Learning, performing & writing
By Peter’s eleventh year, the Tonkin family were back in England, billeted in Fleet while his Father worked at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough. His father’s next posting was to the Ministry of Defence while the family moved to North Weald in Essex, an RAF station famous for its fighter squadrons – whose Hurricanes and Spitfires were crucial during and after the Battle of Britain. Having passed his 11 Plus in Ulster, Peter also moved – to Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys in Grays, Essex, founded in 1706. He studied at Palmer’s for the next eight years. After a long stay at North Weald, the family moved to Andover in Hampshire for another long stay before being posted to RAF Muharraq on Bahrain Island in what was then called the Persian Gulf. The long vacations Peter enjoyed there greatly influenced his creative life. This was already under way. Peter was student librarian and deputy head of house at Palmer’s. He was a regular contributor to the school magazine. He appeared in school productions of Macbeth, The Alchemist, An Enemy of the People and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (as Jack Worthing); The Gondoliers and The Mikado (as The Mikado). In his final year he won the Jan Palac Memorial Prize for poetry.
Peter went up to the Queen’s University, Belfast, the alma mater of his maternal uncles, in 1969. Originally accepted into the Geography Department, he was nevertheless able to transfer to the English Department and follow his one true (academic) love. After a year studying the General Degree course, majoring in Philosophy, History with Rev. Dr. W.L. Warren, and English, he was accepted into the English Honours School and focused on Language and Literature for the next three years. During this time Peter became Literary and Critical editor of Gown, the student newspaper, as well as a very active member of the Queen’s Film Society and the Drama Society, both acting and directing. In his vacations he went back to Grays and continued to sing with the Essex Youth Choir. Peter acted in or directed: Albee’s Zoo Story, Pinter’s A Slight Ache, Arabal’s Two Executioners, Charles Wood’s Cockade (for which he received special commendation from John Arden at the Galway Festival), Oedipus Rex (as Creon), The Epic of Gilgamesh (as Gilgamesh), Everyman (for the Belfast Festival) and the First Quarto of Hamlet with Ciaran Hinds as Hamlet. By this stage own poetry was being broadcast by BBC Radio. In the final year of his Batchelor’s degree Peter edited Gown’s Literary Supplement, with poetry by Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Trevor Mc Mahon amongst others; a short story (The Miraculous Candidate) by Bernard MacLaverty, special articles by Michael Parkinson and Sheridan Morley, and an exclusive interview with Christopher Lee.
After graduating with a Ba(Hons.) in Language and Literature, Peter was accepted into the postgraduate school and during his fifth year he completed his MA with a dissertation on the influence of traditional English drama on the writing of Macbeth.