One of TV’s best loved and iconic programmes unveiled its latest star earlier this year, amidst a storm of publicity. Twitter was on fire, arguments raged, and the viewing public took sides with a passion that surprised even the most jaded of TV critics.
This was no celebrity soap-opera, though, but a children’s programme that has been running for over half a century. And what was all the fuss about? An alien who makes regular visits to Earth is assuming a female persona for the first time in its many different incarnations.
Learning her Craft
Yes, the new Doctor Who is a woman – Jodie Whittaker. And amidst the entire furore, there was quiet satisfaction in a Northern mill town where the new Doctor first began to learn her craft. That would be acting, of course, rather than navigating through time and space.
Though navigating through time and space was a speciality of Jodie’s even when she was a student at Kirklees College in Huddersfield. Staff there recall that her attendance and time-keeping was exemplary – even without a TARDIS!
The first female Doctor is also the first Time Lord to hail from Yorkshire (as well as Gallifrey) and the first to be trained at a Further Education college – though Jodie studied later at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
A former pupil at local Shelley High School, she went onto the then Huddersfield Technical College and enrolled onto a performing arts BTEC National Diploma course. That was back in 1999, and some of the staff who taught her are still there, teaching another generation of students who will one day shine brightly in the public eye, as many other Kirklees alumni have done.
“Jodie was determined to learn her craft – she was one of the most focused and dedicated students I’ve ever taught”, says Gloria Appleton, lecturer in acting. Gloria herself came into teaching after a professional acting career and has acted in a range of TV programmes, and sometimes uses clips from these to inspire her students (enabled by the ERA licence).
“She was part of a very strong group of students and she spent two years here learning the basics of what it means to be a performer. That’s so important – to learn your craft from the basics up.” Gloria clearly loves her job, even spending extra time coaching students and helping them individually.
Maureen Nowodny teaches dance, and remembers Jodie as a student who was keen to perform to the best of her ability. “She wanted to be the best she could be. Dancing wasn’t her favourite thing – that was acting – but she threw her heart into it nonetheless.”
Staff at the college work closely together to support students and it’s clear that they really care about helping them to achieve their potential. Technician Pete Sunter feels that Jodie Whittaker is a great role model. “I would say to all of our students that you can achieve what you want to achieve – and we will help you do it. Your dreams really can come true.”
Using clips from TV and radio programmes is not only inspirational for performing arts students but also enables them to study great performers and observe their technique. One of the public performances put on by Jodie’s group of students was Twelfth Night (she played Viola) and the opening up of the BBC Shakespeare Archive has been seized upon by many teachers of acting and performing arts as a fantastic resource.
“We’ve had a lot of students here who have gone on to achieve great things in their own fields,” muses Pete. “Perhaps there’s something in the water!”
Whether it’s the water, or the commitment and enthusiasm of teachers and support staff, it’s certain that more Kirklees students will be making their dreams come true
Even if – for now – they have to arrive at college by bus rather than by TARDIS!