Miriam Margolyes tells how her Scottish father was saved from going to war 'with a bribe'

Miriam Margolyes has told how her Scottish father was saved from going to war after her grandfather bribed an army officer with a diamond.

Miriam Margolyes
Miriam Margolyes

The actress, 80, said the official accepted the "near flawless" stone in exchange for removing her father's name from the draft to fight in the First World War.

Margolyes, who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films, said she owed her own life to her late grandfather, who ran a jeweller's shop in St Enoch Square in Glasgow, as without his desperate plea, her father, Joseph, would likely never have returned from the Great War.

She told BBC Scotland's The Big Scottish Book Clublast night: "My father was born in 1899 and when he was 18 the First World War was still going and he got his call up papers.

"He had just won a scholarship to Glasgow University to study medicine and when my grandfather saw those call up papers he felt that his world had collapsed.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

"He made a phone call that day to the commander of the Fourth Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry -- a Glasgow regiment -- and made an appointment to go and see him.

"My grandfather went in, this little rather shy, older Jewish man, bent, nervous, out of place, and he said 'thank you for seeing me... my son has received his call up papers to join your regiment. He has just won a scholarship to study medicine at Glasgow University -- he is the first member of our family to go to university -- and you know and I know that if he goes to France he will never come back.

"'And so I come here today to ask you 'please give me the life of my son, take his name off the draft. But I cannot ask for this without also giving something in return', and he put his hand in his pocket and he brought out a diamond in the palm of his hand.

"He said 'this is not completely flawless but it is very nearly flawless. It is the most valuable thing I own and I beg you to take it in exchange for the life of my son'. Well, he did and that's how I'm here."

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Margoyles appeared on the programme to discuss her memoir, "This Much Is True". In the book she describes her father as "extremely handsome as a young man, despite being below average height, he had a high forehead, glossy black hair, a ravishing smile and a little moustache, he looked rather like Charlie Chaplin."

She adds: "He was a very fine doctor, well mannered with a profound sense of right and wrong and a strong Glasgow accent he never lost."

Margolyes, whose ancestors moved to the UK from Belarus and Poland, said her Scottishness and her Jewishness were the two things that had shaped her life.

She said: "Daddy always said 'there isn't anti-semitism in Scotland', maybe because there just aren't enough Jews here for people to get fed up with them. But he never felt there was anti-semitism here, people were always welcoming and decent.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

"The English don't like anybody really, they'd rather nobody else were there, and that is unfortunately still true, and that's why I'm always passionately on the side of people who come from somewhere else, because I know that that was my family's story."The Big Scottish Book Club is available on the BBC iPlayer​​​​​​​

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.