Education: Passed/Failed Derek Fowlds

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DEREK FOWLDS, 60, played the sly civil servant Bernard Woolley in Yes Minister, and is Sergeant Oscar Blakeston in Heartbeat. Films include The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and After Celia , a short scheduled for the Odeon circuit in the autumn. Television work includes Inspector Morse, The Darling Buds of May and Casualty. The final audiotapes of Yes Prime Minister, in which he stars with Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, have just been released.

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.