Sunday, January 13, 2013

Education by BBC

John Charles Walsham Reith BBC
The BBC's founding charter states that it is to inform, educate and entertain and in my case it certainly did educate. I am a testament to Lord Reith to whom I have been extremely grateful all my life because without him and the BBC  I could never have achieved or in fact enjoyed my life to the full because I received no formal education. I am self taught or rather BBC taught and it sure made a better job of it than the nuns.

My father, Major Hugh Miller who had the very best education himself and went to the finest educational establishments that money could buy decided that his daughter should go to the local convent. This was a disaster for me because in 1947  Rosary Priory was mainly run by 18 year old Irish nuns, They did their best but basically had no idea of how to teach. Consequently I was six and a half before I learned to read.  They had no idea of how to teach reading. The nuns were really only happy when teaching the faith and they definitely were brilliant at that. They taught me rather too well the importance of Adam, Eve and Original Sin. This turned out to be a big mistake for them.

However all was not lost as my Grandfather Henry Thorpe was a self educated man and had risen from railway clerk to the head of Ceylon Railways. Pop owned one of the first televisions in about 1946 and I was captivated. Televisions were rare then and the content limited but Lord Reith had taken the educate seriously and the BBC saw to it that the audience was educated by providing the best.

Every week we were treated to excellent drama on Saturday and Sunday, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Wilde, Shaw. I saw my first Midsummer Night's Dream at the age of five and loved it. I watched and enjoyed opera and ballet as well as more typical musical and variety shows. The BBC showed films too and I loved those of Alexander Korda. I was introduced to Great Expectations and Dickens this way. I started to read Dickens which was in my grandfather's library but I preferred Ibsen and Austin and my favorite Shakespeare, I adored Romeo and Juliet.

BBC was good at science too and the new inventions and discoveries were featured. I watched everything especially the test programme every morning which presented classical music. The Waltz from Act 1 Swan Lake and Lena Horn featured. I enjoyed the BBC News and knew everything that was going on in the world. I recall Bernard Shaw's famous interview and also the atomic bomb tests. Aged 4 I saw the opening of the Belsen Concentration Camp and I knew then there was no God. This one news item changed my life. I grew up.

By ten I had started to read Shakespeare and I analyzed  Oliver's Henry V, which the nuns had taken their pupils to see. It was not as I remembered from the text. I discovered that Olivier had taken a lot of licence and I was shocked!

At 13 the nuns introduced us to Dickens  for the first time. It was Great Expectations which I had read when I was 9. We never got past Pip's early life. For me it was a wasted year as I was bored stiff. Later I told one of the nuns about this and she apologized for the dreadful education we received. I felt sorry for all my classmates.

My father realized that I was not thriving at my convent.  As he thought all my brains were in my feet he sent me to a ballet school Arts Educational in London. There I received a secular education for the first time. The Headmistress was the most wonderful English teacher. I can parse my way out of a paper bag.

The BBC had educated me in the arts well so when I got my chance to work at The Royal Opera House as a child I appreciated the opportunity. The management could see and in fact were astonished at just how much a tiny 13 year old knew. I could discuss opera, ballet, Shakespeare on their level. I had a wonderful time as everyone helped me as they enjoyed talking to me. I met many of the finest artists of the day from Sir Malcolm Sergeant down.  It was because of my knowledge of modern music I got to know Benjamin Britten. I was the only girl favorite and I certainly would not have been able to cope with my brilliant Oxford educated GP husband  Miles Heffernan who did not suffer fools gladly. It was he who completed my education in the field of science.

Without this grounding by the BBC none of this would have happened. So when I say I received no education it is not really true. I had one of the best educations money could buy. Thank you Aunty BBC.

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