Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Charles Collingwod, the actor who plays Brian Aldridge in 'The Archers'

'I got away with things at school'
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The Independent Online

Charles Collingwood, 66, began playing Jennifer Archer's husband Brian Aldridge in 1975. He is married to Judy Bennett, who plays the part of Ambridge resident Shula, and, until 2005, they toured with their show 'Laughter and Intrigue'. His present one-man show is entitled 'Playing Away'. His autobiography 'Brian and Me' is published today.

I know I was taught to spell at Waverley pre-prep school in Crowthorne, Berkshire, because when I was six I wrote "bosom" on the steamed-up window of the bus. The driver reported me – bastard! – and Miss Greenup, the headmistress, made me stay in at break to pen "I must not write bosom on the bus window" a hundred times.

At eight I was sent to a little prep school called St Neot's in Eversley, Hampshire. There was quite a lot of bullying and in your second term you had a "bashing-up day" but I never minded boarding and for a long time didn't realise there was any other sort of school. I used to write variety shows and plays and made sure I starred in them. They used to make matron laugh.

I passed the Common Entrance to Sherborne (this became the alma mater of Brian Aldridge and his stepson Adam). When my father dropped me off, he said: "You don't have to do any work because I know everybody!" (Tragically, he turned out not to know anybody in showbusiness.) Much later a friend said: "Charles rather danced his way through Sherborne." I was in the Remove for some time and was often quite close to being removed.

Nigel Dempster [the late Daily Mail gossip columnist] was a slightly dangerous figure and was riveted by any scandal involving the staff. He was older than me; I watched him from a distance and thought, "I wish I could wear my boater at that angle." I shared a study with [former National Theatre director] Richard Eyre. He would never employ me ... I know too much about him. I was in the cricket first eleven. I was an entertainer and made people laugh. I got away with things. In one of my last reports, my housemaster wrote: "Sadly, we think O-level is Charles's academic ceiling." I got four O-levels.

My lack of academic success didn't prevent me from taking up a teaching post at a country prep school called Swanbourne House in Buckinghamshire. For two fantastic years I ran the cricket, produced plays, serviced the under-matron and taught the little ones. I spent evenings in the pubs with two wonderful old masters, listening to them talk. They gave me a love of the spoken word and dialogue. That's when my further education began.

It continued when I got into Rada after being coached by a marvellous tutor there who had written a book about auditions. Now, for the first time in my life, I wanted to learn about something. But I still played the fool and in the Shakespeare production halfway through the first term all I did was giggle. The teacher said: "That was the worst thing I've ever seen." I looked over my shoulder, thinking he must mean someone else. Sadly not.

After the production of Three Sisters in the second half of the term, John Fernald, the principal and a great Chekhovian director, said this was one of the worst intakes he'd ever had: "But there's one glittering exception and that was you, Charles." He thought I had a funny face. Every now and then he'd send for me – and laugh.