PASSED/FAILED: Richard Briers

Interview with Richard Briers
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The Independent Online
Richard Briers, 62, plays Scrooge in the new adaptation of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, which opens today at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. He is Polonius in the forthcoming Kenneth Branagh film of Hamlet.

Act I: primary school trophies? Nothing.

Act II: examination successes? I took the Common Entrance to King's College, Wimbledon. I failed.

Act III: For two years I went to Ridgeways, a co-ed school, and paid more attention to the girls than the teachers. I didn't like school. I don't blame the teachers; I wasn't very good. I left at 16 with nothing. I was a total failure.

Extracurricular activities? I belonged to a dramatic club .

Interval? I did my National Service and became a clerk in the RAF at Coastal Command in Northolt, Middlesex. I left as a leading aircraftman, which you got automatically after 18 months.

Extracurricular activities? Twice a week I commuted to an amateur dramatic society at the Elephant and Castle.

Act IV: demob happy? At 20 I got into RADA. I had to take a proper exam, an audition. I did a speech from Hamlet, of course, and something more modern, I think a Chekhov. I scraped in; I don't think I'd have got in now.

Act V: stealing the scene? On your last day you put on excerpts from different plays. I was at Her Majesty's and the stalls were full of agents and relatives. Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole, who were also at RADA, had already been offered jobs, but I was one hour and 10 minutes away from the streets.

Act V, Scene V: the denouement? I'd been given a couple of good parts, which caused me to get the Silver Medal and a scholarship to the Liverpool Playhouse. The wonderful thing about this was that I got, at 22, to play all the leading parts.

Epilogue: subsequent thespian awards? I have never got a prize for acting. I got the OBE, and also the honorary doctorate of letters from London University, which I think was something to do with my local connections - the Elephant and Castle. I think I got a nomination for Ratty in the Alan Bennett adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. What for? I played the Water Rat in ... No, which award? It was a comedy award; I think the Olivier.

What award would you give yourself? If you survive in this business for 40 years - and I have - you should have an automatic prize