Teacher’s joy at Bafta for former pupil Sean Harris
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Inspiring a student to go on to achieve professional success is something every teacher hopes for.
And when actor Sean Harris won a Bafta award this week for his performance as Stephen Morton in Channel 4's Southcliffe, few people were more proud than his high school drama teacher Lesley Halley.
During his acceptance speech for the best leading actor award, Mr Harris thanked Mrs Halley, saying she had inspired him to pursue a career in acting.
But the 64-year-old, who taught Mr Harris during the 1980s when he was a student at the former Denes High School in Lowestoft, now Ormiston Denes Academy, was not watching the awards ceremony when it was broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday night.
Having followed her former student's career with interest, Mrs Halley said she could not stand the tension of the awards ceremony and had gone to bed.
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She found out the good news when she was woken up by a telephone call from a former pupil at about 10pm.
'I would have been so disappointed if he hadn't won,' she said. 'I can't stand the tension of these things so I went to bed early.
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'It was overpoweringly sweet of Sean to thank me but its his own determination that has got him where he is.'
Mr Harris moved to Lowestoft with his father Patrick when he was about three years old after the death of his mother.
He attended Northfield St Nicholas Primary, Harris Middle School, which has since closed, and Denes High School.
He went on to study at the Drama Centre London.
Mr Harris's acting career includes performances in the film Harry Brown, which starred Michael Caine, BBC1 drama Jamaica Inn, Showtime series the Borgias and Southcliffe.
During his Bafta acceptance speech, in which he also thanked his dad, he praised Mrs Halley and said: 'I should have ended up in Bernard Matthews and places like that. She went to my dad's house and said I think your boy can be an actor.
'That was a big deal to my dad. He worked in shipyards and was a shop steward and wasn't really keen on me being an actor.
'She put me on that road so thank you Lesley.'
Mrs Halley, who retired from teaching four years ago and lives in Oulton, was head of drama at Denes High School from 1979, until she moved to Essex with her late husband Peter in 1984. She returned to the school as head of drama in 1989 before leaving in 2001.
She first met Mr Harris when he was 13 years old and taught him and worked with him on school productions until he left at 18.
She said he had excelled at drama but his undiagnosed dyslexia meant he had struggled to read and write and found other lessons difficult.
She helped Mr Harris to learn his lines by recording them on to a tape for him to listen back to and coached him for auditions long after he had left school.
Mrs Halley also visited Mr Harris's father at home to convince him that he should be allowed to study drama at CSE level, which has since been replace by GCSEs.
Mrs Halley, whose former students also include Radio 4 presenter Zeb Soanes and comedian Karl Theobald, said she would have done the same for all of her students and it was Mr Harris's talents, charisma and determination that had helped him succeed.
'Sean never asked if he was going to be an actor,' she said. 'He told me he was going to be one. He wasn't put off by rejection and all his success is entirely his own.'