Debut   Richard Wilson

The Role: Mr Mckeeley The Series: Dr Finlay's Casebook The Company: BBC TV
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The Independent Culture

My first stage job was at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, playing someone in a farce. I remember talking to the artistic director Theresa Collard, looking out of the window and seeing swans. I said it was such a lovely setting being next to the river and she said, "No, that's the racecourse - it's flooded." I felt such a fool.

My real début was on television. It had taken me a long time to find the confidence to make the leap into acting - until I was 27, I'd worked as a medical laboratory technician - but I finally went to Rada and everyone was jealous because immediately afterwards I got a job in television.

I was playing Mr McKeeley the stonemason on the first day of a new series of Dr Finlay's Casebook. At the read-through I was timid as a mouse and very frightened. Then one of the actors came up to me and said, "Is this your first Finlay's?" I was so nervous I didn't understand what he meant. He asked me again and I still didn't get it. Eventually I understood and explained that it was in fact my very first job.

"What have you been doing?" he asked. "Well, I've been to Rada." He peered at me. "When did you leave?" "Friday," I said. That didn't go down well. I later discovered he had a smaller part than I had. "What about rep?" he asked. I said: "I'd like to do mine nearer London because I have a bedsit in Westbourne Grove." He wasn't impressed. "You should do rep outside London," he said, loftily. "Then you can make all your mistakes there." That cut me down to size.

It was so popular that one of the newspapers did a diary on the new series. It said that the actors all seemed very calm... apart from Richard Wilson "who looks pale and nervous". I wasn't nervous, I was a wreck.

I went into the studio and I remember being amazed that all the sets were in colour. I looked at the monitors and there was this man with his mouth hanging open, staring into this monitor, and it was me. I felt utterly ridiculous.

Richard Wilson's production of 'Mr Kolpert' is at the Royal Court Upstairs, London SW1, 020-7565 5000