Headmaster James Priory (left) and School Archivist John Sadden (right) welcome Charles Edwards to the school

It was not quite the usual visitor to The Portsmouth Grammar School when actor Charles Edwards came to look through the school archive as part of his research for a new role.

Charles, who is currently most recognisable for one of his most recent roles as Michael Gregson in the well-loved ITV drama Downton Abbey, requested a visit to the school as he is preparing to play Alfred Wood, Conan Doyle’s secretary, in an ITV adaptation of Julian Barnes Arthur and George.   Martin Clunes takes the lead role as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Alfred Wood was a pupil at PGS from 1879 to 1884 and went to Brasenose College, Oxford. He returned as a teacher, and taught Mathematics and Science at the school until 1901. He was an excellent sportsman, playing for the school first XI in soccer and cricket. He also played for other teams as an adult, including the first Portsmouth amateur football team, and on one occasion, for the county.

Wood first met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the school playing fields at Hilsea at the regular matches between the South Hampshire Rovers and the school’s first XI. Wood was bowled out by Doyle on May 17th 1890, but caught him out on another occasion. Soon after leaving teaching, Wood became Doyle’s secretary and worked for him up until his death in 1930.  The Doyle family have suggested that Wood was one of the inspirations behind the character of Dr Watson.  Alfred Wood returned to spend his retirement in Southsea where he died in 1941.  

Charles Edwards relishes the prospect of playing real life characters like Alfred, known by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as “Woody”, and has drawn on accounts from his former pupils and photographs in the school archive.  “It really was invaluable and so far the production have been thrilled to see photos of Woody they hadn’t been able to find any anywhere. I’ve already earned several Brownie points thanks to PGS. I had a great morning in Portsmouth!”

“There was definitely a frisson about the school generated by Charles’ visit today”, said Headmaster James Priory. “We were delighted to welcome him and help his research into Alfred Wood. Our school archive is a treasure trove of information and I very much look forward to seeing a character from school history coming to life on the screen.”