As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart learned to love the songs of Irish tenors. If his father, Alf, came home singing “The Mountains of Mourne” or his favourite, “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen”, then his mother, Gladys, was safe. The actor, now 72, and his older brother, Trevor, lived in terror of military tunes. “We would lie awake in what was really no more than a partitioned-off corner of my parents’ bedroom, waiting for him to come back. Nobody went to sleep. We would listen as he came into the yard. If he was singing army songs, that was bad news. Then he would find fault with something and then the conflict would escalate.
“Calling the police was not an easy thing to do in the 1940s, so someone had to go to the phone box, which was at least 500 yards from our front door, and make a 999 call. Often the call was not made.” When it was, the police would come, the ambulance service and doctor would come to the family home in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. “My mother would be lying on the floor, bleeding,” says Stewart.
“The kinds of things said were unbelievable. A policeman once said, ‘it takes two to make an argument’, or, ‘well, she must have done something to upset him’. Which is a way of saying he must have been justified to be violent, and we know there is no justification for being violent. None whatsoever.”
Often Stewart was forced to step in to defend his mother from his father’s explosive rage. “I became an expert at judging the heat of an argument,” he says. “As the temperature rose I would get out of bed and on to the landing, and, if it rose further, I would go down the stairs, sitting on the stone steps so as to be as close as possible to the door if something bad happened. If the escalation continued I could try to intervene.
“Now, it is really sad when a child becomes an expert on those kind of issues. But I was and I knew exactly the moment when I would throw the door open and rush in and say ‘Stop!’ or literally put my body between them.”
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