I knew when I was a small child that I wanted to act. My school in Taunton was very arts-orientated. It used to have what they called Eisteddfods, which were really verse-speaking competitions.
Eileen Hartly Hodder was my elocution teacher - I owe her a lot. Whenever I do poems in recitals I can still hear her advice, her instructions, her orders. She ran her own studio and I spent a year there after school gaining my LGSM, a performer's diploma, which also meant that if everything failed I could teach. It was during that time that I made my dÃ©but.
It was 1946 and I played Aya Canora, the Spanish girl in Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho!, for BBC Bristol with a lot of West Country actors. I remember being very impressed with everything and I wasn't nearly as nervous as I'd be now. When you're young you feel you can do everything. Youth is wonderful for that confidence. You do things by instinct. The more you learn, the more worrying it gets. Only now, later in my career, do I feel more certain.
The next year I went to Rada and about a month after I left I played the girl at the heart of the thriller Frenzy, the part played by Mai Zetterling in the original film written by Ingmar Bergman. I really don't remember much about it except that I wore a plastic mac - that showed I was a prostitute - and it was May, very hot, and the sweat poured off me.
From there I went to Brighton and did four plays, including a walk-on in Our Town and Viola in Twelfth Night. It was while I was doing that that I auditioned for Peter Brook's Measure for Measure which opened the 1950 Stratford season run by Anthony Quayle. They wanted someone who wasn't famous and after three auditions - including one in front of Quayle, Brook and the leading man, John Gielgud - I got the part. I was a year out of drama school. My agent immediately sent me up to Dundee, "to get experience".
Barbara Jefford is in 'Richard II' and 'Coriolanus' for the Almeida at Gainsborough Studios, London N1 (020-7359 4404)Reuse content