Frears, Stephen (1 of 11).  The legacy of the English Stage Company.

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  • Recording date

    2008-08-27, 2008-09-02, 2008-09-30, 2008-10-14, 2008-11-10, 2009-02-20, 2009-04-07

  • Interviewees

    Frears, Stephen, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Devine, Harriet (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Session 1: 27 August 2008] SF born Leicester, 20 June 1941, at home. SG’s father [Russell Frears, RF] youngest son; his father a baker, ran a biscuit factory, made all bread in Leicester. RF’s 2 brothers, one [Charles Frears, CF] ran bakery one [John Frears, JF] ran biscuit factory. RF more eccentric, black sheep. Met SG’s mother [Ruth Danziger, RD] while working at Toynbee Hall in London. After marriage RF worked for family firm as chartered accountant; in war was in RAF; after war studied medicine. SF born in war, brothers sent away to school. CF and JF wealthy men, endowed Leicester University, lived outside city. RF died 1971, 6 months after death of SF’s brother, in his 70s. RD from Jewish family in Salford; rebelled by moving to London, denying Jewishness. SF discovered Jewishness at grandmother’s 80th birthday in 1970s. SF’s first wife Mary-Kay Wilmers [MKW] Jewish. RD’s father died aged 37 of heart attack; RD’s mother remarried man called Ford. Danzigers originated in Danzig, Polish corridor, now Gdansk. SF unaware of immigrant background; assumes family came to UK at end of 19th century. SF’s delight at discovering own Jewishness; explanation of his sense of outsiderness; working in largely Jewish film industry in US. SF’s eldest son has rare genetic illness, only found in Ashkenasy Jews, SF and MKW both carriers. Memories of Leicester grandmother sending Bentley to fetch family to big house; watching coronation on TV. SF’s first cousin at same public school. Conventional middle-class family; SF’s family less wealthy. Grandmother, CF and JF lived in three large houses in a row on the edge of Leicester. Grandmother matriarchal, like old empress. Recollections of her in bedroom, dining table. Grandfather died before SF’s birth, was Lord Mayor of Leicester; would not allow non-union person to work in factory. Origin of family in Lake District, possibly before that from Norway; memory of visiting old relatives in the Lakes. SF’s brothers, John [JoF] five years older and Chris [ChF] four years older, sent away to pre-prep school when SF born, as RD on her own. SF’s hero worship of brothers; their absence; their possible homesickness not admitted, shaming [15.08]. SF sent to boarding school aged 8; before that, at primary school in Leicester, alone in house with RD. Wartime memories of bath in front of fire, living principally in kitchen, rooms closed up, billeted lodgers. Memories of being in a cot, reading in bedroom; daily cleaning woman, visiting her house, warmth of her family house. Accompanying RD to various activities. RD as over-affectionate; SF’s complicated feelings about her; her appearance; her bitterness after departure of RF; her clothing. RF’s return from war, subsequent departure to study medicine at Barts. After qualification, family moved to Nottingham, RF worked as GP. Reflections on absent fathers. RD’s anger at RF’s departure. Family finances; support during RF’s study; relative financial hardship in SF’s early youth. Memories of RF’s return at weekends; lack of demonstrative affection between RF and RD. Visits to London to see shows at Barts; SF’s feeling throughout childhood of possibility of escape to better life [29.29] SF’s earliest memories: air-raid sirens, bomb shelters; return of Leicestershire regiment; VJ Day parades. Going to Hinkley Road Primary School aged 3 or 4; learning to read; piano lessons; taking exam for prep school, being singled out. Enjoyment of learning, love of stories, Russian folk tales. Reading Homer at very young age. Visiting cinema with RD, seeing adult films; cinema as central part of life, escape. SF as bright child, showing off. Early friends slightly older; playing in local park; toboganning in hard wnter of 1947. Leaving home for prep school, mix of excitement and anxiety for mother. Dunchurch-Winton Hall School, Warwickshire; JoF also at school, ChF at nearby school. Memory of being left at headmaster’s entrance. Later sadness at going away, horror at brothers weeping at railway stations. Uniform, dormitories; lining up for ‘radio malt’ and codliver oil. Being forced to eat. Punishments, beating by headmaster; offences incurring marks. Fear. Bad temper of headmaster. Other teachers. Matron. Homesickness, repressed; narrowness of provincial life, boredom [45:4]. Lack of sense of opportunities. Mother’s visits. Lessons, ability to learn easily. Position in class. Enjoyment of history, English, Latin. Watching films at weekends, games, reading. Friendships: Charles Foyster, Jonathan Hill. Taking 11-plus and common-entrance exams. Election of 1950, announcement of JoF that Frears family were Labour voters. Aged 13, SF move to Greshams School in Norfolk; view of school as second-rate. Headmaster [Martin J] Olivier. ChF expelled, allowed to stay on to do exams, always regarded as not bright but started working and became a neurosurgeon. SF aged 15 dropped out emotionally; worry of parents; achieved A-levels; sulked at home. Regret at not being more rebellious. Indifference of school. JoF and ChF National Service; JoF to Cambridge, then into biscuit factory, lived in Leicester, married with baby. Biscuit factory taken over, JoF went back to university, became an academic. Stood for parliament in 1966, became councillor in Loughborough, founder member of SDP, provincial intellectual, envied SF’s London life [1:00:15]. Three daughters. JoF died of cancer a few years ago. Temporary break-up of JoF’s marriage; SF’s view. ChF went to Barts, got married; his wife Janna; homes in Highgate and Plymouth. His sudden death aged 38; children of his marriage; SF’s discovery that he had a child by another woman. SF’s relationship with brothers. Death of SF’s mother just before opening of first film, birth of first child. Break-up of SF’s parents; departure of RF for Strasbourg. SF’s stepmother, actress Mavis Edwards [ME]; his attitude to her, and to his mother. Happiness of RF after new marriage. Bitterness of RD; her move to Hampstead; her funeral; her life in London. SF’s lack of contact with her; her sudden death; SF’s reaction.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Stephen Frears, film and television director.

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