Passed/Failed: An education in the life of David Threlfall, actor

'Bullying started at my new school'
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David Threlfall, 54, plays Frank in the Channel 4 series Shameless. He stars in the new Radio 4 series of Baldi starting on 10 March and is the author of Stupid Cupid on 13 February. Other parts have included Smike in the RSC Nicholas Nickleby and Prince Charles and Prince Philip in TV docu-dramas. Films include The Russia House, Patriot Games and Hot Fuzz.

At lunchtime I used to walk home, over a humpback bridge, from Queen's Road Primary School in Eastland, Manchester – but one day when I got home I was told it was only the mid-morning break. I got back when they were going back into the classroom. I did this once at secondary school, too.

We lived above our little shop in what is now the Manchester City car park. After a year we moved and for a couple of years I went to Acacia Primary in Burnage, a school in an old Victorian house. I was a bit of a show-off and certain boys I was with decided to take against me. I had an orange Beatle guitar and wanted to form a band like The Beatles, so I used to draw me and other guys in the class performing; but they didn't want me, so I "disbanded" the group by tearing up the drawing.

I failed the 11-plus and didn't go to the grammar school as I expected. I bawled my eyes out. My parents were very supportive and the teachers said, "We've found out you're borderline and we could appeal," but I said, "If that's what I got, that's it." I went to Didsbury Technical School for a year and then it went comprehensive and merged with another school. Thanks to the re-organisation, I went to a new school now called Oakwood High in Chorlton.

The bullying started around this time. I had something about me – I was full of myself but didn't stand up for myself – and one kid in particular started and the others took it on themselves to join in. One evening somebody made a phone call to my house: "Come to Errwood Park and I'll kick your head in."

My father asked what had happened and then marched me down to the park, where this boy and some others were waiting, and said to him, "You and him – fight it out now!" It was a gamble. Did I win? Well, I knew his weakness was his nose, which used to bleed, and after the fight he had a bloody nose and I didn't. I had no trouble after that. I find bullying one of those things which makes a red mist descend.

I got five O-levels and took A-level art after a year, which left me with just history A-level to get in the second year Sixth. Two teachers who I still see, Alan Johnson and Frank Casey, took us on outings to the theatre. They staged plays at school; I did a small play by Ann Jellicoe called The Rising Generation and I played Proctor in The Crucible.

When I was 17 or 18, they said, "Why don't you try Manchester Youth Theatre?" I used to perform at this theatre, run by Geoff and Hazel Sykes, every summer for four years but at first I didn't think that's what I would be doing as a career and I applied to Sheffield Art College. I got in but left after a year; I was pretty bored – and I wasn't very good.

I decided to see how you became an actor. I chose a list of places to apply to and got into the Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre (now Manchester Metropolitan University).

The course was three years long and I received an Honours Diploma in Theatre. I played old men and the Tin Man. I improvised, did acrobatics, took apart and interpreted/murdered Pinter, Agatha Christie, Shaw, Ted Whitehead, N.F. Simpson and Arden.

I did Restoration drama and a bit of Shakespeare and I directed Ionesco's The Lesson. I stayed up late making paper leaves for forests, sawed wood for French windows for Private Lives, ate terrible food and generally loved my time there.

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