…. This is what makes his personality so complex. It's a bit Faustian, cutting both ways.

When you talk to him, you feel there are a lot of notional audiences in his mind. You never catch him off-guard. He always knows his lines. It's a very actorly quality. It's like being the friend of some of the characters he plays.

'He is enigmatic, not least with his friends. Really, I should write a play about him. He's an important figure in the lives of all his friends, but one could do without the stardom bit. It would do him good to be less written about. When close friends become stars . . . All of us are leveraged on the amount of attention we get. And Alan can be contradictory, moody.

'When he has problems, he broods. He was doing an extraordi­nary number of mundane tasks at the bottom of my garden once, digging and so on, while he brooded about something. If I had something on my mind, I would have told the entire village about it. But he internalises things while presenting this equanimity to the world. Ian Richardson shares that quality a little, too.

'Alan dominates rehearsal rooms and productions: he's very critical, and he thinks very hard. There's a stormy element in self-absorption that becomes very critical. It's hard working with successful people. Alan is not necessarily   the kind of actor I ought to want to work with, because he defends the role of the actor. Actors have an illusory power in society, but they don't write their own lines. They are ventriloquists' dummies



'I don't really understand the impulse to act. You are disappear­ing into another person, and yet you are exposing yourself. In a way, actors don't really exist.

'By that, I don't mean that Alan is artificial - far from it,' Davis adds hurriedly. 'He has one of the most positive and strong presences I've ever met. But he doesn't really empathise with people who are off-balance: it's as if he's working from a script:

Alan Rickman's 'script' began in 1946 with a busy New Year in the modest London suburb of Acton, then in the county of Middlesex. On 12 February, the local newspaper carried the story that a woman had hanged herself with a ventilator cord. A weapons amnesty for wartime firearms had also been announced: unlicensed pistols brought home as souvenirs by Forces personnel were to be presented to Acton Police Station by 31 March to avoid prosecu­tion. The only other direct reminder of the recent world-wide conflict was a chilling report in the 1 March issue of the Eagling And Acton Gazelle on a talk that a girl survivor of a concentration camp had given to the Acton Business And Professional Women's Club. 'You do not know what a man is unless you see him with absolute power,' this pale, quietly-spoken wraith told the assorted good ladies in their tailored business suits, cut from wartime utility cloth. 'If he has absolute power and is kind: then he is a real man.'

Couples were dancing to the sound of the Carroll Gibbons Blue Room Orchestra at Ealing Town Hall, and those who stayed at home grumbled that coal was rationed to 34 hundredweight for twelve months. Thieves had broken into a solicitor's house and stolen three suits plus a copy of Archibald's Criminal Pleading; and two builders were charged with an armed robbery of two Maltese seamen.

In the weepie Tomorrow Is Forever at the East Acton Savoy Cinema. Orson Welles (of all people) was listed dead in the war but returned home with a new face to find his 'widow', Claudetle Colbert, had married again. Not that the romantics among picture-goers were completely ignored by the programme for the week beginning 18 February. Roy Rogers and Trigger - the horse that could do everything except wear a cowboy costume - shared top billing and a capacious nosebag in Don't Fence Me In.

Prominent 'Keep Death Off The Roads" advertisements in the Gazette issued dire warnings about motorcar accidents, giving the impression that west London was full of road-hogs. And on 21




February, Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was born at home at 24, Lynton Road, Acton ... the second son for painter and decorator Bernard Rickman and his wife Margaret Doreen Rose, nee Bartlett.

Their first boy, David Bernard John, had been born during the last year of the war while his father was working as an aircraft fitter.

The family had rented a flat in an imposing red-brick Edwardian semi-detached house in a central Acton backwater, just one street away from the railway line. Alan's Irish father and Welsh mother belonged to what was once proudly known as the respectable working classes, steady workers with lower middle-class aspir­ations. Number 24 was a multi-occupied house: other rooms on the premises were rented by an elderly lady, Hester Messenbird, and by a married couple, Rupen and Violet Oliver. The Rickmans were always staunch Labour voters who put the red posters up in the window as soon as an election was announced.

Alan has always felt influenced by a prominent radical Rickman from an earlier age: Thomas Paine's friend and biographer Thomas 'Clio' Rickman (1761-1834) who was a bookseller and reformer. He was the son of Quakers and was apprenticed with a doctor uncle to study the medical profession. At seventeen, he met the freethinker Thomas Paine who worked as an exciseman in Rickman's birthplace of Lewes, Sussex. They both joined the Headstrong Club, which met at the White Han Inn. Rickman's precocious taste for poetry and history earned him the sobriquet 'Clio', which became one of his pen names. Disowned by the Sussex Friends because of his friendship with Paine and his early marriage to a non-Quaker, he left Lewes and became a bookseller in London: first in Leadenhall Street and, later, at Upper Marylebone Street.

Paine completed the second part of The Rights Of Man while lodging at Rickman's house. The two friends formed a circle of reformers with such eminent names as Mary Wollstonecraft and Home Tooke; Rickman sketched them all in his biography The life Of Paine, published in 1819. Frequently in hiding as a result of selling Paine's seditious books, he fled to Paris several times. The friends finally parted at Le Havre on 1 September 1802, when Paine sailed to America.

A satirist from the age of fifteen and a composer of republican songs, Rickman's pieces often appeared in such weekly journals as



The Black Dwarf whose title was revived by the counter-culture of the 60s. He died on 15 February 1834, and received a Quaker burial at Bunhill Fields. There is no evidence that Alan's family are direct descendants, but Thomas Rickman's reputation 'resonated' (to use a favourite expression of Alan's) down the years and made Alan a searching, well-read child acutely aware of a radical world elsewhere. No one would ever be able to claim 'Forever Acton' as his epitaph.

The working classes made him, but it was The Ruling Class that revolutionised Alan Rickman. He melodramatically told his old friend Peter Barnes that the latter's first hit play, later filmed in 1972 with Peter O'Toole as a mad aristocrat, had 'changed his life'.

The Ruling Class was premiered in Nottingham in 1968 and quickly transferred to the West End, opening at London's Picca­dilly Theatre. It was one of those rotten-state-of-the-nation plays that proved uncannily prophetic, with a peer of the realm accidentally killing himself by auto-erotic strangulation in the first scene. With its great leaps of logic, this flamboyant attack upon the British class system was also hugely, and ambitiously, entertaining. Peter aimed to create 'a comic theatre ... of opposites, where everything is simultaneously tragic and ridiculous'. Since he and Tom Stoppard both began writing plays around the same time, it is debatable who influenced whom. Both are great showmen, vaudevillians with serious things to say.

Nearly three decades later, the Tory MP Stephen Milligan was found dead in similar circumstances; only then was the pleasurable purpose of this bizarre and dangerous practice duly explained to a bemused general public by the sexpetts of the popular Press. But Barnes' anti-Establishment audacity, at a time when few dared acknowledge the fact that hanged men get hard-ons, had deeply impressed the young Rickman in 1968. After all, it was only three years since capital punishment for murder had been abolished: although death by hanging has remained on the statute-books for piracy and, as critics of the late Princess Diana's former lover. James Hewitt, love to keep pointing out, for treason.

Bernard and Margaret Rickman were to have two more children. Alan's younger brother, Michael Keith, arrived 21 months after Alan on 21 November 1947. The only daughter, Sheila, was born on 15 February 1950.

Alan was later to describe himself as a 'dreamy' child, wrapped up in his own little world as he scribbled and doodled. David and




Michael, too, had artistic leanings, with the same beautiful handwriting. 'Alan is a very talented water-colourist. He has this elegant, flowing, effordess calligraphy,' says Stephen Davis.

He was the clever, petted one of the family, the future scholarship child, although Alan the egalitarian took pains to emphasise in a Guardian interview with Susie Mackenzie in 1998 that his parents had no favourites and treated them all equally. His slow way of speaking meant that he received more attention: his parents had to listen carefully to his every word. Alan was particularly fond of his father Bernard. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, famously said: 'Give me the boy at the age of seven and 1 will give you the man.' Alan's confident masculinity and self-contained air of assurance were shaped by that early closeness with the saintly-sounding Bernard.

When Alan was only eight and the youngest, Sheila, was just four, their father died of cancer. Alan subsequently talked of 'the devastating sense of grief in the household; they were rehoused by the council and moved to an Acton estate to the west of Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where his mother struggled to bring up four children on her own by working for the Post Office.

She married again briefly, but it lasted only three years. Clearly Bernard had been the love of her life, although Alan recalled the relationship between his Methodist Welsh mother and his Irish Catholic father had often been volatile: the clash of cultures would sometimes end in sounds of banging doors and weeping behind them. But, despite their lack of money and their cramped surroundings, the little family of six were happy.

Everything changed with his father's death. 'His death was a huge thing to happen to four kids under ten,' he said, remembering how his headmaster had come into his class and spoken in an undertone to the teacher as they both turned to look at Alan - who already knew what they were going to say. He was being summoned home, where he was to be told that his terminally ill father had died. It was thought best that the children should not go to the funeral, but they were shocked afterwards by the sight of their mother, who loved colourful clothes, dressed all in black for the first time.

In 2001, with the benefit of much hindsight into that ghastly time, he told interviewer Tim Sebastian on BBC News 24 that he had long since reached the conclusion that 'my mother was so distraught that she couldn't have coped with having her children



there as well But it was a strange thing not lo he there. It's not explained to you.' he said, adding that, in those days, everyone unquestioningly believed in the 'ethic' that 'children should be seen and not heard'

Alan has never forgotten the sense of loss that bereaved people have, of being 'deserted' by a dying parent it is a mixture of sorrow and resentment on the part of the person left behind to mourn; a child, in particular, cannot grasp the dread inevitability of a terminal illness and feels bewildered by its outcome. By never marrying Rima, despite their long-term relationship, Alan instinc­tively protects himself against the possibility of loss or betrayal. The same goes for his position as a 'guru' to his many friends. It empowers him to be seen as someone who doesn't need conven­tional props, who generously gives but rarely requires anything in return. It was a power, a privilege that he never had as a poor child. He rarely lets people get too close; otherwise panic sets in.

Bernard's untimely death also thrust the family into an alien environment. Alan hated the stigma of growing up in what he perceived to be a working-class ghetto, particularly when he won his scholarship; homogeneous local-authority architecture was instantly recognisable as cheap mass public housing.

There was far more anonymity, and therefore more scope for an aspiring child's imagination, in a privately rented flat in Lynton Road, where you could always pretend you owned the entire house. Years later. Alan shuddered to his friends about the awfulness of growing up on - whisper who dares - a council estate It is a strange kind of snobbery, perhaps peculiar to Britain because of its obsession with home-ownership. I remember feeling the same way when my mother and I were finally assigned a chilly but functional flat on a spartan council estate after we had lived happily for twelve years in my aunt and uncle's bathroomless, terraced Victorian house, a cosy slum by any other name. There was far more character in the latter, despite the lack of mod cons. but council estates seemed to mark you out in some way as a loser. They were not designed for the enrichment of the working classes; it was thought sufficient that their lives were enhanced by having a bathroom and an inside lavatory.

Alan's mother Margaret had always been a strong character. spiritually connected to those indomitable matriarchs that feature in Sean O'Casey's slum-life plays. Working-class families tend to



be verbally and physically undemonstrative; you get on with life, you don't agonise about it. What's the use of talk? It doesn't get you anywhere. She carried on grimly.

The passive-aggressive type is one who digs his heels in, who wants things his own way, but not in a loud way. Very often there has been an early battle in childhood, but he rebels quietly. He smiles on the surface but won't comply. His mother is always a matriarchal figure. There is also an inherent narcissism, which is certainly true of Alan. It's not just in the way he always wears his enviably thick, lustrous hair slightly long, but also in wanting to be the wise man at the centre of a group. Alan was very influenced by Margaret's will to survive at all costs. His later role as an adviser to a wide circle of friends is based upon holding the balance of power, just as he saw his mother do. In effect, he became both parent and teacher following the example of his mother and his influential Latymer Upper teacher and mentor, Colin Turner.

Until her death in 1997, Margaret Rickman lived in the same modest house that she had made her own with replacement windows and a smart new fence around the front garden. Under the Tories' 'Right To Buy' policy, she and her youngest son, Michael, jointly purchased the council property after years of renting. The novelist, Peter Ackroyd, was brought up not far away in a street with the Anglo-Saxon name of Wulfstan and proudly claims that Wormwood Scrubs cast a longer shadow over his beloved childhood home. But then Ackroyd always did revel in the macabre. In one of those cheek-by-jowl arrangements between very different neighbourhoods in which London specialises, Alan was based only a few miles away from his mother.

Alan visited his mother regularly until the very end, particularly when her health first began to decline in 1995; he once turned up at an RSC Christmas party at the then Artistic Director Adrian Noble's house in north London, with some of Margaret's mince pies in Tupperware boxes. She had pressed them upon him at the end of his visit, not letting him go until he had taken something home with him 'to keep him going'. It's a very working-class thing: providing hospitality even for passing guests who stay five minutes, let alone your own grown-up children, is a huge matter of pride with working-class matriarchs.

Rickman himself told Mackenzie that his mother was as fiercely protective of her children as a tigress; similarly, his brothers and



sister have had nothing but 'the fiercest pride' for the famous member of the family - 'and I for them'. His mother, he said, 'was incredibly talented herself; she would have had a career as a singer in another world.' Which is why he took her to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Phantom of the Opera for her 80th birthday, with a party afterwards that Margaret entered 'like the star she was I've never seen anyone enter a room like that,' he added

'He doesn't hide his family,' Stephen Davis told me a few years before Margaret Rickman's death. 'His mother is a real matriarch, and he takes a lot of care with her. Strength of character is genetic, Alan tells funny stories about her sometimes.' Yet another friend says that Rima feels Alan has never quite come to terms with his working-class background. Way over to the east of the 'Scrubs', Rima's outside interests - her work as a grass-roots local politician enables her to keep close to the people in the way that an actor can do only through his fans - have included the governorship of Barlby School and North Kensington Community Centre.

Alan's younger brother, Michael, is also a west Londoner; and his older brother David lives in nearby Hertfordshire. The vast majority of actors come from comfortable, impeccably bourgeois backgrounds, and Alan is all too aware that he came from tougher roots. When he goes back to them, he takes care not to flaunt his lifestyle.

Peter Barnes says he saw a lot of his own mother (who died in 1981) in Margaret Rickman. 'Alan and 1 came from the same background; both of us weren't in a position to buy property until quite late. Writing is as precarious as acting, and I had been struggling for twenty years until I made my name in Hollywood.

'I was born at Bow, so I'm an authentic Cockney. I recognised my mother in Alan's mother. My mother remarked at the first night of The Ruling Class, my first big success, that I could have gone into the Civil Service instead . . .

'It was a struggle for Alan and me to go off at a tangent and be artistic. In fact, I had even passed the local government exams for the Civil Service, just to please my mother.

'She was widowed too, and I was so taken with the comparison with Alan's mother. I met Mrs Rickman at the Die Hard premiere: when I said how marvellous Alan was in the role, she just said, 'Yes, yes, he's very good". It was as if something was niggling her. ;he wasn't quite comfortable with it.



They are terrified of boasting about their children's achieve­ments, as if people might accuse them of showing off and aiming above their station in life. So they go to the other extreme Alan sent his mother on a winter cruise: her comments mirrored my mother's when I sent her to Gibraltar. Never grateful - grudging comments, finding fault with the food. But still proud of her son in a reserved sort of way. She wouldn't like to make a show of things.'

It reminds me, too, of my own mother's reaction when I told her that I wanted to go to university. 'You're aiming above your station,' she said, automatically reaching for the hand-me-down phrase. And she was very uneasy with the cruise 1 sent her on, too! The working classes take years to shake off the serf mentality, the hopeless feeling that some things are just not for the likes of them. Alan Rickman's mother knew he was remarkable in many ways: he was her Alan, but he was also his own person to an almost aloof degree. He had to cultivate that sense of separateness and be quite ruthless about going his own way, or he would never have succeeded.

He certainly schooled her from the beginning of his acting career in how to talk to the Press; Alan, nervous about coming from the 'wrong background to such a middle-class environment, was very concerned about saying the correct thing. An early cutting from the Acton Gazette of 26 May 1977 features a studio portrait of a fresh-faced Rickman and a careful quote from his mother. 'He was always keen on acting and even at school achieved recognition,' she told the Gazette almost primly. Clearly not one to gush about her boy, who was on tour at the time.

Mr Rickman has not been lured into television yet, preferring to tread the boards in repertory where he gets an immediate audience response to his performances,' concluded the anonymous reporter, having been fobbed off with a standard response by both Alan and his mother. It was the kind of routine guff they teach you in your final term at drama school

'My mother would come out with all sorts of bigotry against unions and strikes and foreigners on the TV. and then go out and vote Labour. She wouldn't think twice about it. She wouldn't see any contradiction in that,' says Peter Barnes

'I do think that Alan still has a working-class view of life in a way,’ he adds. 'He was round to dinner one night, and my wife was




nagging me at the dinner-table about my eating and my weight Alan said, "I would never let Rima speak to me like that." He said it in front of my wife, which I thought was a bit reactionary. It's very working-class.

'He said that his mother was like mine, would sit in front of the TV' set and say that British workers never do any work, it's the unions . . . and then she would go out and vote Labour after all this bigoted, reactionary, right-wing nonsense. Working-class prejudices linger on.

'I would just say to mine, "Shut up, mother ..."' adds Peter fondly, finding it all rather amusing and touching.

It took Alan years before he sheepishly admitted to The Times magazine on 12 March 1994: 'I've had feminism knocked into me, and a jolly good thing too . . .' Margaret was a very strong role-model for the female sex; and he became very close to her. As a result, he has always been relaxed around women.

Alan also had another lucky start in life that money couldn't buy, since his local state infants' school just happened to be the only purpose-built Montessori school in Britain.

Officially opened in 1937, the building was designed on open-air lines with each classroom leading to a glass-roofed verandah. It followed the pioneering principles of the Italian educationalist, Dr Maria Montessori, in encouraging each child to learn and develop at its own individual rate with 'instructive play'.

To the traditional curriculum of the three Rs were added such social skills as self-expression - vital for a future actor - charity work and consideration for others plus classes in music, movement and dance, singing, craft, art, cookery, gardening, nature study and basic science, poetry and physical education.

At the age of four and a half, on 13 September 1950. Alan enrolled at what is now West Acton First School in nearby Noel Road. Play areas were dotted with flower gardens on a five-acre site.

The school served the new residential roads near Western Avenue plus the adjacent garden estate that had been built between the wars by the then Great Western Railway Company to house its workers.

In 1995 I went to meet the headmistress Wendy Dixon, who called the first school'. . . the seed-bed, which biographers so often ignore.



'Alan had a big advantage at the very beginning in going to a Montessori school, because visitors came from all over the world to monitor its progress. So children would always be presenting themselves in front of an audience,' she explained. They were making history all the time: they would have become quite sophisticated. You can always recognise a Montessori-educated adult: they have inquiring minds and a sense of wonder. They're not just chalked and talked like the rest.'

The Montessori method gives a precociousness,' agrees the playwright Robert Holman, another of Rickman's long-standing friends. And Alan was a very precocious child.

His first acting experience came with The Story of Christmas on 12 December 1951, a short Nativity play and carol service 'for the mothers' as the school diary notes. Fathers were not invited; this was an afternoon performance when the men were deemed to be at work. Two years later, he first felt what he was to describe as the acting 'sensation' when he starred in the school play King Grizzly Bear (eat your heart out, Sheriff of Nottingham). At the age of seven, Alan Rickman had already made the crucial discovery that he could dominate an audience.

With low-ceilinged classrooms giving an inspirational view of the sky, plenty of fresh air in outdoor activities and the beginning of what is now known as 'child-centred education', this was a creative hothouse far removed from the high-ceilinged, daunting Victorian schoolhouse tradition that was still the norm across the country.

One very large window that reached to the floor enabled Alan and his classmates to step over the sill and straight into one of several playgrounds. There were no barriers to the outside world in this enlightened child-friendly environment that encouraged pupils to feel in control of their lives. Or, as Dr Montessori wrote: 'Education must be a help to life . . . and at this period of growth (3-5 years) should be based on the principle of freely chosen activity in a specially prepared environment.'

Rickman's future partner, Rima Horton, was to be equally fortunate in the early years. She went to an old-fashioned dame school, St Vincent's in Holland Park Avenue, which was run by an enlightened mother and daughter team, Mrs Reid and Mrs Bromley. Despite its name - St Vincent de Paul was the revered 'people's priest' who founded the charitable Orders of the Dazarists and the Sisters of Charity - it was not a Catholic school.



An old classmate remembers Rima as 'a very bright kid. a clever girl. She was the elfin type, petite but feisty. My mother said. "What a pretty little girl she is." There were only 40 in the school. It was very strict, with very good teaching - we would parse sentences and read Shakespeare from an early age, or there would be a rap over the knuckles.

'Mrs Reid and Mrs Bromley were incredibly intellectual women We were all protected from the outside world in that school; it was a haven. It was co-educational, but they cared a lot about girls being educated to the same level as boys.

'It was fee-paying, but not terribly expensive. A lot of the parents were struggling actors or musicians. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mrs Bromley had allowed some of them to postpone payment if they got into difficulties.

They took on children they liked; and they liked real characters. Rima was always a character. We did a lot of theatre; 1 remember a production of Dick Whittington at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate.

'Children were allowed to speak for themselves, and Rima always did that. We were brought up to be clever. The school really stood us in good stead. We were encouraged to be independent Rima and I and a small pack would roam the streets at lunch-time we had one fight with a posh primary school in Holland Park when the kids were making fun of our red blazers. We punched them in the playground; I remember it was snowing in the park.

'I was delighted to hear about Alan years later; they make a good couple. He's got to be the ultimate grown-up crumpet. 1 don't mind that his teeth aren't perfect, there's something so magnetic about him. He's just a fascinating man, he seems so warm and clever. You feel he's going to be fun. He's divine with children, they adore him.'

In  1953, at the age of seven, the future grown-up crumpet automatically transferred from West Acton to Denventwater Junior School. There he won a scholarship in 1957 to the boys' independent day school Latymer Upper, the Alma Mater of fellow actors Hugh Grant, Mel Smith, Christopher and Dominic Guard and breakfast TV' doctor. Hillary Jones, exposed as a two-timer by the tabloids. Old Latymerians are never dull.

Alan was born with the distinctive 'Syrup of Figs' drawl, as one friend calls it, but the emollient private-school accent was created



at Latymer Upper in Hammersmith's King Street. The process of detachment from his past had begun.

The first school established by the Latymer Foundation of 1624 was in Fulham churchyard. In 1648 it moved to Hammersmith, but a new school was built in 1863. On the present site, the warm red nineteenth-century brick and the gables give Latymer a cloistered, rarefied atmosphere that comes as a welcome relief from the traffic of the highly commercial King Street.

Concerts take place in a long vaulted hall with stained-glass windows. Tranquil lawns lead via the adjacent prep school to the River Thames: in 1957, a child from a council estate must have felt as if he were entering the rarefied realms of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The school has its own boathouse on the tideway, giving direct river access. In the summer months, outdoor life revolves around cricket, athletics, rowing and tennis.

The public floggings that one pre-war pupil, John Prebble., remembers had long been abolished. Each boy was assigned a personal tutor, responsible for his development and general welfare. With someone watching over him, Latymer Upper was to be an academic and dramatic Arcadia for the young Alan Rickman.

Here was a chance to put into practice - and how - the latent exhibitionism that was a vital component in the makeup of ever}' passive-aggressive personality. The word latent' is the key to Alan's equivocal attitude towards the Press.

A perfectionist such as Rickman still resents the way in which, because of the ephemeral nature of live theatre, stage performances are immortalised only in reviews. The actor may be refining his technique night after night, but the notices have already set the show in aspic. He has always been touchy about critics because of their markedly mixed reactions to his voice; his hostility to the Press can be traced back to the paranoia of those early years when he was reinventing himself in the image of the silky-sounding matinee idol of his childhood. He was always anxious not to seem common; instead he became famously uncommon.

Laurence Olivier once said that all actors are masochistic exhibitionists. More masochistic than exhibitionist, Kenneth Branagh once mumbled humorously to me; but the oxymoron applies to Alan Rickman in particular.

Although he grew tall in his teens, he was to prove particularly good at female roles in Latymer productions because of his vocal



musicality, a certain gracefulness and a chameleonic quality. Such transformations gave him the chance to escape completely into another world where he was no longer a poor kid who had to apply for a grant to buy his school uniform. The dressing-up box was his new kingdom. He could be whoever he wanted to be.

He was highly intelligent and academic enough to have earned his place at the school; but it was his supreme acting ability that was to give him the edge at Latymer Upper.



2. THE SURROGATE FATHER                                                                                                      33


On the last Saturday in January, 1990, a 55-year-old schoolmaster called Colin Turner was killed in a freak accident on a visit to friends. Colin had been hoping to retire to Stratford-upon-Avon five years later in 1995, looking forward to indulging his passion for Shakespearean research. He was walking down a flight of stairs in a block of flats in Stamford Court, Hammersmith, when he suddenly tripped and fell headlong, breaking his neck on the railings at the bottom of the stairs. Colin was rushed to the nearby Charing Cross Hospital; but he had died almost instan­taneously.

'Oddly enough,' says Colin's close friend Edward Ted1 Stead, sadly recalling a bizarre detail, 'the bottle of wine he was carrying was quite undamaged.'

Wilf Sharp, then the Head of English at Latymer Upper School, was informed of his colleague's fate the next morning on Sunday, 28 January. At first he couldn't quite believe it; he had only just received a letter from Colin the previous day.

The correspondence was about Colin's attendance at the funeral of their mutual friend, the painter Ruskin Spear, who had lived a few doors away from Colin in Hammersmith's British Grove.

There was to be a similar tragedy five years later on New Year's Eve, 1995, for a former Latymer Upper master who had lived in the same apartment block as Colin. Retired English teacher Jim McCabe died of a brain haemorrhage after falling and hitting his head on a stationary car in the car park. Alan Rickman attended his requiem mass at the end of January 1996 and later went back to the school to talk over old times.

When he had heard the news about Colin Turner's fatal accident, it was particularly devastating for Alan. Colin had been his mentor at Latymer Upper, joining the school at the same time as the then fatherless, 11-year-old Alan. Turner was 23. An English teacher at Latymer for the next 33 years, he would become Head of Middle School.

As a bachelor, Colin had treated his career as a vocation in the Chips tradition. An Old Latymerian himself, he was a



flamboyant and idiosyncratic actor and director in the school's Gild Drama Club. He had hoped to make a career in the professional theatre, but eventually trained as a teacher after National Service in the RAF and returned to his beloved Latymer.

The school was staffed with frustrated actors,' remembers the writer, critic and broadcaster Robert Cushman, a pupil at the school in Alan's day.

It was overwhelmingly non-tee-paying in my time,' adds Cushman, who left two years before Alan in 1962 but acted alongside him in Gild productions. The school was not class-ridden at all. It was a good time, the beginning of the 60s. It was almost like doing weekly rep, with a major show every term. The Gild met every week except in the summer exam term, and there was a great sense of comedy in the school. It was a fun place to be. A whole bunch of bachelor teachers bought us drinks when we were under age; in the Gild, we all felt like their equals.

'Colin Turner was a matinee-idol type, very good-looking with a light tenor voice. He was very tall - I remember him playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night when someone else dropped out.'

Opera fan Colin was just as likely to step into a skirt and send himself up as to play in straight drama. Among his most memorable roles at Latymer Upper were the sad schoolmaster and cuckold Crocker Harris in Rattigan's The Browning Version, the foul-mouthed fishwife Martha in Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ? and an outrageous succession of pantomine Dame parts, such as Sarah the Cook and Dame Trot.

A big and imposing man with an irrepressible sense of humour, he modelled his female roles on his favourite aunt, surrogate mother and holiday companion, Mrs Elsie Laws. Shades of Travels With My Aunt, indeed.

In The Latymerian magazine of Spring/Summer 1990, Ted Stead's tribute to Colin remembered '. . . the little touches which many people haven't time for ... his gifts, a kind word, a joke, a glass of sherry, an arm round the shoulder, a present - often a flower, or even when needed, a sharp word of reality to cure self-pity and indulgence. There was always a welcome in his home and his hospitality through his parties brought together his wide circle of friends on Twelfth Night and on his birthday, when he sometimes ruefully counted the years but did not grow old.' Colin had the



born schoolteacher's ability to seem as youthful in his enthusiasms as his pupils, hence his empathy with his boys.

It was Colin Turner who discovered the gawky young Alan Rickman, for whom he clearly felt a paternal concern. In later years he would also develop the talent of Melvyn 'Mel' Smith, Hugh Grant, Christopher Guard plus his brother Dominic and even a future Miss Moneypenny: actress Samantha Bond from Latymer's sister school Godolphin. Samantha's journalist brother Matthew, also one of his pupils, was later to write a tribute to Colin in The Times Diary on what would have been the occasion of his 60th birthday.

There was a good creative buzz around the place, and Colin was at the centre of it. He was one of the great characters of the school. Colin was a great mentor to lots of people: he had a real eye for talent,' says Mail On Sunday film critic Matthew, an exact contemporary of Hugh Grant at Latymer Upper in the 70s. 'When you think of it, Colin had an amazing strike record for a drama teacher. It's sad that some of his former pupils only became great successes after his death; but Colin was interested in the progress of the journeymen actors as well.

'At 6 ft 6 in, it would have been difficult for him to be a professional actor. He was a very imposing pantomine dame; he took it very seriously and was good at it. He didn't mind being ridiculed in drag at the panto, but he had tremendous authority back in the classroom.

'I rather rebelled against acting because of my family,' explains Matthew, son of the actor Philip Bond. 'I did science A-Levels and Colin teased me about it. So I tended not to act much: 1 was the one who got away. It was the Arties versus the Hearties at Latymer, and I was somewhere in between.

'My career as a schoolboy actor reached its peak in The Italian Straw Hat when I played an elderly Italian gentleman; but I wore yellow dresses in the school Jantaculum with the best of them, Hugh Grant included.' The future pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the actress Kate Beckinsale were among the Godolphin girls appearing in co-productions with Latymer. As Matthew recalls: They did allow girls in later to play female roles ... but then they decided to ban the girls after some very unGarrick Club behaviour.' Despite that behavioural blip, girls have since been admitted to Latymer Upper's sixth form, with the eventual plan that the school will go fully co-educational.



From 1957-1964, when Alan attended the school, Colin inevitably became something of a father figure to him even with only twelve years' difference between them. Alan's bravura style and even the development of his unique voice can be attributed to him.

'It struck me that Colin's basic manner was not dissimilar to Alan's; both possessed this wonderful voice and presence. When you see Alan, there are echoes of Colin, because he is a mannered actor,' adds Matthew. 'But it might have worked both ways; it might have been Colin who adopted Alan's style, because he would have had great admiration for someone with such a natural actor's voice. The actor Simon Kunz has a great voice too, and he became another protege of Colin's at Latymer; Colin must have thought that Simon would be another Alan Rickman.'

'Alan was very close to Colin, who really guided him,' remembers Ted Stead. 'Colin was one of my closest friends, and we were both invited to Alan's 21st birthday party as his friends. It's very unusual to invite your old teachers to your 21st, but he did.' Their former pupil even continued to act alongside Colin and Ted for several years after Alan had left Latymer Upper for Chelsea College of Art.

Alan and his new girlfriend Rima met up with Colin and Ted again in the Court Drama Group at a London County Council Evening Institute off the Huston Road, where Wilf Sharp and his wife Miriam ('Mim') were instructors in their spare time.

Wilf and Mim's daughter, Jane, played Juliet to Alan's Romeo in this amateur dramatics group, with Colin Turner as Mercutio and Mim directing. It was Latymer Revisited with females.

Alan himself recalls Latymer Upper in the 1960s as an exhilarating mini National Theatre, with teachers fighting pupils for the best roles. It was a glamorous sanctuary from the drab reality of poverty.

A former classmate of Alan's recalls that 80 per cent of the boys in Rickman's day were from a working-class background. 'They took the cream of the 11-plus from all over London. I came from a middle-class background, and I almost felt like the odd boy out. Most of the intake was from the C-D social groups: academically it was highly selective, but the social mix was like a comprehensive. It's a great pity that the direct-grant system has finished there.

The school's motto is Pavilatim Ergo Certe (Slowly But Surely), which could sum up Rickman's slow-burn career. Founded in



1624 by the terms of lawyer Edward Latymer's will, it aimed to give a first-class education to able boys from all backgrounds.

Latymer worked in the livery courts. The income from the childless Latymer's rents in the hamlet of Hammersmith was bequeathed to the founding of a charity under which eight poor local boys were to be put 'to some petty school' to be taught English and 'some part of God's true religion' so that they could be kept 'from idle and vagrant courses'. The 1572 Vagabonds Act had deemed all unlicensed 'Common Players' to be 'rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars', no better than vagrants. One wonders just what the devout Latymer would have made of the famous thespians that emerged from his school.

Despite a certain working-class diffidence, Rickman's dramatic abilities were very obvious from the beginning. He was a regular performer in school plays as a member of the Gild Drama Club, held every Friday night.

The Gild was set up in the 1920s as a senior dramatic society, based upon the medieval trade guilds (spelt gilds). It was open to fifth and sixth-formers plus masters, with girls from Godolphin eventually playing female roles, though not in Alan's day.

The idea, very radical for its time, was to create 'Jantaculum' musical revues in which pupils and masters could compete as equals. Rickman's self-possession, interpreted by some as arro­gance, stemmed from that terrific egalitarian start in life when boys were taught to take on the world. It almost goes without saying that, with that voice and that presence, he made an imposing prefect at the age of eighteen. Nearly four decades later, another Old Latymerian called John Byer, a teacher now for more than three decades, swears that the secret of Rickman's 'wonderful portrayal of the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham was the practice he had as my class prefect when I was in the fourth form!' As a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Alan was self-conscious enough as a prefect to assume that aloofness conferred authority, as so many sixth-formers 'dressed in a little brief authority' tend to do. Tobacco helped the nerves, and Rickman puffed away at the ciggies as much as anyone. Byer recalls how 'Alan's fingers were nicotine-stained; smoking was de rigueur at Latymer then and it was allowed in the prefects' room. Although he treated me like dm,' he adds good-humouredly, т think we were probably pretty awful - and it was what we expected!'



Latymer was a direct-grant school in 1957, with competitive entry by exam. "You won a place here on merit,' says Nigel Orton, the school's former deputy head who went on to run the Old Latymerian Office that keeps in touch with former pupils. 'Most of the boys were on scholarship, because Latymer has always been renowned for taking boys from humble or lower middle-class backgrounds. The school is still selective, but the direct grant finished in 1976 and we became fee-paying - though the bursary-scheme takes care of boys from poor backgrounds.

'When the Government started an assisted-places scheme in the early 80s, we bought into this in a big way. It's a totally academic, selective school.'

Alan made a memorably precocious Latymer acting debut at the age of eleven as Volumnia, the overbearing and bellicose mamma of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. Later, he became a Gild committee-member, or Curianus, in the quaint Latymer parlance.

He was also Chamberlayne, the title given to the boy in charge of Wardrobe. The intricacies of costume design fascinated Rick-man, whose talents as an artist were already obvious. The library still holds Curianus Rickman's own flamboyant signed cartoon of himself, heavily padded as Sir Epicure Mammon with a conical hat perched on his sharp Mod haircut for a production of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, in the spring of 1964, Alan's final year in the Sixth Form.

Not that Rickman was remotely the kind of teenaged weekend Mod who scootered down to the seaside for a ritual fight with greasy Rockers. The fastidious young scholarship boy was cosseted by academic privilege, and hated growing up on a rough-and-ready-council estate. According to one friend, he still remains sensitive about the experience because acting is overwhelmingly a middle-class profession, even more so now that many drama grants from cash-strapped local authorities have dried up.

At Latymer. Alan could escape into a charmed life. Brian Worthington, a master from Dulwich College's English depart­ment, was a guest reviewer of The Alchemist for the school magazine. The Latymerian. He wrote: 'Sir Epicure Mammon's costume, though well designed, was made of a thin, meagre-looking material, quite wrong for the character. This grandiose and greedy sensualist should surely look as splendid as his verse sounds.



'Nevertheless Alan Rickman's performance compensated for this and his curious "mod" hairstyle. A lazy and smug drawl, affected movements and lucid, well-pointed verse-speaking succeeded well for this avaricious yet perversely sensitive booby. He knew how to throw away a line and deliver the famous speech — "I'll have all my beds blown up, not stuff’d, down is too hard" — without any indulgence in the voice, beautifully.'

The previous year, Alan played the female role of Grusha in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which was his first introduc­tion to left-wing agit prop or agitational propaganda. 'He read with assurance, sympathy and complete absence of embarrassment,' noted Ted Stead, the director of the production, in The Latymerian. Unfortunately, Alan fell ill and had to be replaced in the second half. He received his first dodgy notice when the late Leonard Sachs - who made his name as the deliriously alliterative Master of Ceremonies in the television variety series The Good Old Days and whose son, Robin, was a Latymer Upper pupil - seemed to find Alan just a little too precocious.

In a Latymerian review of a 1963 production of The Knight Of The Burning Pestle, Sachs had a somewhat equivocal response to Rickman's 'just too arch Humphrey'. Judging by the adjacent photograph, the foppish, confident-looking Rickman must have been hilarious.

'I used to bump into Alan on the Tube because we lived quite close to each other,' recalls Robert Cushman. Then I suddenly became aware of him as an actor in the Gild in 1962 when I played Sergeant Musgrave in a rehearsed reading of John Arden's Serjeant Musgrave's Dance and Alan played Annie the barmaid. He played her as a bedraggled slut, and there was amazing depth, tragedy and irony in his performance. I have this image of him cradling a dead body.

'He was a charismatic character at school: there was that voice and that authority. I don't know that I would necessarily have prophesied stardom for him. His individuality was always going to stand him in good stead, though.'

At the Speech and Musical Festival of 1964,  Rickman was commended for having '. . . with studied nonchalance extracted every ounce of biting satire from Peacock's Portrait of Scythrop' He's been studying nonchalance ever since. And as Grikos in Cloud Over The Morning, he won the award at Hammersmith Drama



Festival that same year for the best individual performance. The rap over the knuckles from Sachs had done him no harm.

'I first met Alan when I joined the school in 1962 and he was in the Lower Sixth.' says Stead, a Cambridge contemporary of David Frost. Corin Redgrave, Margaret Drabble and Derek Jacobi. Ted. who went on to teach at Gravesend Grammar School for Boys, gave Trevor Nunn his first acting job in Dylan Thomas's Return Journey when they were both up at Downing College.

Above all, Stead remembers Rickman's confidence, with an ability to camp things up as a schoolboy drag queen that nearly gave the Head of the time a fit of puritanical apoplexy.

'Alan was in the political panto Alt Baba And The Seven Dwarfs. He played the sixth wife of All Baba and one of his lines was censored by the headmaster, who was a northern Methodist and insisted it be cut from a family show.

'It was a line about Alan being the Saturday wife, since Ali Baba had one for every day of the week. Alan had to say "fat or thin, nearly bare, he doesn't care" of Ali Baba's taste in women. And he wore a diaphanous costume in a very flamboyant way, quite confidently.'

Robert Cushman reviewed that production for the spring issue of The Latymcrian in 1963. "Spy stories were very much in vogue then, and this was a riotously involved spy-spoof sketch. Alan infiltrated the sultan's harem as a spy, disguised as one of his wives,' he remembers.

A review in The Latymerian school magazine for Winter 1962 records that Alan took the role of 'a sultry spy from Roedean - a sort of do-it-yourself (Eartha) Kin - played with a vocal edge that enabled him to bring the house down with a monosyllable.' That sounds like the Alan Rickman we all know.

'He was always laconic, wonderful at ensemble playing and tremendously popular with boys and staff. One could see he had tremendous talent,' adds Ted Stead.

'When he did The Alchemist in the Upper Sixth, it ran for over three hours. A schoolboy Alchemist is a recipe for disaster, but Alan had this panache in the role of Sir Epicure Mammon. He was very imposing indeed, but he didn't upset the ensemble. He was a very good verse-speaker even in 1964. Jonson is almost intractable, but he managed it.

'He always had a wonderful barbed wit, but it was never unkind. There was always a twinkle in his eyes; he never meant to hurt people. Really, he was a very reliable model pupil.



'Latymer was a very competitive school, and Alan wasn't a leader. He was just somebody who was popular, made people laugh. But he was university material, no question of it. In fact. Alan would have made a good teacher.

'But at that stage, an was his chosen career. He was so clear that he was going to Chelsea College of An, so we didn't think of him in the theatre at that stage. The voice was there when I first met him: it made him unique.'

Chris Hammond, a chemistry teacher and the current Head of Middle School, came to Latymer Upper in 1966 two years after Alan had left with a mighty reputation. In Latymer terms, he was a household name because of his performances in the Jantaculum. He brought the house down; the audiences cried with laughter.

The Gild doesn't really exist now in the old way. There are drama productions, but not with the staff and pupils acting together. There are no more Jantaculum cabarets: they called them light entertain­ments in those days. There's a new view that we ought to be doing proper drama. The great cabaret tradition is no longer there.

'When Alan came back to the school after Jim McCabe's requiem mass, he said that satire was very difficult these days. That's why the satire has gone from the Gild. Because it's all been done before, satire would border on the obscene these days. It has taken off in a strange direction.'

The school still displays a photograph of Rickman in a 1962 production, alongside examples of the early thespian endeavours of rugby captain Mel Smith and cricketer Hugh Grant, all looking absurdly plump-cheeked and misleadingly cherubic. For as Robert Cushman recalls, There was so much jealousy and competitiveness over theatre. I remember one contemporary, Michael Newby, who went on to York University. He was a marvellous natural actor, but he became very disillusioned.'

Newby figured in that Ali Baba And The Seven Dwarfs review from the Winter of 1962: This was a spy story, vaguely post-Fleming, and was handled with his customary skill and incisive-ness by Michael Newby as a deadpan James Bond. His crisp timing did a great deal to hold the story together and he was given two excellent foils: John Ray, possibly the most original comic person­ality the Gild possesses, was marvellously funny in an all-too-brief appearance as a cringing British agent; Alan Rickman . . .' You know the rest.



Cushman. now based in Canada, has stayed friends with Rickman ever since their time at Latymer. 'My wife points out that Alan always helped with the washing-up . . . mind you. thai was before he went to Hollywood,' he jokes.

Although Rickman still revisits Latymer Upper, he has a decidedly equivocal attitude towards the fee-paying school that gave poor scholarship boys like him a privileged upbringing.

His misgivings were to lead to an ideological falling-out with Latymer towards the end of 1995 when the school asked permission to use his photograph in a display advertisement placed in theatre programmes for three productions from October to December at the Lyric Hammersmith. 1995 was Latymer's centenary year, and the ads were specifically designed to recruit new pupils with an interest in drama. Hence the mug-shots of Latymer's most famous dramatic successes: Alan Rickman, Mel Smith and Hugh Grant.

The school wrote to ask Alan's permission to use his photo. 'We received a reply from his agent, one of those wonderful one-sentence letters that said Alan did not wish his photograph to be used in this way/ recalls Chris Hammond. 'Luckily we hadn't sent the display ads off to the printers, so we didn't have to reprint anything. We simply removed Alan's photograph.

The strange thing was that Alan had already given permission for his picture to be used in a book about the history of the school, which was published in October 1995."

Appearing in the school's history book was one thing; but joining in with its recruitment drive was a very different game of soldiers. Staunch Labour supporter Alan Rickman refused to cooperate with the ads because he didn't wish to be seen to be publicly endorsing a fee-paying school which no longer has the same quota of working-class scholarship boys that it did in his day. Paradoxically, that's because the Labour Party abolished the direct-grant system back in 1976 with the inevitable result that Latymer Upper took fewer poor pupils and became more elitist The 300 assisted places that still existed in 1995 were abolished by Labour after it came back into power in 1997.

Ideally, of course. Labour would prefer private schools like Latymer not to exist at all. To add to the irony of Alan's dilemma. a member of his Labour councillor girlfriend's family was also educated at Latymer Upper. "I think it was her brother or her cousin, I can't remember which,' says Chris Hammond.



In other words, though the system may not have pleased the purists, Latymer Upper proved to be the making of a lot of impoverished bright children . . . including Alan Rickman.

'Alan is a romantic,' says Chris Hammond, not unsympatheti-cally. 'And every so often harsh political realities hit him, either through his partner or through logic. He has a romantic view of Latymer and of the Gild.

'He's ideologically in dispute with the concept of an indepen­dent-school education, the idea that money buys all. But after Jim McCabe's requiem mass in January, Alan came back to the school and stayed for three hours from which I deduce he's not personally in dispute with us. He didn't have to come back; nobody forced


'And when he was invited to the centenary service at St Paul's Cathedral in 1995, he sent his regrets that he couldn't come because of filming commitments.

'Harriet Harman's name came up when we were talking, and yes, you could certainly say that he wasn't exactly in favour of her decision to send her son to a selective school,' adds Chris of the educational own goal by a Shadow Cabinet Minister that split the Labour front benches for a while in February 1996.

'But I asked Alan how he would try to maintain Latymer in future if he were a school governor, and he reluctantly agreed that he would have done the same as us. He's ambivalent about it all, because he cares about Latymer.'

According to Chris Hammond, another issue that Rickman felt strongly about was the sacking of Jim McCabe in 1993; he thought Jim was poorly treated at the time.

'Jim was asked to leave,' admits Hammond. 'He was originally with us in the 60s, and he was fine then. Then he went off to teach at Crawley, Watford and eventually Singapore. He came back to Latymer for his final years. He was asked to jack it in at the end of one year; unfortunately he wasn't a good teacher any more. So he took early retirement; I would hope that Alan would see the necessity of that.' But Alan does like to play the white knight on occasion; it's a trait that does him no discredit.

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