Berkshire's BAFTA Branagh

BBC Berkshire, 24 March 2009
By Linda Serck

Listen to the interview

Actor and director Kenneth Branagh is back on the silver screen with 'The Boat That Rocked', about the birth of pirate radio. With a BAFTA nomination under his belt, we look back at how he started his acting career in Reading.

Kenneth Branagh stars in the latest Richard Curtis film 'The Boat That Rocked', is a BAFTA nominee and enjoys a status as one of Britain's finest actors.

And it all started in Reading.'

Speaking to BBC Berkshire he says he moved to Reading from Belfast in 1970 aged nine. "I went to Whiteknights Primary and then went to Meadway Comprehensive, so I spent my formative years in Reading," he tells drivetime presenter Phil Kennedy.

Inevitably young Kenneth stood out with his Northern Irish accent when he arrived in Berkshire. In fact, he was taunted for it. He ended up with an accent "somewhere between Belfast, Reading and RADA".

Before being accepted at the world famous RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), the budding thespian began his acting career at Reading's Progress Theatre. The theatre's assistant director in 1978 John Winter remembers on "Make no mistake, Ken needed to be good to get into any Progress Theatre cast, as parts were usually fiercely contested.

"What made him special was his dedication, and ruthless determination to succeed, and his amazing ability to combine this with being one of the nicest and most genuine people you could ever work with."

He also reveals perhaps Branagh's smallest ever acting role:
"I have a special place in his career development - I once cast him as second policeman in a one-act play - surely the most minor role he has ever been asked to take. He took it happily in his stride."

Branagh received a grant from Berkshire County Council and gained his place at RADA, where he played Hamlet and won the Bancroft Gold medal for the Academy's most promising student.

At 23, Kenneth Branagh then became the youngest Henry V the Royal Shakespeare Company has ever cast.

But yet the affable actor and director remains humble at being nominated for a 2009 BAFTA for his series 'Wallander', which he produced but also stars in as the eponymous police inspector.

Kenneth says: "In the competitive world of television and in the crazy recessionary world we live in right now, to have the work recognised in that way it's a great thing.'

"It's never easy, it's a thrill so I'm delighted."

So how does it feel being a film star? "It feels nice in these days that you're working, you feel very aware that you're one of a lucky band. It's always felt nice being in the privileged position of doing something that you so love.

"I know myself to be unbelievably blessed and I'm grateful for it."

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