School Memories: An Unconventional Education at Bedales

By School House

6 years ago

Theatre director Edward Hall remembers his time at Bedales, Hampshire.

I come from a very loving but slightly unconventional family, being the middle child of three half-sisters, a full sister and a half-brother. As a family we sometimes thought outside the box, which made finding the right school something of a challenge, but there was one school, Bedales, that was to have a huge influence on my life.

My proper education started at the very strict Colet Court, prep school to St Paul’s in Hammersmith, for which I wasn’t a perfect fit. I did not cope well with the academic pace but fortunately excelled everywhere on the sports field, becoming captain of the cricket team and a member of nearly every other first team on offer.

By the time I reached 13 years old however, I couldn’t cope with the school’s unbending rule-making. We all realised that St Paul’s was not for me, so I was extracted and sent to Bedales where my elder half-brother and sister, ten years my senior, had both spent happy times.

What a breath of fresh air. Here was a school with no uniforms, no prefects and everyone, even the teachers, used their first names.  Mixed-sex classes and mixed-aged dormitories were the norm. I remember putting my trunk gingerly down on my bed on my first day and nervously eyeing the boy on the bed next to me who sported a leather jacket, cut off denim, studs, an earring, long hair and large Doc Marten boots. Sean, as he introduced himself, lived off a diet of heavy metal and became a close friend; one of many I made in my journey to the coveted position of head boy.

Bedales was determined to foster self-motivated young people who were responsible for their actions, for organising their own day whilst being encouraged to contribute to the community around them in all walks of school life. At weekends we put on our own rock concerts, held poetry readings or, in the summer, organised bicycle races. We built stages, performed on them, rigged lights and wrote poetry and music, giving us a tremendous sense of togetherness.

This ethos, reflected in the school motto, ‘work of each for weal of all’, has become the guiding principle of one of the theatre companies I run called Propeller, an all-male Shakespeare touring company which looks for more engaging ways of expressing his plays.

What Bedales couldn’t offer was the opportunity to develop my sporting skills, that aspect not being top of the school’s agenda. But, with enthusiasm typical to the school, they organised for me to trial for the Hampshire youth cricket team. I got in and happily played for them throughout my school career, driven to, and from, county matches by my very generous physics teacher, Tim Allen.

Two teachers in particular had a tremendous impact on my working life. One of them, John Batstone, was not only an inspiration to us in our English classes, but was also a demon round the wicket bowler, who delivered a cricket ball off the wrong foot in a flurry of arms and legs. I can still remember him writing Shakespeare sonnets on the blackboard and talking with such lucidity and passion about Othello, a play which I later went on to direct.

My other great teacher was Ruth Whiting who taught me history, a subject that has always fascinated me, especially the 15th and 16th centuries. She had the great gift of never giving the answer but being able to provoke the question, and taught us always to look beyond the facts and to ask ‘why?’. From Ruth I learnt that truth is purely a matter of perspective and understanding that was the most important part of comprehending history.

I left Bedales a confident, happy and, I think, outward going young man who felt easy in any social situation. When I did eventually make it to university, although my courses were great, I did feel like I was repeating my school life, which, in retrospect, had been more like a university campus than a traditional school. I dropped out of Leeds after a year and am now happily the artistic director of Hampstead Theatre, Propeller Theatre and have a stimulating film career.

Like school, no two of my working days are ever the same and I feel very lucky to have had such a privileged education. Finding the right school for a child is exactly like casting the right actor for a part – and in Bedales, I found mine.

Edward Hall is artistic director of Propeller and Hampstead Theatre London and a director of the ITV series Downton Abbey.

This piece was originally published in the autumn/winter 2013 issue of School House magazine.