Shaggy sheepdog stories? I was born in London, but when I was three we moved to my grandmother's in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, to get out of the Blitz. My father died when I was five. I went to Victoria Church Primary School. I used to read a lot: Shadow the Sheepdog and Biggles. When I was 10, I was always asked to come out in front of the class and tell stories - it was what I had read the night before.
No, Master Fowlds! I can remember that Saturday morning when I went to Berkhamsted Grammar School to take the 11-plus. You think: "What if I fail?" If you failed, you were denied an education. I failed.
Who's a good dog? I went to Ashlyns Secondary Modern, in Berkhamsted. I loved my time there. I played a lot of sport; I ran and played football for the county. And that's where I first trod the boards. I played the Mayor of Plymouth in an operetta, Dogs of Devon; I've never had reviews like it.
Darling, you were a marvellous apprentice! I left at 15, knowing nothing. This was far too young. There was no sixth form - or if there was I never came across it. I left on a Friday and on the Monday morning walked down the hill and clocked in as a printer's apprentice at Clunbury Press, thinking that this was going to be my life. I joined the company's amateur dramatic society, the Cooper Players; people encouraged me but I never considered being a professional actor.
Rada you than me? National Service saved me and changed my life. I was a radio operator in the RAF and was sent to Malta, where I met Lieutenant- commander Wansbury, who directed me in three plays. There was an army sergeant called Donald Douglas who planned to be an actor - he is - and told me he was going to Rada, a drama school. He sent off for the entry and audition forms for me. The wonderful lieutenant-commander coached me for three months and I got a scholarship and a grant to Rada.
Woolley thinking? I started at Rada when I was 20 with Tom Courtney, Edward Fox and Sarah Miles. I'd never read any Shakespeare of Chekhov. I was like a kid in a candy store; I'm still like that. I was very lucky with work afterwards. In playing the character of Bernard Woolley, I thought, "I guess I've made it. Here am I, from a secondary modern school, playing a classics scholar from Marlborough and Oxford who's going to be head of the Civil Service." Paul Eddington used to correct my pronunciation. I said garij and he said, "What's that word?" I should have said guh-rarrge.
INTERVIEW BY JONATHAN SALEReuse content