“I had one schoolmaster who got me to read all sorts of things — pretty well everything, including all the classic novels. He was just one of those bits of luck in one’s life. His name was Cyril Wilkes, and I still see him from time to time.
|Actor Robert Shaw|
“He must have been lonely, and that that was his life — teaching boys and helping them. He used to take three or four of us to see plays in London. The first real play I ever saw, in the autumn of 1944, was Hamlet, with John Gielgud, in a repertory production put on at the Haymarket. Mr. Wilkes took some of us to London during a school holiday. We saw Gielgud’s Hamlet at a matinee. That evening, we saw Margaret Leighton and Ralph Richardson in Peer Gynt, and the next day we saw Laurence Olivier in Richard III at a matinee, and Alastair Sim in the James Birdie play It Depends What You Mean that evening. The third day, we saw Laurence Olivier in the film Henry V in the morning, and in the evening we saw John Gielgud again, in Love for Love.
“I was quite dazzled. Gielgud made an extraordinary impression on me. I can see him now as he looked in Hamlet — that long, angular body in the black costume. That first night, I went back to the hotel room, picked up Hamlet, and read it from beginning to end.
“Me. Wilkes taught French and directed all the school plays. He always had time to talk to the boys. We used to sit in his room until two or three in the morning talking about books and politics. Mr. Wilkes was one of those English liberal of the thirties — a member of the Left Book Club, who probably thought about going to fight fascism in Spain but then hadn’t done it. He was that kind of teacher.
“He directed me in the school plays, but told me not to try to become a professional actor. He said that I had the wrong temperament for it — that I was too rebellious and wanted my own way too much. Later on, I found out that it was his policy to say that to everybody, on the theory that if you’re set on doing a thing, you’ll go ahead and do it anyway.” — Robert Shaw, The Player: Profile of An Art