Judi Dench, Andrew Garfield and Zoë Wanamaker tell drama school stories in new book

Dame Judi Dench. Picture: PA/Matt Crossick

Dame Judi Dench. Picture: PA/Matt Crossick - Credit: Empics Entertainment

Royal Central: A Collection of Memories (£25) mines the rich history of the Belsize Park drama school where many household names learned their trade

Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman

Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman - Credit: Archant

Ever wondered how Dame Judi Dench and Andrew Garfield made their start in acting?

Royal Central: A Collection of Memories (£25) mines the rich history of the Belsize Park drama school where many household names learned their trade. The anecdotes from former students of all ages have been collected by Ian Closier-Hawkins, who also studied at the Eton Avenue institution.

Dame Judi, who was at Central when it was based at the Albert Hall recalls “cutting a lecture one day to go and watch James Stewart filming; he passed us in the corridor and said “Hello.” What a treat!”.

And she reveals she was nearly backstage rather than in the limelight. “I had originally wanted to be a theatre designer, and enrolled at Art School. I very soon realised that I didn’t have the talent for it, so left after a year. My brother, Jeffrey, was at Central and persuaded me to give the acting course a try”.

Zoe Wanamaker. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Zoe Wanamaker. Picture: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

Garfield who studied acting from 2001-2004 says his time at Central was “vital and defining” where he learned that “any vanity that could be an obstacle to serving the play must be overcome”.

Philip Glenister recalls his three bed maisonette in Fellows Road was the “social hub” of his final year in 1990 where he and his flatmates would squander their grants in the betting shop below.

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Renowned director and now Central School President Michael Grandage admits to nervously throwing up all the way down Fitzjohn’s Avenue before his audition and recalls the fearsome Room A where students’ were given ‘crits’ of their work.

More recent students include Riz Ahmed, who stars in the forthcoming Star Wars Rogue One movie. He recalls his initial uncertainty at applying. “No one I knew had done it, and I would hardly ever see anyone that looked like me on the TV”.

Islington actor Zoë Wanamaker recalls: “I was never ever late for class. Three years at drama school gave me a grounding but then the real work began – the learning curve of actually working”.

And the son of the late Lynda Bellingham says his mother earned a place at the prestigious school after being rejected twice. “She took it upon herself to camp outside on the steps until they assured her she had a place..they had no choice but to accept her. She was blocking the way and clearly a fire hazard”.

A recurring theme of the often comic accounts is ‘zoo studies’ where students had to choose an animal at London Zoo to ape. The tights for movement classes also earn several mentions: actor Kevin Whatley recalls “black tights and an ill fitting jock strap worn on the outside like Superman’s underpants which was certainly no support”. And Wendy Craig remembers a production of King Arthur dressed as a fairy: “The tights were too small and the crutch ended up around my knees, and when the scenery caught fire and the little theatre filled with smoke the audience exploded into hysterical laughter. This was the moment when my love of playing comedy was born”.

Closier-Hawkins says: “There are some really funny personal stories that are down to earth and relatable. People who aren’t involved in theatre can still read it and be entertained”.

Royal Central: A Collection of Memories is released on the 110th anniversary of the theatre school. Copies from ianandrewhawkins@hotmail.com.

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