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News > Alumni News > Game of Thrones actress Margaret Jackman inspires the next generation

Game of Thrones actress Margaret Jackman inspires the next generation

Actor Margaret Jackman has joined the Allanian Mentoring Programme. With a career spanning almost 7 decades she's keen to share her wealth of experience and knowledge with pupils.
25 May 2023
Alumni News
Margaret Jackman speaks to Drama Pupils at Dame Allan's Schools
Margaret Jackman speaks to Drama Pupils at Dame Allan's Schools

FANMAIL still drops through Margaret Jackman’s letterbox - most recently a letter from Germany and two others from Russia requesting signed photographs. 

Her brief but infamous appearance on Game of Thrones - one of the biggest television series of all time - as The Waif’s Disguise, who brutally wounded the show’s beloved Arya Stark, earned her a global fanbase.

 

“That very short scene changed my life,” admits Margaret, 85, with a smile. “After it aired in 2016, I was invited to events across the UK to sign photos and chat to Game of Throne addicts. I’ve received mail and Facebook friend requests from fans all over the world.”

Despite the frenzy, Margaret wasn’t fazed. With an acting career that began some 66 years ago and an impressive collection of television and film credits, she remains refreshingly humble. “It’s the Geordie in me,” she laughs during a recent return visit to the Schools’ drama department.

It’s been 67 years since Margaret left Dame Allan’s. “Back then, the girls and boys were kept strictly separate - divided by a T-shaped hall. The girls had the post of the T, the boys had the cross of the T, and never the twain shall meet,” she jokes. She has filled the intervening years performing a myriad of roles on stage and screen and enriched them by travelling overseas and bringing up three sons with her husband George. 

Yet her own upbringing in Westerhope, and her defining schooldays at Dame Allan’s, remain of significant importance. She was inspired by many who taught her and fell in love with the world of acting when taking frequent trips to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and Empire Palace Theatre throughout her teenage years.

“The very first spark that made me think I might want to be an actor actually came from watching a Sixth Form girl play Medea in the Greek tragedy; I fell completely in love - she was absolutely fantastic,” recalls Margaret, who attended the Girls’ School between 1949 and 1956. “I did drama at school as often as I could - there was no specific lesson back then, instead it was part of Friday afternoon ‘leisure time’. I was so hooked that I remember the Girls’ School headmistress, Miss Elliott, advising me to try something different and give others a chance to take my drama place. I only took that advice for two terms!”

Miss Elliott, whom Margaret acknowledges she ‘deeply admired’, was one of several staff members of staff at Dame Allan’s to have had a lasting impact. “There was the wonderful Miss McIntosh – or Tatty Mac as she was affectionately known – who taught Chemistry and Physics and had a great sense of humour,” says Margaret with a laugh. “And our games teacher, Mrs Thirsk, who inspired me to consider a future career as a PE teacher, but deep down I knew that wasn’t for me. Still, I loved games at school and was in the first team for all sports except tennis.”

They were happy years for Margaret who, like her eldest brother Jimmy (1937 - 1944), attended Dame Allan’s on an assisted place. Her brother Donny (1941 - 1948), who was eight years older than Margaret, was awarded an academic scholarship. Both brothers were evacuated to Windermere with the school during the war and went on to marry Allanians. Margaret shares: “Jimmy married Gloria Johnston, while Donny married Helen Ward, who at 92 years old is a Dame Allan’s old girl of many years’ standing!”

Looking back at her schooldays, she recalls with fondness: “I adored my English teacher Mrs Williams, whom we called Blodwyn because she was Welsh; she sold Shakespeare to me. She was a huge support, even after I left the school. We kept in touch by letter, and she invited me back once, in my twenties, to watch rehearsals of The Admirable Crichton and help sketch out some scenery.”

At that time, Margaret had already begun professional training as an actor, honing her skills at Newcastle’s People’s Theatre, one of the country’s largest and oldest amateur theatre companies. “It’s regarded as one of the best amateur theatre companies outside of London and it's where I began serious actor training,” she says. That training helped her land her first weekly repertory job at South Shields Pavilion Theatre at the age of 19 years old. 

But Margaret didn’t always act. 

In the 1960s she decided to take a social science degree with sociology, politics and economics at Leicester University and it was there she met her husband, George. Through his work, the pair moved to Tanzania, in East Africa, and Margaret gave birth to three sons Robin, Neil, and Mark. She taught English as a second language at a grammar school near Lake Victoria. 

When they returned home to the UK, they settled in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and Margaret took a job teaching English Language, English Literature and Sociology at Rawlett Comprehensive High School, now known as The Rawlett School. It wasn’t until 1988 that she returned to acting. 

“I loved teaching, but George and the boys knew that my real vocation was performance and that I would be off as soon as the youngest turned 18! I was lucky, I stepped into a small role in All Creatures Great and Small immediately and, soon after, another in the BBC film Precious Bane,” she explains. “After that, I gathered a variety of jobs from theatre tours to TV cameos in Heartbeat, Casualty, Coronation Street… not even IMDb covers them all!”

Margaret’s return visit to watch a rehearsal of The Admirable Crichton, back in the late ‘50s, was the last time Margaret had stepped foot in the school until reconnecting with Dame Allan’s and accepting an invitation to speak to Senior School drama students earlier this week. “I’ve often driven along Fowberry Crescent on nostalgic trips to the region, particularly with my sons in their younger years,” she admits. “But walking back through the gates and meeting today’s pupils, who share that same passion for drama that I had when I  was at Dame Allan’s, has been wonderfully rewarding.”

The feeling is mutual. Pupils listened intently as Margaret spoke, many in awe of her vast experience in the industry. In film, she’s known for Risen (2016) Grimsby (2016) and Control (2007), while other television credits include Call the Midwife, Shameless, and Doctors.

Margaret’s keen to share her wealth of knowledge and offer advice to those hoping to tread the boards or find stardom on camera. 

“Acting, directing and technical jobs in all the drama forms are fiendishly difficult to come by,” she says, honestly. “There isn't a career path; sometimes actors act... and then they don't. For most actors, it's more like a life of snakes and ladders. 

“Those few students who know in their guts that this is their vocation, I would encourage them to join the People's Theatre in Newcastle while they are still at school. I have found over the years that most Geordie actors have, at some time, been part of this excellent amateur theatre.

“I would also encourage them, while they are starting out, to take non-acting work in theatre and TV to become known and learn how individuals become an essential part of the company. If they do a decent job as a runner, for example, they’ll be remembered as someone who is reliable, good at what they've been asked to do, and pleasant to others. These things matter in a profession that brings people together for so short a time.”

Margaret adds: “Learning other roles in the theatre and TV industry will also help you to both appreciate the skills needed for these roles, as well as give you a second-string career to rely upon when acting jobs may be scarce. In the past, I have been a Stage Manager, helped with the technical side of productions, and even painted scenery!”

Margaret was encouraged to get involved in the more technical sides of theatre productions, after winning a prize in a contest held by the Electrical Association for Women whilst at Dame Allan’s (pictured below), which helped give her confidence in her tech abilities. 

 

Her candour is valued among those keen to learn from her experience, and Margaret hopes to develop her relationship with the Schools by offering her time to the Allanian Careers and Mentoring Programme. The scheme, launched in February, taps into the wealth of expertise that exists among Dame Allan’s’ alumni and facilitates the provision of career guidance and professional advice to those looking for support through the Allanian network. 

“My motivation for mentoring - and for volunteering in community theatre - is to give back to others the support that very generous people gave to me when I was a struggling young actor,” Margaret explains. 

“The years have taught me a great deal and there’s plenty I can offer budding actors by way of guidance. I would advise them to have a second specialism that’d be attractive to an agent or casting director, for example, and I’d invite them to consider setting up a small company with another performer or two and introduce them to the very active village touring circuit. 

“I can also offer advice on ways to help get an agent, something which is notoriously hard, and introduce others to the possibility of joining an actors’ co-operative. I spent 12 years in a co-operative and the knowledge gleaned helped me to understand the process of casting.

“I’d also encourage budding screen stars to seek out the film department of their nearest university or college and offer themselves as actors for the films that are made as part of the students’ film courses and degrees. They are rarely paid but it's great experience. I have done some excellent student films that have gone on to win at smaller film festivals.”

Margaret knows first-hand how important the wise words from those already established in the industry can be. 

Back in 1951, when Margaret was just 14 years old and in her third year at Dame Allan’s Schools, she met renowned actor John Gielgud at the stage door. Alongside Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, Gielgud was one of a trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. 

“He asked me: ‘Are you going to be an actor?’” remembers Margaret. “Well, I didn’t know ‘ordinary’ people like me could become an actor back then and I told him just that. 

“and he simply said: ‘Anybody can be an actor.’”

 

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