I remember a time when:
arts subjects in schools were encouraged and children under 11 were helped, not to pass tests, but to blossom as individuals and to love learning. In my secondary school I had the chance to learn French, German, Latin, Greek & Spanish, art & pottery.
Teachers were happy to give up their after school time to arrange sports matches, direct plays, and help us with drama competitions, including, at my school, teaching us how to be a Greek chorus.
The Belgrade Theatre led the way with a permanent Theatre in Education company that went into schools and performed plays of relevance to their young audiences. Theatre in Education enabled children to enjoy live theatre for the first time; quality writing and performance of this theatre spoke directly to their hearts and growing minds,respecting their experience.
The network of Theatre in Education companies has vanished, along with the philosophy that arts funding should extend to children and people who cannot afford theatre tickets. Arts are now a business.
Like Thatcher, I came from a working class background – both my parents left school at 16. We had no money to spare for holidays abroad – we went and stayed with my grandparents. My education relied on free and excellent public libraries and a grant system that enabled me to go to university [the first person in my family to do so]. All through my childhood and young adulthood I could absolutely rely on free health care.
As a result of this upbringing, I did not have a burning wish to make money. I wanted to work with people who had very little opportunity to make their voices heard. I worked in the poorest districts of Newcastle on Tyne, with travellers in Scotland and the west midlands. I saw there was still poverty and hopelessness where people felt left out of the affluent society that Thatcher encouraged. Her dreams were of goals that could simply be achieved by having more money. She was always a woman who knew the price of everything, and the value of nothing. And those values entered into the minds of a whole generation of children who now hold the reins of power and cannot understand that some people would rather spend their time helping other people.
That was society as I knew it. I still know people who cherish this idea, but they are getting older and the vision that we once shared is no longer accepted as anything but batty individualism.
I’ve been an actor, director, puppeteer, playwright and novelist all my working life. Choosing the arts as a profession guarantees living on a shoestring. I’ve been lucky. I have never drawn the dole, or felt constricted by a lack of money. My life has been so rich in other things that matter more to me.
Today as her funeral procession moves through London my heart will be with the silent protesters who will turn their backs on her coffin. I mourn what we have lost. I mourn the lack of strong and principled politicians who could stand up to her juggernaut of confident delusion, and show us, society, their voters, that there are other ways of thinking.