The street where I grew up: Call The Midwife star Jenny Agutter, 69, shares memories of Shakespeare Road in Cyprus
Home from age nine to 16 was Cyprus, where my father Derek produced live shows for the Forces stationed there. We moved several times on the island, but the address fixed so vividly in my mind is our flat in Shakespeare Road, in the capital, Nicosia.
It was on the first floor of a beautiful colonial building and my parents had completely redecorated it – especially my mother Catherine, who had a wonderful flair for design.
My brother Jonathan and I got on well, though I’m told when he was two years old he tried to push me – the intruder on his first-born status – out of my pram. Also, he’d set up court when my toy koalas misbehaved… and hang them!
But when he’d come home from boarding school for the holidays I remember putting up lots of welcome signs.
When I was eight I too went to boarding school in England, and I was so excited to explore our new home in Shakespeare Road when I returned one Christmas. I was there in time to celebrate my 11th birthday on 20 December 1963 – traditionally the day when we decorated the tree.
Jenny Agutter, 69, (pictured) The Railway Children and Call The Midwife star shares memories of Shakespeare Road, Nicosia, Cyprus. Right in the early 1960s
It looked wonderful in the hallway with its flagstone floors, and my bedroom was enchanting, full of lovely fabrics chosen by my mother.
That Christmas was amazing, and then something changed. This was the year the troubles began between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots – a long conflict that resulted in the division of the island.
My brother and I noticed adults were being very peculiar and hush-hush. We had an inkling something was going on, but no one wanted to address the subject.
Shakespeare Road was on the dividing line between the Turkish and Greek parts of Nicosia, and one night I was woken by the sound of gunfire. I went to get my father, who insisted I was dreaming.
But we went to the front door and it turned out I had been right – there was shooting outside. Dad said, ‘Everyone flat on the floor, lights out!’
The following morning my parents had just enough time to load up the car with what they could take, the cat and dogs and finally Jonathan and me. We moved temporarily to my father’s office in the Greek part of town – leaving behind everything in that wonderful home.
Jenny’s home in Cyprus in the 1960s. She went to boarding school in England and would be excited to return home at the holidays
It had become a no-go area. My parents must have been heartbroken, but they hid it well.
My father was then offered a modern house in Dhekelia, the Army base, and that’s where we stayed for the rest of our time in Cyprus. For Jonathan and me life was idyllic, on a warm, sunny, sleepy island, very like Gerald Durrell’s memoir My Family And Other Animals.
There was gunfire outside and Dad said, “Everyone on the floor!”
I’d wake in the morning to the sound of birds, and could just walk down to the sea for a swim.
I remember going to Greek and Turkish weddings with heavenly food, picnics up in the mountains and sailing in a boat built by Dad and his friends.
We’d go snorkelling and look for bits of history from the ancient submerged city of Salamis. Years later the boat ended up on the beach as a refuge for a homeless person.
My husband John and I now live in Cornwall. Like my father I’ve always loved the sea, and there is still an echo for me of those days in Cyprus.
I started acting in films as a child the year after we moved out of Shakespeare Road, and what surprises and delights me still is that I haven’t stopped since.
- All episodes of Call The Midwife are available on iPlayer. Jenny stars in the film The Railway Children Return, which is released in the summer.