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21 February

Exclusive Interview with OV & Actor Clifford Rose

It was such a delight for King’s School Development Director, Liz Elliott, to meet Clifford Rose (S 43-48) and to hear about his recent work, highlights of his acting career and also how King’s School engendered in him a love of acting.  Clifford has just finished filming the third Netflix series of The Crown (to be released in the Autumn), playing alongside Olivia Colman, as Queen Elizabeth II.  He has also filmed recently for an American version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, playing the part of the priest in the first wedding. 

At the age of 89, Clifford continues to be very busy with his work, which he obviously thoroughly enjoys.  Clifford is also an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company and has recently been asked to assist in taking workshops with current members of the RSC.  He realises that the Associate Artists have a vast range and depth of experience that can be passed on to the younger actors.  Clifford had previously taught at LAMDA, with an emphasis on exploring Shakespeare’s texts, having a wealth of experience himself and having acted in all but two of Shakespeare’s plays (the two being King John and Henry VIII).  Clifford says his favourite Shakespeare play is the Merchant of Venice, in which played Antonio in 2004 at the RSC in Stratford and, from there, to The Barbican.  He also thoroughly enjoyed performing in Adrian Noble’s Hamlet with Kenneth Branagh, where he played the ghost of Hamlet’s father. 

Clifford also performed with Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady and said what a versatile actor she is and also ‘incredibly good’.  He was so impressed with her commitment to the part, given that Meryl Streep’s make-up to transform her into Margaret Thatcher, took three hours and filming started at 7.30am!  It was amusing to hear that Clifford wore his OV tie to play the part of Mrs Thatcher’s gynaecologist, as the original tie he had been given was – he considered – far too ‘garish’!

Clifford talked about his time spent at King’s and how he had been awarded a scholarship to come to King’s School, without which he would have been unable to attend the school.  His father was a lay preacher and had a small holding and therefore the scholarship to attend King’s was a huge attraction and meant that Clifford had the opportunity to be educated at King’s School.  He boarded in School House, under housemaster, Dan McTurk from 1943 to 1948.  Clifford was naturally academic but did not consider himself to be particular sporty and, although he was a member of the CCF, he had no aspirations to join the military after school.  Clifford’s dream was to become a doctor and his choice of subjects at King’s embodied his passion for medicine; he spent a whole final year just studying Biology under teacher, F.R. Logan, whom he much admired.  In addition to studying, Clifford also developed a love of acting and it was headmaster, Mr Kittermaster, who directed Macbeth in College Hall and approached Clifford to play the main character.  It was Kittermaster’s glowing report and enthusiastic response to Clifford’s acting, that encouraged him at a later date to pursue his career in acting.  Kittermaster said, “if you ever want to go into acting, I would fully support you in this.”

As it happened, Clifford was looking to start at Medical School just as many individuals were coming out of their Military Service after the war and they were given priority places at Medical School. Not wanting to delay his entry into Medical School by another year, Clifford decided to study for a degree in English at King’s College, London.  Whilst his brother, David, studied at RADA, Clifford himself decided to go straight into the theatre on leaving university.  One of the memorable moments, Clifford recalled, which really motivated and inspired him into acting was watching Dr Faustus, with Robert Harris at the RSC in Stratford.  From that moment, Clifford decided acting was for him.

Clifford’s first big break was being selected to play Kessler, in the BBC drama Secret Army, created by Gerard Glaister. At interview, Clifford was handed ten scripts and asked if he would play the lead role.  There were three series, over a three year period of filming.  Clifford says, he “has been very lucky” and says that there has definitely been a large element of ‘luck’ in his career, although we would observe, there is also a very large amount of talent!  He also quotes one of the directors from whom he learnt a lot, Peter Brook, who talked about the concept of ‘failure’ and said “If you have a failure, turn it into a positive.  Find out what you can learn from it.  There’s always a positive.”  Clifford has used this advice at various points in his career and says this is a really important lesson for all youngsters – whether they are going into an acting career or, indeed any other career.

It was a real pleasure for Liz Elliott to talk to Clifford about his career and to learn how his time at King’s enabled him to discover his talent and a love of acting, which has stayed with him throughout his life and continues to give Clifford much pleasure as well as some great acting opportunities!