Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Roger Lloyd Pack, actor

‘I started my acting at Bedales’

Roger Lloyd Pack, 65, played Trigger in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and Owen in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. He appears as Barty Crouch in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. Other parts have included Kafka and Freud. He co-stars in the Saturday evening BBC1 sitcom ‘The Old Guys’.

Nursery school was in my house in South Kensington. We didn’t have any money, so just after the war my mum set up this little kindergarten, run by Miss McGowan, for me and the children of my mum’s friends.

When I was five, this agreeable introduction to schooling was completely undermined by St David’s, a snobby little prep school run by a sadistic couple designed to get you through the Common Entrance to public school. There were a lot of ambassadors’ children there, and sports took place in Hyde Park. I don’t remember any music, singing, acting or art, but there was caning, though I managed to avoid it. The teaching was adequate: Latin, French, the three Rs. One English teacher, Miss Evans, was inspiring, and I remember reading Blake’s “The Tyger”. I was there until I was 13.

Bedales [the co-educational Hampshire boarding school] was so different, very laid-back in academic terms: you went to classes but there was no pressure to work. I was ahead of most people when I started so, without the whip being cracked, I coasted. To my dying day I will regret that I didn’t take advantage of the wonderful facilities: art, carpentry, music, basket-weaving. I was pretty homesick when I started. Why was I being punished by being sent away?

I had done shows at home in a glove-puppet theatre and recited Shakespeare speeches while the puppets acted them out; I was always drawn to the blank verse. The acting really started at Bedales, which had a lovely little theatre, and, my father being an actor, it seemed like going into the family business. I thought: “This is magic and what I want to do.” It was primarily the pleasure of working with texts and being in the spotlight; I still love that. Rachel Carey-Field was a very good drama teacher, professional and quite tough with you; she was an inspiration.

I got 9 per cent in my geography |O-level. The teacher was not very inspiring; I blame him. I got seven |O-levels, in arts subjects. At A-level,|I did English, French and Latin, getting two Bs and a C or D. My parents would have loved me to go to university, Oxbridge particularly. No one encouraged you to go into acting, but I took my audition for Rada and went there when I was 19.

I sort of enjoyed Rada, although I was a bit lost, a bit at sea, and I didn’t know until later what I had learnt. There were some very good teachers, including the actors Peter Barkworth and Robin Ray. Madame Fedro taught Restoration moves – “Open ze groin!” – that I can do to this day, though I have never been in a Restoration comedy. There was nothing at all on the academic side; it was all voice, movement, character, technique and learning how to breathe. There were a lot of classes about saying a line as you pick up a glass: how much attention you give to the line and how much to the action.

Barrie Smith, the voice coach, noticed that I was nervous and tense and recommended I be sent to Dr Barlow, a leading teacher of the Alexander Technique, which nobody had heard of in those days, and it gave me a freedom and awareness of my body which have stood me in good stead ever since.

I had quite a lot of fun with the students and have since worked with, and am still in touch with, a few of them – Richard Wilson, Ken Cranham and Diane Fletcher. There are very few of us still acting. People have left the profession – or died.

I was never a juvenile lead or a romantic hero, and I didn’t come into my own as an actor until I was 40. I was not easy to cast, but also I have never been typecast. This was an advantage in the long run, because it opens a big range of parts for me, from Trigger to Freud. I have a rubbery face.