royal and it’s in England, so it must be good.’ And I wasn’t interested in any other place. My plan was to go to this institution called the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and it never occurred to me for one moment that perhaps they wouldn’t take me.
And that was it.
On the flight…