Sir Kenneth Branagh Made President of RADA to Upstage the Posh Brigade
Exclusive: Drama school chooses its first working class president since Seventies to attract aspiring actors of any background
The Telegraph, 3 October 2015
With the likes of Redmayne and Cumberbatch blazing a trail of glory across stage and screen, complaints that acting has become the preserve of the privileged have reached a height.
Enter stage left Sir Kenneth Branagh, the son of a joiner, in a role that could prove as influential as any he has played.
The feted actor and director will be the new president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, an appointment the institution hopes will persuade students from all walks of life that acting is for them.
"I'm just a normal working-class boy from Belfast. I went to a comprehensive school and didnít go to university."
Sir Kenneth, speaking to The Daily Telegraph ahead of today's announcement, described his background as "just a normal working-class boy from Belfast", adding: "I went to a comprehensive school and didn't go to university."
He follows Lord Attenborough, who died last year, and will be the first president from a workingclass background since the Seventies, when the role was held by Dame Edith Evans, who had started work as a milliner at 15.
Sir Kenneth joined Rada as a student at 18 in 1979, after a precocious audition in which he delivered lines from 'Hamlet'.
His career since, mentored for two decades by his old Rada principal, has included work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a slew of films, as star and director, and plaudits including five Oscar nominations, an Emmy and three Baftas.
He is about to embark on a landmark season as head of his own theatre company directing and starring at the Garrick Theatre in the West End.
It was the sight of Eddie Redmayne, educated at Eton, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Harrow) leading the charge for Britain at this year's Oscars, that prompted Julie Walters among others to warn that working-class actors were being denied an opportunity.
But Edward Kemp, Rada's director, said he hoped Sir Kenneth's career would speak for itself.
While recent Rada graduates include Tom Hiddleston and Laurence Fox, again Eton and Harrow respectively, Mr Kemp says they are the exception.
"People presume a lot of our graduates are posher and more middle-class than they are because of the parts they play," he said.
"But that's because they're good actors. Our intake actually comes from all over the place. They're coming from every corner of society if we can possibly encourage them to apply."
Rada currently takes 40 per cent of its students from families with an income below £25,000, and 57 per cent receive some financial support from the school.
Sir Kenneth said he hoped to be "part of a body of support and inspiration", and that Rada was "more vital than ever" in a world where actors "are being confronted with huge challenges earlier and earlier".
He added: "I hope to be able to give back some of what it has given to me."