Actor Michael Fenton Stevens talks to John Byrne about writing to producers all over the country and being given his first job by Bill Kenwright over lunch and wine
My first job was as an assistant stage manager at the Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames. I wrote a letter to almost every producer in the country telling them I was really good and they would be proud to have been the person who gave me my break. The letter was my father’s idea. He said that at the beginning of your career, no one knows you. If you make a fool of yourself it doesn’t matter – they won’t remember.
My only reply was from Bill Kenwright. He took me to lunch with his manager Rod Coton. We had a jolly time, several bottles of wine and he offered me the ASM job. I don’t know why – maybe he admired me for taking a risk.
From that job I secured an Equity card and I have worked almost constantly since. I also learnt that being an ASM is bloody hard work – much harder than acting. My respect for backstage crews has never diminished. Actors are often cosseted and treated as something special. It is important to remember that you are just the sharp end, the bit the audience sees. Without everything that is done around you – often before you turn up to work – you are nothing.
I studied law at university but got involved in every bit of drama I could get my hands on. At the end of my second year I took part in the Oxford Revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We were offered a pilot show for BBC Radio 4 and it went on to become the show Radio Active.
We took it to TV as KYTV at the end of the 1980s. By then, I was working regularly in television, radio and theatre.
I was, like many young people at the start of my career, completely unaware of my faults. I believed I had something new to contribute and that I could do almost anything. Despite being naive, perhaps I was right? Looking at the work I did then, some makes me cringe; but some of it I’m amazed by and not sure I would be as good now. I am more skilled and experienced, but am I as bold and fearless? I try to be.
Theatre includes: Queen Anne, Love for Love (Royal Shakespeare Company); Yes, Prime Minister (West End); The Fields of Ambrosia (West End)
TV includes: Benidorm, My Family, KYTV, Only Fools and Horses, Not Going Out, The Crown, Josh, Ballot Monkeys, New Tricks, Outnumbered, Nighty Night, Spitting Image, Mr Bean
Agent: Milburn Browning Associates
Michael Fenton Stevens’ podcast My Time Capsule is available via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes and Acast