How We Met: Andrew Davies & Tom Courtenay

'We were kindred spirits – but not enough to stop me pinching his girlfriend'

Andrew Davies, 72, is a screenwriter who has written some of the best-known film and television dramas and adaptations of the past 15 years, including Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones, Bleak House and Sense and Sensibility. His latest is Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit. He lives in London with his wife

Tom and I met in October 1955, when he was in his first year reading English at University College, London, and I was in my second year. The English department was relatively small, and everybody tended to know each other by name. Tom was well-known then, as now, for his acting. He was in virtually all the drama-society productions and everybody thought he was something quite special. He was very bright, but I don't think he can have worked very hard; he's just about the only person who failed the degree.

Tom went through a short James Dean phase. There's a sequence in Rebel Without a Cause when Dean is rolling a beer bottle across his forehead to soothe his fevered thoughts, and I remember Tom doing that, only with a milk bottle.

He was going out with a girl called Diana Huntley at the time, who I fancied as well. UCL was heavily weighted in favour of posh girls from private schools in the Home Counties. I was an outsider because I came from a grammar school in south Wales, and Diana was a northern, working-class lass whose dad was a train driver, while Tom's father was a docker from Hull. Still, we were all kindred spirits – but not enough to stop me pinching his girlfriend. I remember making my move when she was sitting on his knee at a student party in the college bar. I asked her to dance and we never looked back – I'm still married to her.

It was thrilling when Tom went into a London production of The Seagull by Chekhov after a year or so at Rada. I remember an ecstatic review describing how this wonderfully talented young actor manages to suggest his neuroticism and inability to fit in with ordinary life "in his very walk". We all laughed and said, "But Tom always walks like that!"

I watched him have a glittering career from afar and always resisted the temptation to get in touch. While his career was taking off with Billy Liar, I was just a schoolteacher and a lecturer; my writing career took a long time to develop, but I had this little dream that one day I'd write something and Tom would be in it.

In 1998, I did a script for television called A Rather English Marriage, which Tom was in with Albert Finney. So we all got to meet again and had dinner together. Diana thought he was exactly the same: quirky, apt to worry about little thingsand wanting everything to be just right. I get the sense that he's quite impractical in everyday life; he needs somebody to remember where he's hung his coat up.

It's been absolutely delightful to have him in Little Dorrit. He's terrific in it. He has the ability to get inside a part and completely transform himself into that person. It's been such fun. I'll have to see if I can write him another part.

Tom Courtenay, 71, is a twice Oscar-nominated actor who began his career starring in classic British films such as Doctor Zhivago and Billy Liar. He is currently playing William Dorrit in the BBC production of Little Dorrit. He lives in London with his wife

Andrew and I were both in the English department at university and his wife, Diana, was in my year. She wasn't my "girlfriend"; we didn't do that sort of thing in those days. But we went to the pictures together a couple of times. There were lots of rather attractive girls in the English department; she was certainly one of them.

I studied English Lit, though not as successfully as Andrew; he got a degree, which is more than I did. But then I spent all my time in the dramatic society. He said to me the other day that he remembered me from Dramsoc. Then all of a sudden he was in the West End and there I was, with my name up in lights at the Cambridge Theatre. It came as quite a shock to him.

Andrew had very black hair in those days, which, seeing him now after many years, is not the case. We made a film for television 10 years ago called A Rather English Marriage, which Andrew adapted, with Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley and myself. I wasn't sure, when we started, whether it was the same Andrew Davies that I'd known at university, but there he was – with different-coloured hair!

Little Dorrit is an adaptation of a very big book, and Andrew does the whole thing rather wonderfully; he's got a great ability to get the best out of something.

He's very true to the original, but he has ideas of his own. He didn't sex-up my part; Dickens wouldn't have countenanced anything like that – nor would Victorian society. The character of Little Dorrit is slightly sentimentalised in the book, but not in the adaptation, and I think it's a better part on television – that has something to do with Andrew. But he allows one to have ideas of one's own. I remember at the read-through saying, "I've got one or two suggestions, might I put them to you?" And he said, "Of course." He doesn't mind other people having ideas, which strikes me as a sign of strength.

'Little Dorrit' is on BBC1 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm, with an omnibus on Sunday evenings

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game