Branagh and the Ad for a Girlfriend
Evening Standard (London), August
by Geraint Smith
He bestrides the world stage
like a colossus, his marriage is a showbusiness fairytale, and
he counts the Prince of Wales as a friend. Now, though, every
love-lorn teenager can look at Kenneth Branagh and think: when
he was 16, HE advertised for a girlfriend.
It happened on 3 September 1977,
in the new term edition of the teenage puppy-love magazine, 'Oh
Boy', behind a cover featuring '500 supercooooool roll-ons' to
give away and pouting Bay City Roller Ian Mitchell. ''
On page two, under the heading
'Oh Boyfriends!' appears a passport-sized picture of the youthful
but unmistakeable features of the juvenile lead who only a few
years later would crash his way into the circle of golden theatrical
talents occupied by the likes of Gielgud and Olivier.
'Like a chappie to cheer you
up?' says the introduction. 'We've got loads of great guys who'd
just love to write to you!'
Professionally, the young Branagh
had long since decided exactly where he wanted to go in life,
and precisely how to get there, according to his parents. He
was already doing things like turning down the National Youth
Theatre because they would get in the way of gaining a place
According to the magazine, however,
his personal ambitions were not quite so focused. In fact, the
future Henry V and husband of actress Emma Thompson was really
rather modest in his requirements.
'Sixteen-year-old Ken Branagh
is a sports fanatic, but in between huffin' an puffin' he also
finds time for a bit of guitar playing and listening to music
(his fave is Wings)!' it says. 'He'd like to write to a young
lady of 15 plus, over 5ft, not fussy about looks, but please
send photograph anyway.'
The address of Mr Branagh's parents
in Reading follows, and alongside is a similar advertisement
for 'Ken's mate' Steve Butler, who, it says, is 'a bit more fussy
about his girls. He doesn't like 'em to wear too much make-up'.
The skeleton emerged from the
wardrobe when Lorraine McBride, 24, from South Harrow, an office
manager for the Ministry of Defence, was going through magazines
from a car boot sale.
'They were mostly this sort of
thing,' she says, 'I turned the page, and this jumped out at
The actor's parents, William
and Frances, still live at that Reading address. Mr Branagh,
a quiet, unaffected, slow-speaking Belfastman, was at first baffled
at the sight of the magazine. Then a slow grin spread across
The advertisement, it turns out,
is not entirely accurate, not least because there is no mention
in the advertisement of his theatrical ambitions.
'Yes this is Kenneth. Yes, our
Kenneth. As in Henry V, yes. This is very funny,' he said. 'I
remember the picture, but I didn't know he'd written to the magazine.
'Oh God, he was playing guitar
then. I remember that,' he said with a slightly more rueful grin.
'He plays it a good deal better now.
'He used to play a bit of soccer.
He is still a sports fanatic. But then whenever we tried to get
him outside to kick a ball around, he had his head stuck in a
book. 'The world's knowledge is in books, and he knew it.'
At the time, says William, 'Kenneth'
- never 'Ken' - was trying to be a disc-jockey with Steve. There
was one problem. 'Every time a record was played, Kenneth found
something about it he didn't like.'
Why he should have written to
the magazine is beyond them. According to his mother, the young
Branagh had no need to advertise. 'They came in one after the
other,' she says. 'I'd see one a few times, then another I didn't
know would walk through the door.
'Mind you, he was never abrupt
with them. They always stayed friends after he finished with
The answer, according to Mr Branagh
junior, is simple. 'I was set up,' he said. 'A mate sent two
photographs to the magazine. I knew nothing about it until 150
letters landed on the mat.
''My granny was staying with
us and she couldn't believe that her grandson was the subject
of so much attention. The letters continued at 50 a day for a
week. It is slightly galling that it was far more than the fan
mail that I receive now.'
He is currently producing, directing
and starring in the Renaissance Film Company's latest project
in Tuscany, Much Ado About Nothing.
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