OB and actor Bob Barrett (74-84), who lost his mother at the age of 12, launched our Creative Arts Festival by praising Bedford School for supporting him during the most difficult time of his life.

Bob Barrett, best known for playing Dr Sacha Levy in the BBC1 medical drama, Holby City, was invited to make the keynote address on how his school years helped shape his career path.

“There is a golden moment from my childhood when I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to be an actor”, he said. “I was the youngest pupil cast as a lead in a school production of the Pirates of Penzance and my mother had designed and made my costume. I remember walking on to that stage on opening night and a huge swell of energy coursing right through me. There I was, doing what I loved best, with the person I loved most watching me from the wings.”

“She died of a heart attack just a few weeks later.”

Bob was a day pupil and had a scholarship for music. But he became a boarder after the loss of his mother.

“It must have been very difficult for my teachers who were not trained to deal with this sort of thing and who were filling in this aching void in my life,” he said. “But I think I was lucky because there were a few people who saw that I was struggling and who refused to give up on me.”

He said it was a combination of support from his form tutor Andrew Clitherow, who came to his mother’s funeral, and his Head Teacher Ian (CIM) Jones, which helped him process what had happened and find solace in the drama department and in his ability to become another person on stage.

“Having a support network was invaluable but I now realise that Bedford School was streets ahead of others in terms of pastoral care – and not just for the 1980s,” he added.

A report into the consequences of childhood bereavement in the British school system, released earlier this month, found that 85% of schools in the UK still have no policy for handling bereavement despite the fact that more than 41,000 children under 18 in the UK lose a parent every year.

The study, by Cambridge University for charity Winston’s Wish, called for all UK schools to develop a “planned, managed and holistic response to bereavement”.

Bob, who is now a father to two daughters, said, “Quite frankly, speaking as a person who went through this during my formative years, the fact that there is no government-led national bereavement policy in place for schools – where bereaved children spend most of their waking hours – is shocking.”

Director of Music and the Creative Arts at Bedford School, Joss Sanders, applauded Bob’s openness regarding bereavement as well as his love for theatre.

“It is hugely important that pastoral care is recognised in all schools,” he said.

“Bob not only highlighted this but also explained how the school fostered his love of the theatre and bolstered his confidence and enthusiasm for the arts.”

“The arts play a role in every aspect of life here, not just as part of the school curriculum, and the festival demonstrates our continued commitment to this.”

Coming up next week on the festival’s itinerary will be a conversation with ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ comedian, Tony Slattery on Saturday 29th June. Tony will be in conversation with comedy historian, Robert Ross, with a reflection on his career and personal life.

We can also look forward to a spectacular show from broadcaster and poet Ian McMillan and cartoonist of the year Tony Husband, who will be performing ‘A Cartoon History of Here’, a presentation with Bedford School pupils that reflects upon the local stories and legends surrounding Bedford. The show will include fast-flowing improvised elements and interaction with the audience as well as live drawing from Tony. Ian and Tony will also be hosting a collaborative workshop with pupils. 

The festival also has a huge array of exciting theatre productions included in the schedule such as a nationwide tour of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ performed by The HandleBards, who pedal their entire theatre company from venue to venue. They are the world’s first and only cycling theatre company and perform environmentally sustainable Shakespeare productions. 

The full programme of events can be found here. 

Tickets are available to the public via the Quarry Theatre website. 

We do hope you join us for one or more events. 

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