H ad things turned out slightly differently, Tom Stoppard could have grown up in Australia. In 1942, his mother fled Singapore with her four-year-old son Tomáš Straussler (as he was then) and his older brother Petr to escape the Japanese occupation, having left their homeland of Czechoslovakia three years earlier to escape the Nazis.

Tom Stoppard in 1967. Photo © Jane Brown for The Guardian

They set sail on an evacuee ship for Australia but for some reason it turned back, then stopped at Colombo where some of the passengers including the Strausslers transferred to a ship going to India. There, Mrs Straussler met and married a British major called Kenneth Stoppard who took the family back to England with him. (Stoppard’s real father died trying to follow the family out of Singapore).

And so it was that Tom Stoppard grew up in England, a country he has always held dear, where he became one of its starriest playwrights and a gentleman so quintessentially English that had he grown up in Australia, you can’t help suspecting he would have left and ended up in The Old Dart anyway.

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