My first professional job was appearing in weekly rep at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Colwyn Bay in 1958. I got this job while on summer holiday from studying at RADA. It came through Vincent Shaw, who at that time was a very well-known actor-turned-agent. I had the best time, and it was a summer I will never forget.
In the course of the season, I appeared in a variety of productions ranging from comedies such as Sailor Beware and Doctor in the House to the psychological drama Black Chiffon. It was hard work, but I was in great company.
Was it daunting to be thrown into that many shows at once? When you start off as an actor and get that first job I think it’s excitement you feel more than nervousness so I wouldn’t have done anything differently with the benefit of my experience now.
But I do think I was so lucky to work with tremendous actors who taught me so much including Bill Weismer, Celia Hewitt, William Allen and Siobhan Keegan, with whom I shared that first season at Colwyn Bay.
We were all so lucky as actors to experience the repertory system. It enabled actors to be constantly rehearsing and performing different shows, weekly, fortnightly or three-weekly. That was invaluable for learning your trade. Sadly, that great opportunity for actors – especially those breaking into the industry – is no longer with us.
Be that as it may, my advice to young actors today would be to work hard whenever you can, but also to have fun and, whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously. Always remember that an acting career is a marathon, not a sprint and I wish all of today’s actors good luck with it.
Theatre includes: Private Matter (West End), Child’s Play (West End), The Miracle Worker (West End), No Sex Please, We’re British (West End) and Chips With Everything (Broadway).
TV and film includes: Heartbeat, Yes Minister, Yes, Prime Minister, The Basil Brush Show, Inspector Morse, Minder, The Liver Birds, Hot Enough for June, East of Sudan, Hotel Paradiso
Derek Fowlds’ autobiography A Part Worth Playing is available at fantompublishing.co.uk. He was talking to John Byrne