Copyright 2001 www.variety.com

[ December 3rd 2001 ]

Record numbers of children are applying for places at Britain's public schools - thanks to Harry Potter. JK Rowling's tales of the action-packed dormitories of Hogwarts School have helped the boarding sector shed its old image of harsh regimes and reversed a 20-year decline.

Now many public schools are full and are turning away thousands of children. School heads say the increased popularity is due to good exam results, and a strong economy also means more parents can afford to pay fees of up to GBP18,500 a year.

But many heads also admit fictional role models are a big factor. Prince Charles's old school Gordonstoun was chosen for fictional cyberbabe Lara Croft's education. Gordonstoun is also reportedly the inspiration for Hogwarts and has secret tunnels, ghosts and was once owned by a "wizard" - Sir Robert Gordon, who in the late 1600s conducted bizarre experiments in a laboratory under the school.

School spokeswoman Angela Harkness said: "We have revelled in the Harry Potter connection and the fact that Lara Croft was an ex-pupil. We have had the second highest intake in our history." The Independent Schools Council Information Service says the number of girl boarders has risen for the first time in nearly 20 years. The number of boy boarders fell by only one per cent - the smallest decrease since 1981.

Spokeswoman Louise Soler said: "We have heard anecdotal evidence that public schools are experiencing a boom on the back of Harry Potter. "Our website alone receives 1,400 hits a week from parents and children wanting to know more about boarding."

Harris disappears in a puff of smoke VETERAN hellraiser Richard Harris has been forced to quit smoking for his role in the Harry Potter film. The 71-year-old actor has been reduced to taking crafty puffs behind the scenes.

A friend said: "It was gently pointed out to him that it might not be such a good idea to be seen smoking in public in case the young fans get the idea that smoking is a good thing.

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