Here's Part II of...
By Lisa Oldham
Sent home from Eton to recover, Jeremy was sedated for two months, and then bedridden for another eight months. During his convalescence, he still managed to grow four inches.
Jeremy also had a speech impediment. He told Rosemary Herbert, "I was tongue-tied. [He had an extra attachment of skin under his tongue.] I had a very weak 'r' sound and had to work hard on it. I didn't have the condition corrected until I was 17. And then I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama to relearn how to speak."
Jeremy explained that he had met famed theatrical director Tyrone Guthrie, who was staging Tamburlaine the Great at the Old Vic. "And I said, 'I want to be an actor vewy, vewy much.' [Guthrie] was kind of overwhelmed at this idiot. I remember I was wearing my brother's coat to make me look bigger. And he said I could have a walk-on part in Tamburlaine. 'Or,' he said, 'you should go with that 'r' sound to Central School,' which I did. About 10 years later I worked with him on Broadway when I played Troilus for him. Trroilus! 'As true as Troilus,' I had to say."
Part of Jeremy's childhood coincided with World War II. One of the additions built on to Berkswell Grange was an air-raid shelter; Jeremy's father was called upon by the War Office to assemble a regiment. (Col. Huggins commanded the 120th Regiment from 1939-1942.)
He explained, "I had an amazing mother who used to say to us, 'I don't want you to do anything until you absolutely can't help it, or you're sure you want to do it.' Then, when my father would come home and scream, 'For God's sake, get these boys going!', my mother would answer: 'Not until they know what they want.'"
Jeremy even went so far as to tell Rosemary Herbert that his mother and father were "desperately unhappy, and they stayed together for the children...People didn't get divorced in those days; they stayed together."
However, Jeremy added, "Looking back, I'm very proud of what my parents did. They sacrificed a great deal."
And, they managed to raise four successful sons: a clergyman (John); a painter (Michael); a farmer (Patrick); and, of course, a world-famous actor (Jeremy).
Jeremy credited his mother with encouraging him to become an actor. His father was opposed to the idea: "My father thought any respectable middle-class boy shouldn't do a thing like that. He thought it was all drinking champagne out of slippers," Jeremy told interviewer Kay Gardella in 1976. Colonel Huggins wanted his youngest son to be a soldier, not an actor.
In The Television Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy said, "I would like to have been a soldier for a while for my father's sake, but I had rheumatic fever at sixteen and never saw any kind of military service. When I said I wanted to be an actor, it was the end. It was a great disappointment to my father."
Colonel Huggins changed his mind about letting Jeremy use the family name after watching him portray Hamlet in 1961 to rave reviews, but it was too late--Jeremy Huggins had already won fame as Jeremy Brett.
Sadly, Elizabeth Huggins didn't get to witness Jeremy's triumph--she died in a car accident in 1959, when Jeremy was 24 and his son, David, was just three months old. But, she continued to inspire Jeremy. In 1994, Jeremy told a BBC2 television interviewer that he channeled the anger he felt over his mother's tragic loss into his portrayal of Hamlet.
The Colonel died in 1965, and he and Mrs. Huggins are memorialized on a plaque on a screen in the Lady Chapel at Berkswell Church. The lych gate in the graveyard is also dedicated to their memory.
After Colonel Huggins' death, his family had to sell Berkswell Grange. Although the house now belongs to another family, one of its former inhabitants left his mark--in more ways than one. When the Grange's huge nursery was demolished, a new wall was built. Embedded in the concrete of this wall is the handprint of little Jeremy Huggins--a poignant reminder of the Berkswell boy who made good.
Until next time,
Originally published as TBE Vol.II, #4, March 3, 1996 (revised November 25, 1999).