Friday, 11th January 2019
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I told the pupils at their first assembly that one of the trips we did as a family this holiday was to a large set of rather ugly buildings situated in the middle of a vast car park near Watford. Thousands of people had come to these buildings to see what was inside them. The extraordinary popularity of the place resulted from a single imaginative leap which occurred on a delayed train running between Manchester and London during the 1990s. This nugget of the imagination was about an idea for a book, a book about a boy who attended a school for wizards. From this single thought came the Harry Potter books. Every day, in the order of 6,000 people come to the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden, near Watford, to visit the place where the Harry Potter films were made. Inside the vast aircraft hanger-style buildings are little jewels of colour. Complete sets are there to be seen; Dumbledore’s study with its spiral staircase and leather bound tomes (that gave me real study envy), Platform 9 ¾, a complete reconstruction of a platform at nearby King’s Cross, Diagon Alley, a set of colourful shops selling wands and magic potions, every corner a new little world of the imagination. And finally, at the end of the tour, almost the most remarkable thing of all, a complete model of Hogwarts School with every detail precisely in place, down to every roof tile, bush, door handle, a model so intricate that no one watching the films could have any idea that they were not looking at a real building.
I was so struck by the place and indeed the enthusiasm for it shown by the crowds of people who had come from throughout the world and I asked myself what it was that had so mesmerised a generation of children and adults. Of course the answer must be complex, but I decided that for me it was about the imagination and the way in which we are able to conceive, so powerfully, different worlds. Upon seeing the Gryffindor Common Room, I could not help but be transported to a world of snug fires and comfy chairs. Our children themselves were fortunate enough to go to school in a place which is highly stimulating for the imagination, a place of gargoyles, of stained glass angels, of hidden gardens, of gleaming towers. Here in Oxford, the real world is just as colourful as the world of Harry Potter. But more than that, I asked the pupils to use their minds to imagine what they might become and what they might achieve. By letting the imagination work, reality can, interestingly, be powerfully shaped.
But I pointed out to them the glory of that model. In order to fully bring to life the promptings of the imagination, the designers and set builders had paid incredible attention to detail. This is something which the boys had to do too in order to turn their hopes and dreams for themselves into reality.