Harry Potter’s Professor Snape
Is it better to be famous for being a prat, or to never find fame at all? Like anyone who’s ever appeared on reality television, John Nettleship picked fame. The black-haired chemistry teacher, who taught the young JK Rowling, now sells pamphlets claiming to have been her inspiration for her black-haired Professor Snape in the Harry Potter books. ‘I knew I was a strict teacher but I didn’t realise I was that bad.’ The author herself admits that the sallow-faced sadist (named for the Suffolk village of Snape) was ‘loosely based on a teacher I myself had’, but she has never confirmed it was Nettleship.
Not that he’s the only teacher wanting a slice of the spotlight. Rowling’s history lecturer at Exeter University, Hugh Stubbs, has ‘no doubt’ that he was the model for the tedious Professor Binns, whose over-long lessons send students to sleep. ‘I admit I could be a bit dopey first thing in the morning and I probably did give some pretty boring lectures.’
And how about Hogwarts, the magical castle where they taught? Scots like to believe it was based on George Heriot’s School, an enormous Gothic edifice in Edinburgh, not far from Rowling’s home.
As for Hogwarts’ students, we know that the character Ron Weasley was based on Sean Harris, the author’s long-time best friend. Ron ‘isn’t a living portrait of Sean’, says Rowling, ‘but he really is very Sean-ish’. A major in the British Army and decorated veteran of Iraq, Sean owned a turquoise Ford Anglia in his schooldays, which inspired the character’s flying car.
Rowling herself is Hermione Granger, Ron’s know-it-all, bookish girlfriend. ‘She’s a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I’m not particularly proud of.’
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