Steven Berkoff: Rise of an 'up and coming nobody'
Friday 17 September 2010
Steven Berkoff may be among the most acclaimed playwrights and actors of his generation but he revealed he would much rather have been a tailor, like his father, given a choice between the two.
Speaking intimately about his early life, living among the Jewish diaspora of the early 20th century in the East End of London and experiencing the Blitz during the Second World War, he likened his craft to the work of his aloof father.
"I knew I wanted to be a tailor if I had the skills, but my father didn't teach me. It would have been much nicer to be a tailor than an actor. In a way, playwriting is like tailoring, it's like making a suit of words."
Berkoff, aged 73, who was discussing his childhood with The Independent's John Walsh at the Woodstock Literary Festival yesterday, said he had finally decided to write about this early period. He describes his experience of poverty and immigration – and his stint in a juvenile delinquency centre in Oxford, where he was "cruelly abused and beaten" – in his recently published autobiography, Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent.
Rising from a working-class, immigrant, Ukrainian-Jewish family and being an "up and coming nobody", he said that winning his drama scholarship at 16 was beyond his imagination. "It was the first thing I had ever been given," he added.
He also revealed his distant relationship to an indifferent father, which filled him with an enduring sense of disappointment in adult life.
"Maybe family life didn't suit him, but when I came along he didn't seem to have a great deal of affection. Because children adore their dads and see other dads playing with their children, you think your dad will do that, but he rarely wanted to do anything. Maybe we went once or twice to the cinema, once to the theatre and the pool," he said.
Berkoff explained how his Romanian-born father would "find fault with me very quickly as a child".
"I never had anything. He never gave me anything. In later life, I found it very difficult to treat myself.
"I can't wear a watch that costs more than £30. I have intrajected him. But what a virtue – because I always respected money."
What's on when at Woodstock
The Ultimate Read: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Howard Jacobson, 11am
Val McDermid talks to David Freeman, 11am
Philip Pullman in conversation with Martin Jennings, 2pm
Dame Lynne Brindley talks to Stephen Glover, 4pm
Rupert Thomson talks to Boyd Tonkin, 5:30pm
Marcus Berkmann and Angus Fraser on the Ashes, 9.30am
An Introduction for Children to the Art of Picasso, 10.30am
Michael Frayn, 12pm
Andrew O'Hagan talks to Sarah Crompton, 4.30pm
Political Scandals and Conspiracies: David Aaronovitch, Kevin Maguire and Paul Staines, 5pm
Adam Sisman: Hugh Trevor-Roper, and the Feud with Evelyn Waugh, 11am
Daisy Goodwin talks to Simon Kelner, 11am
Lady Antonia Fraser talks to James Walton, 12.30pm
Colin Dexter, 2pm
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 4 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
- 5 Zayn Malik quits One Direction: Hundreds of workers request compassionate leave following band member's exit
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
Kay Burley 'bias' against Ed Miliband prompts 130 complaints to Ofcom
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'