So, this 1990 article has Mick 2 years younger than Susan. Ok. I guess I'll believe Mick. It's difficult to do though, but the odds are in his favor I suppose.
London Times, November 3, 1990
HEADLINE: 'At school, I always got good poetic parts'
BYLINE: Ray Connolly
For service families stationed overseas there have always been two ways to educate children: either pack them off to boarding school or relations and see them, with luck, during the holidays; or keep the family close, take them with you, educate them in the ways of the wider world and risk their being virtually illiterate when they should be taking O-levels.
Susan Fleetwood's wing commander DSO father chose the latter system, which meant that by the time she was 13 she had attended 15 schools and, although bright in conversation, had difficulty in reading, a problem that has never left her.
At the same time she had a happy childhood, saw the world, or at least the parts of the world which happened to be in Egypt or Norway, and has for more than 20 years been one of our finest actresses. Her brother Mick Fleetwood, two years younger, with no less a gypsy existence, ended up in another branch of the arts with his rock band Fleetwood Mac.
Where this interest in the arts (her elder sister Sally studied fine arts and wanted to be a sculptor) came from nobody knows. They never heard Beethoven or Mozart and never went to the theatre. The music of their childhood was their father's inconsistent drumming with his hands on the table, with coins in his pocket or with cutlery. ''He had a natural sense of rhythm. We all have. It's as important in Shakespeare as in rock music,'' Miss Fleetwood says.
She was born in 1944 at St Andrews, where her mother had gone to follow her father who was nearby in the RAF. After the war the family set up home in a converted garage in Hayling Island.
When her father was posted to Egypt in the early Fifties the family, against all advice, went too, and were moved in to two large aircraft packing cases on the shore of the Great Bitter Lake.
''It was very exciting. We made it rather lovely. We had a mud floor baked solid by the sun. There were several other shacks there, but ours was the only one made out of aircraft containers.
''As children, we thought it was a wonderful life. The ground outside was baked, but you would see little holes surrounded by salt crystals which was where the rats were. Once a week the rat catcher would come and I'd play with his aughter. We hardly ever actually met any Egyptians, so that was exciting.
''This was before Suez, when King Farouk was still there. We would be taken to school in an army truck surrounded by soldiers with rifles. They used to sing 'If you ever go across the sea to Sinai, it's only 'cause you're wanting extra pay...' and probably a lot of other lyrics which we didn't understand.
''A lot of the time we didn't go to school at all, but played on the beach. There was always a sweet, rotting smell about the lake. You'd see things float past, carcasses some
times and what we called souffles, although they weren't souffles at all but something rather disgusting.
''I remember once my sister and I were collecting what we thought were jellyfish. We had quite a few, and my father came and found us and shouted very loudly, 'Put those down. Don't ever touch those'. I realised then that there must be something I didn't know about because I couldn't think why he was angry. It was only later in my life that I understood they weren't jellyfish at all but french letters.''
Her father's next posting was Norway and a job with Nato. From a packing case in the desert they moved in a few hops to a log cabin in the snow where she learnt to speak basic Norwegian. Most of it has gone now, but while filming a few years ago in Sweden with Tarkovsky she found that she could understand the Swedish actors who were saying their lines in Swedish. (Hers were said in English; the whole production had to be revoiced and made consistent for different markets after shooting.)
It was while in Norway at about the age of 10 that she appeared in her first school play when she was selected to play Joseph in Joseph And His Coat Of Many Colours. Her mother made the coat, taking an old raincoat and covering it with coloured patches. She still has it. Her mother has the tape recording they made of the play. From that day on she never seriously wanted to do anything other than act.
On returning to England she went unsuccessfully to various schools and then began to drop out of education, helping her parents with the large old Thames barge they were now living on in Kent. ''It didn't seem to worry them that I wasn't going to school, but it bothered me.''
Eventually the local authority caught up and she was entered at 13 for the 11-plus exam (''so I was well plussed''). She not only failed but was reckoned by the authority to be educationally sub-normal, not suitable for a secondary modern school, let alone a grammar school. ''I still
wrote with my tongue out. Anyway if I couldn't go to a secondary modern school the only thing to do was send me to a private school, and my parents, although non-Catholics, came up with the Convent of the Nativity at Sittingbourne in Kent where I met this wonderful nun, Sister Oswald, who has remained a firm friend. I think it was she who recognised the potential in me.
''She would give me two marks, one for my grammar and spelling, which would always be terrible, and another for the content of my work, which would be very good. She taught me English, history of art and drama. She produced the school plays and I always got good poetic parts. I owe her a lot. I always get her to come and see me. I was able to say, 'Thank you, you're the person in my life who pulled me out of the quagmire of thinking I couldn't do anything'.''
Her brother, Mick, also had trouble settling into school. Sent off to a boarding school, he ran away and lived with their elder sister Sally in London. Before long he had found his separate way through the clubs and the recording studios to the kind of wealth that only rock music can bring. The Fleetwood Mac album Rumours is generally reckoned to be one of the most successful records of all time.
Susan's problems with reading have, of course, long been mastered, but have not gone away. ''I never really learnt to read and I'm still terribly slow. I'm very kind to myself when learning a part, which I do with the aid of a tape recorder. I need absolute quiet and I usually do it at about four in the morning.
''I've forced myself to do public readings. I've been drenched in sweat and nobody has known how much of a challenge it is for me. I had to read a whole book by Doris Lessing on tape recently. She'sentences. I took it on as a challenge. I worked like crazy for three months on it. The whole thing was covered in hieroglyphics by the time I'd finished. I was so thrilled to have got through it in the same time as a normal reader.
''The reading has made things tricky for me. Everything has been a struggle in life. It's held me back. I love words, but I have no confidence in words.'' er Sister Oswald's care, she worked like never before and at 16 won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), from which she emerged two years later with eight awards. ''Every year someone shines and I was the girl who shone in my year.''
n extra term led to a Rada visit to Arizona, where she played Lady Macbeth and Rosalind in As You Like It. Terry Hands, a year behind her, was Orlando.
From Tucson and Phoenix she moved to Liverpool, where with a group of actors, Hands at the centre of them, she set about crea for the next five years or did I want to do some proper work? So it was the Everyman.
''We all worked incredibly hard. The women didn't stay as long as the men. It was just so tough. We paid ourselves Pounds 7 a week. The firemen got Pounds 15 a week. But it was so exciting. Equity could have closed us down at any time because we were all helping make the costumes and build the sets. do some teaching and put on shows for schools and the council stuck by us. We did some very good stuff. I was there for three years. And then suddenly it was a time to move on.''
Hands, with whom she lived for nine years, applied to the Royal Shakespeare Company. She applied to the National and the Royal Shakespeare, was accepted by both, but chose to go to Stratford to be with him. She is now back at Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Company, working again with Hands after a break of 10 years, as Beatrice in Much Ado About NothingArkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull.
Never having married, she has always left herself free to follow her career wherever it may take her and particularly enjoys filming. She is, she says, a workaholic, enjoying the work more than the performance. At Rada, she could not wait to get there because of the work and even today she looks forward to rehearsals.
She lays ought it all to life. ''I was incredibly lucky. I really don't know how I would have done without her. I wish I'd met her when I was eight.''