A ‘Harrow hippie’ whose skill commuted effortlessly between classroom and stage put the Lewis actor on the right track
I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a model student. At Harrow my main interests were drink, girls, smoking and p***ing off anyone in authority. By the time I reached the sixth form, my days were numbered.
I was asked to leave before sitting my A-levels. I don’t remember the exact offence, although I think it was something to do with a fight and some indiscretion with a girl at the sixth-form ball. I probably behaved like an idiot because I wanted to leave. At the age of 18 I couldn’t stand the constraints of Harrow and being told what I could and couldn’t do. I probably forced the issue.
I’m sure I would have done so much sooner if it hadn’t been for Martin Tyrell, my English and theatre studies teacher. He was an amazing man and, though I never enjoyed Harrow, he alone seemed to make the experience worth it.
He was passionate, committed and inspirational. He wasn’t one of those clock-watching teachers either. I can remember many late evenings when he would go over and over plays that we were studying, bringing them to life for us, fuelling us with the passion that he had for the work himself. He had a way of energising his students, bringing out the best in them.
He could have been an actor himself. He certainly had the talent. When you watched him, he could be sinister and menacing, but he could also convey such a tremendous range of emotion.
He might well be the best actor that I have known, but teaching was his calling, something that he loved. He liked to share the love around, too, and he didn’t have favourites. Although he nurtured many talents, including actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and James Dreyfus as well as me, he was equally generous to anyone who expressed an interest in the subject that he taught. He was always there to give advice and guidance.
I credit him, more than anyone - including my own father (actor James Fox) - for putting me on the road. I learnt more from him about acting than I did even from my time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
When I was applying for a place there, I returned to Harrow and asked for his help. He took me into the theatre and we went through the pieces I was going to perform. He did them himself and, basically, all I really needed to do was to copy them. He was a brilliant actor.
I suppose one of the things I loved about him was a sense that he was, perhaps, a kindred rebel. Unlike all the other stuffy teachers in their braces and robes and mirror-shiny shoes, he was much more of a tatty, linen jacket sort of person. He also smoked while in the confines of the school - shocking and unheard of. I always thought of him as a bit of a Harrow hippie.
I wouldn’t say that we are mates. There is something still quite formal and teacher-pupil about our relationship. But I do hope that he knows how much affection and respect I have for him. It might please him to know that the more distance I have from my school days, and the more I encounter people from different walks of life, the more I can see the privileges of having been to Harrow.
Going to an all-boys public school was not my cup of tea and not what I would choose for my own son. But, at the same time, it certainly had its good points, too. And the very best of these, of course, was Martin Tyrell.
Laurence Fox appears in ‘Lewis’ on ITV1. He was talking to Daphne Lockyer
Born: 1978, in Yorkshire
Education: Harrow School, and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Career: Worked as a gardener and in an office before enrolling at Rada. Broke into film with 2001’s The Hole and landed a leading role in Lewis in 2006.