The opportunities for working class actors on stage and screen are becoming so limited that a “messy kid from a council estate” like himself would no longer be able to forge a career, Stephen McGann, the Call The Midwife star, has claimed.
Britain’s most successful actors currently include Old Etonians Tom Hiddleston and Damian Lewis, as well as Harrow’s Benedict Cumberbatch.
But McGann, 50, the youngest of a prodigiously-talented family of acting brothers, brought up in inner-city Liverpool, said working class kids actually had better opportunities to make their mark in the world of deprivation depicted in the 50s-set Call The Midwife.
“Look, Midwife – we watch that and know from history that everything is going to get better, right?,” McGann, who plays Dr Patrick Turner in the BBC drama, told Radio Times.
“Health, the Pill, the diseases – that’s all going away. Sometimes today it feels like we’re going the other way. Opportunities are closing down. If you’re a messy kid from a council estate today, I think the chances of you making it as a successful actor are a lot worse than they were.”
McGann grew up near riot-torn Toxteth, Liverpool, where his contemporaries included Ian Hart and David Morrissey, both of whom went on to become screen stars. McGann’s brothers include screen actors Joe, Mark and Paul who appeared as Doctor Who.
“I think things are changing for the worse right now,” Stephen McGann said. “The sums don’t add up. When I was growing up, we had theatres open that aren’t open now. We had opportunities in adverts that aren’t open now. We had films that don’t get made. We had television pumping out of all kinds of studios that aren’t there any more.
“It’s simply economics. If you make something for half the amount per hour you used to make it, you’re not going to pay the actors twice as much.”
McGann said winning a place at a local Catholic grammar school was his launch-pad to an acting career. “What counted for me and my brothers – and mates of ours like David Morrissey and Ian Hart, all growing up in Dingle and Toxteth – was the real change in education.”
“We had one shot and we made it: none of us would be actors if we hadn’t gone to that school. That’s where I fell in love with acting and that’s why I’m here.”
McGann’s warning follows concerns raised by Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, who said that the dominance of public school actors was a “real worry”. Children without means are finding it “harder and harder” to break into the profession, Dromgoole said.
A brief flowering of post-war social mobility helped actors from working class backgrounds including Michael Caine, the son of a fish market porter and Sean Connery, whose father worked in a factory, win break-through roles in the early 60s. Albert Finney, the son of a Salford bookmaker, played the working class anti-hero Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
In recent years, the plum roles have increasingly been awarded to the products of Britain’s elite public schools, including the Etonian actors Dominic West and Eddie Redmayne.
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In pictures: Call the Midwife Series 3
In pictures: Call the Midwife Series 3
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Trixie, Cynthia Miller, Sister Evangelina, Fred and Shelagh arriving at the Community Centre in the first episode of Call the Midwife.
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Mrs Torpy, played by Clare Cathcart.
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Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) and Sister Winifred (Victoria Yeates).
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The royal car arrives at the Community Centre in Call the Midwife.
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Chummy, Sister Evangelina, Trixie, Jenny Lee and Sister Julienne greet Princess Margaret.
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Behind the scenes image showing Midwifery adviser Terri Coates coaching Jessica Raine how to weigh a newborn baby on set.
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Chummy, Cynthia Miller, Trixie, Sister Julienne, Sister Winifred and Sister Evangelina in the dining room.
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Jessica Raine stars as Jenny Lee in the third series of Call the Midwife.
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Jessica Raine's character Jenny Lee pins her hair 1950s style in the second episode of Call the Midwife's third series.
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Seline Hizli as Doris Aston and Jessica Raine as midwife Jenny Lee.
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Seline Hizli as Doris Aston and Jessica Raine as Jenny Lee.
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Jessica Raine plays Jenny Lee.
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Shelagh (Laura Main), Chummy (Miranda Hart) and Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine).
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Bryony Hannah as Cynthia Miller and Roger Morlidge as Dr Robert Lantham.
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Chummy, Trixie and Cynthia Miller in Call the Midwife series three.