…s to demonstrate his commitment to Latymer still further by returning again in November 1999 for the gala opening of the school's new arts centre, including the 300-seater Latymer Theatre. With him were Rima and Mel Smith, with whom he has



long been friendly. 'He wasn't remotely distant and aloof; it was a very warm occasion and he stayed for three hours afterwards." says Orion. Far from being an elitist fixture for the use of the Latymerian boys and girls only. the theatre is used widely by local primary schoolchildren and drama students as a public resource open to all. Alan certainly approved ot that; and one suspects that Edward Latymer himself might have done so. too. And Latymer Upper's new scholarship appeal fund, which Chris Hammond says has the 'keen' support of both Alan and Mel. is intended to replace the late-lamented assisted-places scheme to some extent

Leaving Latymer for the outside world in Ia64 was a great shock. Alan was later to recall the still, small voice that ignored his "wild bruiser of a will' and told him he should take up an instead of doing a Drama or an English degree. In that, he was emulating his graphic designer brother, David. Family influences were strong Alan was still living at home in Acton, much too poor to join in the emergent Swinging London scene of the King's Road in 1965

Alan enrolled on a three-year art and design course at Chelsea College of Art. leaving in 1968. the year of Danny the Red and international student uprisings.

Alan was later to recall the wall-to-wall sit-ins, the fellow student who painted on an acid trip and the girl from the graphics department who cycled up and down the King's Road while dressed as a nun. He told GQ magazine in July 1992 how he 'wandered through those days wondering what on earth was going on ... there was a bit of me that always wanted the painting teachers to come into the graphic design department and discover me as a great painter. But I could never get it together. 1 think there was a bit of me that was waiting to act."

In truth. Rickman was a bit lost until he found his soulmate Rima. If Colin Turner gave him sophistication, she gave him self-belief,

'I always assumed that Rima and Alan emerged out of the diesel and smoke of west London, cosmically entwined.' says their playwright friend Stephen Dans, not entirely facetiously.

It was at Chelsea College of Art that Alan met a general labourer's daughter from Paddington. Rima Elizabeth Honon. She was small, dark, sweet-faced and snub-nosed, with a calm, self-possessed air that made her seem remarkably precocious Alan was later to say. with a distaste for romantic gush that proved he was every' inch his mother's son. 'It was not love at first sight; I'd



hate for us to be presented as something extraordinary. We're just as messy and complex as any other couple, and we go through just as many changes. But I really respect her. Rima and 1 can sit in a room just reading, and not saying anything to each other for an hour, then she'll read something to me and we'll both start giggling.' in other words, they manage to be friends as well as lovers; the best, and the rarest, combination.

Like him, she was a clever, serious-minded working-class child who had suckled socialism at the breast. Alan and Rima instantly bonded like brother and sister; they thought alike and had the same dry sense of humour. They protected each other, and have done so ever since.

The relationship has been remarkably solid over more than three decades, outlasting many of their friends' marriages. Although Rima is a year younger than Alan, from the very beginning she always seemed the older of the two. Yet it's a relationship based on neck-strain, because he towers over her.

'When I first saw Alan with Rima, they didn't seem a very coupled couple. But 1 was wrong. I began to notice when I visited Alan in Stratford-upon-Avon that he seemed calmer when she was around. She centres him. She's very important to him,' says the playwright Dusty Hughes, who has known them both since 1981. 'She came up to do his garden at a cottage he rented in Stratford when he was with the RSC; she planted annuals everywhere.'

'Alan did a reading at our wedding in 1990,' says Dusty's ex-wife, Theresa Hickey. 'He read the Shakespeare sonnet, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment" from the pulpit.

'He terrified everyone because he read it in a really sinister voice like Obadiah Slope's. I remember Rima had a bad cold, but she still came along to be with him. Alan is very much a one-woman man.' Unfortunately, Teresa and Dusty's marriage lasted only three years; but Alan and Rima's informal arrangement is still going strong. 'Neither of them are slaves to convention,' says the actor and director Richard Wilson, explaining why they have never seen the need for a formal contract while friends' marriages crumble one by one. Another friend thinks that Alan would have married if he had wanted children. But in 1998, Rickman admitted in an interview with the journalist Susie Mackenzie that he would have loved a family himself; that fatherhood was not something he deliberately chose to avoid. Then, to protect Rima, he added



hurriedly: ' You should remember I am not the only one involved; there is another person here. Sometimes I think that in an ideal world three children, aged twelve, ten and eight, would be dropped on us and we would be great parents for that family.' Mackenzie asked him bluntly whether he had ever been tempted to leave the 51-year old Rima for a 20-year old starlet. 'No,' came the very firm answer, clanging down like a portcullis on that particular conversational avenue.

Instead he set out to become the ideal uncle. In 2001, he told the movie magazine Unreel during a promotional interview for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that, far from being remote from children and children's interests as affluent Dinkies (Dual Income No Kids) so often are, he liked to spend time with his sister's young daughters Claire and Amy. Sheila had had the girls relatively late, and a middle-aged Alan found himself revelling in 'all those daft things - movies, McDonald's, Hamleys'. In a way, and with the distinct advantage of the wherewithal to pay for it this time, he was rediscovering his own face-pressed-against-the-glass childhood in the late 40s and early 50s when the magical Hamleys in Regent Street really did live up to its name as the greatest toyshop in the world.

When he took Claire and Amy there, however, he was in for a shock when they made a beeline for the kind of girlie toy that would give the gender politicians a fit of the vapours. Despite the fact that his sister didn't dress the girls 'in pink or bows', he recalled how Claire and Amy 'marched straight to the Barbie counter - I couldn't believe it - hideous little dolls with pointed breasts'. Yet even grungey old Alan was enough of an indulgent uncle - and a bloody-minded rebel - to declare, If I had children, I like to think I'd let them wear whatever they wanted. None of my friends would believe me, but I'd let them walk down the road in pink Lurex and gold plastic.' So much for his reputation for solemnity.

Rima was as passionate about theatre as Alan was, and they joined an amateur west London group called the Brook Green Players. She first appeared with him in a production of Emlyn Williams' Night Must Fall at the Methodist Hall in Askew Road, Shepherd's Bush.

He was the star as the psychopathic Danny, the seductive boy murderer who kept a head in a hat-box; Rima took the part of the



maid whom Danny impregnates in Sean O'Casey's least favourite play. A cast photograph published on page three of the West London Observer on 1 April 1965 shows Rima wearing a huge floral pinny and standing demurely in the back row. The smallest member of the cast, she also looks the most assured.

That was deceptive, however, since she was never confident enough to take up acting full-time. The highly articulate Rima still finds political speech-making somewhat nerve-racking.

But acting was where Alan, of course, found himself in the ascendant. He is in the front row of the Observer picture, displaying that familiar sultry pout and looking ready to sulk the place down with the cross-looking face he so often presents to the world. His is easily the most dramatic presence in the line-up.

'What is one supposed to do when after watching a play, one finds oneself wanting to see more?' rhapsodised the gushing reviewer. 'For the registering of deep, heartfelt emotion . . . most of the burden fell to young Alan Rickman in the part of Danny, a rather mystifying young gentleman who is both the hero and the villain.

'He it is who is called upon at one stage to break down and cry. This Mr Rickman does so well that it's almost possible to see the tears in his eyes.

'It was Sir Laurence Olivier, I think,' hedges the reviewer, wallowing in the lachrymose theme, 'who once said this is the test of a real actor or actress. Of all the characters in this gripping drama, I think that Danny is the one upon whom most of the attention is focused.

'Of course, he is one of the central characters. So much so that the stage seems empty without him. Even when his part calls for no word or action, he dominates the stage.'

Nevertheless, Alan had persuaded himself that he ought to pursue an an career instead. In that, he was influenced by working-class caution: it seemed much easier to make a living from drawing than from the party-trick of performing. And if things didn't work out, he could always become a painter and decorator like his late father. However, Latymer had changed him utterly, much more than he knew.

In their spare time, Alan and Rima then joined Edward Stead and Colin Turner in the Court Drama Group at the Stanhope Adult Education Institute opposite Great Portland tube station. It was to become a little Latymer in exile for Alan.



Their seasons were amazingly eclectic Edward remembers more of Rickman's camped-up shock tactics in the musical revue The Borgua Orgy at the Stanhope

There were some lines that went "Scoutmasters gay are we/ displaying a shapely knee/in our cute little shorts/we are known as good sports/from Queensgate to Battersea." Alan really threw himself into it,' he recalls.

"We acted together in Behan's The Hostage and the Court did give Alan the part of Romeo, which he's never done professional!) Rima was Moth the page, Alan was Boyet and Colin was Don Armado in Love's Labours Lost; it was directed by Wilf Sharp, whose late wife Miriam requested in her will that Alan read from The Importance Of Being Earnest at her funeral.

'Alan was devastated by Colin's sudden death, no question of it,' says Ted, pointing out that Rickman read two speeches at a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Colin Turner at St Michael and All Angels Church in Bedford Park on 23 February 1900.

'Alan came along and read the Queen Mab speech in honour of him, since Colin had played Mercutio in the Court's production of Romeo And Juliet. Alan even said, characteristically but wrongly, "Colin read it much better than me." It wasn't true but it was typical of his generosity. He also read "Our revels now are ended" from The Tempest

'On Desert Island Discs, Hugh Grant mentioned the influence of Colin, though he didn't name him. Colin was immensely important for him, too. He's very different to Alan, though: Hugh is scatty and Alan is very in control.

'Alan can be vulnerable, but he's very strong and clear about what he wants to do. He has handled his career very well, he's avoided meretricious stuff. One could never say of him that he did it for the money.

'I lost touch for a couple of years when he finished at the Court, but then I heard he had got into RADA. We've kept up contact on and off since; he was there at the last anniversary of the Gild, there in person. Mel Smith sent a video

'The voice was already there when I first met him. Initially it can sound affected, but и isn't. That's Alan. He's never patronising even to the people from the Court Drama Group when they met him years later.

'A number of people say he seems aloof, which is absolutely wrong. When he was doing Achilles and Jaques at Stratford in the



1980s, I took along two boys who were mad about the theatre. Afterwards we had a bottle of wine in his dressing-room and he insisted on paying for a meal afterwards. He had a little cottage opposite the theatre and we had tea there. We also saw him in Les Liaisons Dangercuses; he couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

'He made time to meet us, even though he had an hour's fencing every night before Les Liaisons to rehearse the final fight.


·I also took boys from my present school to see Alan's Hamlet in 1992 - even the Oxbridge candidates could do nothing but look at him and ask for his autograph. They wrote to him afterwards and he wrote back by return of post.

'People were kept out of the dressing-room so he could entertain boys from Gravesend Grammar whom he had never met. He had no reason to do it. He chided me and said, "You should have brought them all round" when I said, "Alan, there were 27 of them. I had to put names in a hat."

'He tried hard to defuse the feeling of him being the star when I took those boys backstage. There was no actory behaviour.'

After the three-year course at Chelsea, Alan studied graphic design for a year at the Royal College of Art to prepare himself for a career in art. Like so many others in 1968, he dreamed of changing the world with Letraset.

To this end, in 1969 he set up the Netting Hill Herald freesheet with a group of friends. The Editor was David Adams, the Features Editor Jeremy Gibson and Alan was the Art Editor, which meant he designed the whole thing.

It was surprisingly earnest stuff for those madcap times, with solemn think-pieces on the Kensington and Chelsea Arts Council and an undercover investigation by the Herald's Managing Editor, Paul Home, of the outrageous prices at Ronnie Scott's jazz club. There was also a leader-page article by the Sixth Baron Gifford, better known as Anthony Gifford QC, that called for the legalisation of cannabis. He has gone on to become one of the country's most prominent left-wing lawyers, setting up a radical set of barristers' chambers and running it as a co-operative that paid a flat-rate salary regardless of individual earnings. The experiment, unsurprisingly in the competitive world of the Bar, didn't last. But Tony did: since 1991, he has been dividing his work between Britain and ganja-friendly Jamaica, where he has a house.

The Herald had none of the subversive naughtiness that characterised, say, such radical magazines as Oz. Perhaps it longed




to be taken seriously, like the alternative 'community' magazine I worked on in the 70s. Alan's design for the Herald's front page looked like a Russian Constructionist nightmare, full of clashing capital letters of various sizes.

Published by the now-defunct West London Free Press, it grandly promised: Treat the Herald as an alternative to the other local papers ... we exist to express all shades of opinion.' It purported to be non-politically aligned, but inevitably it became a forum for left-wing debate.

Its first issue carried advertisements about how to achieve sexual ecstasy and collect stamps, which certainly covered the waterfront in west London. Page two featured a holiday guide to Turkey and drugs, while the Liverpool poet, Brian Patten, provided a bit of local colour on page eight as a Netting Hillbilly.

The same group of friends also started a graphic design company called Graphiti. They hired a studio in Berwick Street, Soho, for Ј10 a week in an atmosphere where everyone smoked pot while working on such groovy design commissions as rock-album sleeves. 'We were successful workwise but absolute paupers because we foolishly went into it with no backing. Everyone paid us four months late,' Packman ruefully told The Stage and Television Today in 1986.

Dave Granger, sales director of the present incarnation of Graphiti, remembers seeing Alan around while working in Berwick Street at the time. There were a hell of a lot of strange things going on at that time ... a lot of drinking and drugs. But there were a lot of good creative people around. Rickman was a very clever cartoonist.'

'Our studio had white walls, sanded floors, trestle tables and no capital. . . and it was very heaven,' Alan somewhat self-consciously told the journalist Valerie Grove for a Harpers & Queen interview in April 1995.

As with so many of the rock stars whose portentous concept albums he helped to package, four years of art school had been Alan Rickman's university. Packman's playwright friend Stephen Davis says rather wryly of his own more traditional days at Cambridge in the late 60s, 'British rock 'n' roll came out of art schools. I kept thinking, "If this place is so great, why isn't John Lennon here?" And Alan Rickman was probably the best under­graduate that university never had.'



To prove it, Davis later wrote the TV play Busted for Alan and another actor friend Michael Feast in which they portrayed old university mates from Soc Soc (the insufferably twee diminutive for every student Socialist Society) who had gone their separate ways after graduation.

But Rickman was restless in the middle of all the pot-parties: there was more to life than whimsical sleeve-notes, LSD lyrics and earnest debates on planning procedures in Hotting Hill Gate. (The latter was to be Rima's speciality, lucky girl, when she later became a councillor.)

The acting instinct wouldn't go away, and Graphiti was not as lucrative as they'd all hoped. In the stoned atmosphere of the late 60s, it was difficult to make a tiny, under-capitalised cottage-industry work. They were small fry in a huge shark-pool where rock art was big business and the conglomerates were swallowing up the competition for the record companies' commissions.

One day Alan Rickman found himself posting a letter to RADA, asking for an audition. At nearly 26, he felt rather foolish about being a student again. Mothers, particularly working-class mothers, tend to ask exactly when you're going to get a proper job at that age. But it was now or never. '1 was getting older,' he later confessed to GQ magazine in 1992, 'and I thought, "If you really want to do this, you've got to get on with it." '

He had set in motion a chain of events that would change his life for ever, although it was to be a long slog. When he heard the news about his former star pupil, Colin Turner felt quietly triumphant. Alan was to phone 'home' regularly to Latymer Upper over the following eighteen years, letting Colin know everything about his progress from Leicester to Los Angeles.



3. 'HE'S VERY KEEP DEATH OFF THE ROADS'                                                                                                      52


He won a place at RADA by giving a speech from Richard III, a part that you could argue he has been playing on and off ever since. Certainly his cartoon Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves was, in his own words, an amalgam of a crazy rock star and what the Irish call 'Dick The Turd'.

At 26, he was a mature student in comparison with nearly everyone else. By then, his art-school training had already used up his grant allocation from the local authority. So he lived at home, got by with the odd design commission and worked as a dresser to Sir Ralph Richardson and Nigel Hawthorne in the play West Of Suez, watching their work from the wings and spending more time at the ironing-board than John Osbome's Alison Porter. He not only fetched clean shirts for the men but also Jill Bennett's post-matinee fish and chips (no wonder John Osbome called the poor woman an overheated housemaid).

Sir Ralph, one of the true originals of the British theatre, was a big hero. 'He was fearless and honest and didn't tell any lies. And he was totally centred,' Alan told GQ magazine in July 1992.

It's only fair to point out that Nigel Hawthorne, later to act alongside Alan in the BBC's Barchester Chronicles plus a Peter Barnes play, told me that he couldn't recall his tall, lanky, morose-looking dresser. 'I do remember it being a particularly happy time, and that Ralph Richardson was always a source of great entertainment. I undertook the role of his secretary so I could be next to the great man and observe him at close quarters. It seems very much as though Alan Rickman was doing the same thing from the wings.'

The RADA acting course is renewed for its intensity, and Rickman admitted to Drama Magazine's Barney Bardsley in 1984: 'You do get hauled over the emotional coals. But my body heaved a sigh of relief at being there. So much of your life is conducted from the neck up.' He loved the sheer physicality of the rigorous training, and he was old enough not to be overwhelmed The stillness acclaimed in great actors in fact comes from a body so



connected to mind and heart that in a way it vibrates. That's really centred acting. Look at Fred Astaire. You don't look at his feet or arms - you look here,' he said, pointing to a place between his ribs. He quoted the dancer Margaret Beals, who talked about 'catching the energy on its impulsive exits through the body'.

Alan won the Bancroft Gold medal (as did his friend Juliet Stevenson in later years) and the Forbes Robertson Prize. He also shared the Emile Littler award with Nicholas Woodeson at the end of his two-year course. There was always something special going on with him,' says actor Stephen Crossley, a RADA contemporary. 'I looked up to him as a brother, because my brother had been an artist at drama school. Alan was very mature as a student: he commanded a great deal of authority. Most people trust him: he inspires tremendous loyalty. He's the most complete man of the theatre I know. He's a tremendous listener, and he's still the steadiest person: that's what will make him a wonderful director.

'He won the Bancroft for generic performances: Pastor Manders in Ghosts and Angelo in Measure For Measure. Other people tried to imitate his style, but he's not easily imitated. He had a wonderful drawl at RADA - very laconic.

I was Engstrand in Ghosts - the character has a club foot, and I had a very big, incredibly camp wooden boot. Alan said to me, "You'll get the reviews." There was a Camden Journal review and I was well mentioned or, rather, the boot was. He hasn't forgiven me for that,' cackles Stephen, not sounding too worried. He can bear testimony to Rickman's loyalty to old friends: twenty years later Stephen was cast in three roles for Alan's Hamlet tour in 1992.

Film producer Catherine Bailey - who profiled him on The Late Show in November 1994 and with whom Alan and theatre producer Thelma Holt drew up proposals for running Hammer­smith's Riverside Studios in West London - was also at RADA at the same time.

1 was six years younger and I always wanted to go into stage management and production,' says Catherine, who looks rather like a younger version of Joan Littlewood (and said she had never been so insulted in her life when I mentioned this). 'But it was obvious that Alan was going to be a special actor; we've been friends ever since. People are fond of him: he's put a lot back into the business.'

And yet he struck some at RADA as rather grand. Deluded with grandeur or not, the 28-year-old Rickman started his career in the



grind of weekly repertory theatre like every other aspiring actor. Very few people went straight from drama school to TV or film, as they do now, often to the detriment of their craft.

Patrick (Paddy) Wilson, now a theatre producer, was an acting ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) with Alan on their first job together at Manchester Library Theatre.

'He hasn't changed over the years,' says Paddy. There are no airs and graces about Alan. At Manchester, he played the Inquisitor in St Joan while I played an English soldier. As the Inquisitor, he acted everyone else off the stage. You got a sort of tingling at the back of the neck when he came on.' Indeed, the Daily Telegraph critic Charles Henn called him 'superbly chilling'.

'He was a very private guy: he was never one of the lads, going out to the boozer,' adds Paddy. 'He took things very seriously -acting was his life and he worked very hard at it. I played the butler in There's A Girl In My Soup and Alan played the Peter Sellers role. I knew I would miss a cue line to come on with a bag of bagels . . . and I was two or three scenes too early. Alan was so funny about it - Bernard Hill [Paddy was his producer for a revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge] would have chopped my head off. 'But Alan would discuss things if you've got a problem. He's never a frightening person.

'Alan was bloody hopeless as an ASM - wouldn't know one end of a broom from the other. But stage management was obviously not what he was destined for. Bernard Hill said to me "I'm going to be a fucking star" and he meant it. With Alan, when you have someone that talented, their career is marked out for them. The jobs come to them.'

Paddy and Alan claim to have really bonded when they played chickens together in the panto Babes In The Wood, although their shared socialism obviously helped.

'Alan is not a grand person; he's not on a star routine. There's no flashy motorcar. A lot of people change, but not him. He's just Alan Rickman. Bernard Hill has changed so much, and he was an acting ASM as well. When you first meet Alan, you think he's almost arrogant - there's an aloofness. He speaks very slowly: "Hii...I'm Alan Rickman." I talk nineteen to the dozen, and it took me a while to get used to his way.

You always feel there's something special about him. He had a fantastic presence on stage. I see him quite a bit still, and he's just




the same. We think alike politically; I'm the only socialist theatre producer I know. Everyone else in the business wants to be a member of the Garrick Club.'

The theatre director, Clare Venables, was also an actor in the same company. 'I was St Joan to Alan's Inquisitor. We were never intimate Mends, but he had a presence even then. Very calm, very much of a piece. He's changed remarkably little. I never got the feeling of him being grubby and stressed-out like most ASMs.

'Lock Up Your Daughters was a terrible production. I did the choreography. Alan played an old man behind a newspaper and sat on the side of the stage like a Muppet critic. He came out with acid comments about what was going on. I don't remember him ever doing the drama-queen stuff that most people do.

There was something quite significant about him having had other irons in the fire, what with his background as an artist. He was someone who was looking rather quizzically at this profession that he'd entered.

'Controlled rage is quite a trick, and he had it. It was always pretty clear that he was a one-off — which is a sureish sign that there's real talent there. He has a very clear, self-contained way of speaking. That, and his stillness are two great qualities.'

Gwenda Hughes was also an ASM at Manchester at that time, along with the actress Belinda Lang (who is still a friend of Alan's and lived for years in the next street to his in Westboume Grove). 'He was very clever - tall, brainy, talented and rather scary,' was Gwenda's impression of this aloof creature.

The tall, brainy and scary one moved on to two Leicester theatres, the Haymarket and the Phoenix, in 1975. There he made friends with a young actress called Nicolette (Niki) Marvin who is now a Hollywood producer. Both were late starters to acting, since Niki had trained as a dancer; and both became impatient with the empty-headed, unfocused time-wasters who didn't knuckle down to hard work. It was an obvious bond; and, if Rickman gets his heart's desire to direct a film in Hollywood, Niki Marvin will be his producer.

The two Leicester theatres were both run by Michael Bogdanov. later to be sued (unsuccessfully) for obscenity by 'clean-up' campaigner Mrs Mary Whitehouse as a result of putting bare-arsed buggery on the stage of the National Theatre, though she claimed a moral victory.



He cast Alan as Paris in a production of Romeo And Juliet, with the classically beautiful Jonathan Kent (who went on to run London's fashionable Almeida Theatre with Ian McDiarmid) as Romeo. Frankly, Alan just didn't look like one of life's Romeos, though facial hair was to improve him no end in later years.

'Alan wasn't actually very impressive as Paris,' admits Bogdanov. 'He was very rhetorical and not very good at fights. But there was a strength and stillness and controlled passion about him.

We live in the same political ward. His lady and mine are very good friends. He's an absolutely natural person: there's no side to him. His own ego is not to the fore all the time; he has a sense of humour. The cult of "luvvyism" is vastly exaggerated; actors by and large are sober people.

'He was very striking-looking at Leicester, but I can't say that I thought he stood out fantastically, because I had a wonderful company of extroverts . . . people like the director Jude Kelly and Victoria Wood's husband, Geoff Durham.

'But Alan was a wonderful company member, supportive of everything that happened. He mucked in with simple chores, a very prized quality that is quite often in short supply. He was very focused, intellectually very advanced, so he was able to get to the heart of a problem very quickly. He did street work with children, too.

'It was a very democratic company — even the cleaner had a casting vote for the programme. But after a while, I decided to abandon that because I thought being a dictator was good for the drama.'

A picture of Alan in a group shot for Guys And Dolls, directed by Robin Midgley and Robert Mandell, shows a Guy in long blond hair with designer stubble, flared trousers and plimsolls. Attitude is already his middle name. He's easily the most self-possessed of the bunch as he stares hard, almost challengingly, at the camera in a 'You lookin' at me?' kind of way. Another tough-guy role followed as Asher, one of Joseph's bad brothers in the Lloyd-Webber/Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

It was in 1976, when he joined the Sheffield Crucible, that Alan Rickman met an amusing mouth-almighty from Chicago called Ruby Wax. They shared a flat. He argued with her about the central-heating levels and all kinds of other domestic niggles; but she consistently made him laugh. She was not your average




repertory company player; she didn't really seem to be a jobbing actress, because the personality was too big to play anyone but herself

It was Rickman who persuaded her to start writing comedy. And thus was forged a lifelong friendship . . . most of Alan's friendships are lifelong. Ruby, forever playing the stage American, reckons that Rickman gave her a class that she might otherwise never have had (oh, come now). For his part, he admired her 'recklessness and daring'. In truth, she knocked a few of his comers off.

Alan needs funny friends to lift him out of the glooms; and the playwright Peter Barnes became another when Alan was cast in Peter's new version of Ben Jonson's The Devil Is An Ass for Birmingham Rep. Indeed, it's not too fanciful to see Peter, fifteen years his senior, as another surrogate father; he is certainly completely frank about Alan in the manner of a fond but plain-speaking parent.

'I have done eleven shows with him,1 says Peter. 'We have been friends since 1976 and I've worked with him more than anyone else. 1976 was the first play, my adaptation of The Devil Is An Ass. He had a beautiful voice for the poetry and read it exquisitely. He told me, "I saw The Ruling Class on TV and it changed my life." So I said to Smart Burge, the director of The Devil Is An Ass, "Well, we've got to have HIM."

"Alan has a humour of his own,' insists Barnes. 'He brings a great talent to comedy. The thing is that he's terribly, depressingly gloomy in rehearsal like other great actors of comedy - one thinks of Tony Hancock.

Joy is not a word that springs to mind of him in the rehearsal room. He's a bit of a misery-guts. I want to enjoy art, want other people to enjoy it. I said to him, "You bring the rainclouds with you and it rains for the next four weeks." I have to be careful it doesn't spread; that's up to the director. Bui it springs from the best of motives: he's never satisfied and wants to get it right. Doesn't alter the fact that it's there. But Alan can laugh at himself.' adds Peter. 'When we were working together on the revue The Devil Himself, I said to him, "I hope we are going to have a lot of laughs. dancing and singing, with this one, but is that really you. Alan? He burst out laughing at my image of him going around with a raincloud over his head; 1 remember it vividly.

'He's very "Keep Death Off The Roads". I find his gloom very funny - it's "Eeyoreish" and endearing. People feel affectionate



towards his "Eeyoreish" personality, because they wonder what great tragedy lies behind it. He seems to have some private demons.

'One goes through various stages with friends, blowing hot and cold, but one of the reasons I like Alan is that he has a very good heart under that curmudgeonly exterior. When Stuart Burge, who was one of my favourite directors, died at the beginning of 2002, Alan phoned me up and said he would like to go to the funeral,' says Barnes, who wrote the 84-year-old Surge's obituary in the Guardian. 'It was very touching when Alan came, and it's one of the reasons I hope I will always be his friend. There are certain IOUs you pick up in your life and you should always honour them. Stuart was the one who really got Alan into London from the provinces with my version of The Devil Is An Ass, because it went to Edinburgh and then to the National; that was Alan's first exposure to the West End. I think it was very good of him to remember what Stuart had done for him; I think it shows a very strong loyalty which I place very high as a. virtue, he. has, integrity. Some like to think they did it all on their own, but Alan doesn't make that mistake.

'Most actors have a feminine side. He manages to be feline without being camp, and does it very well. He designed the posters for my play Antonio in which he starred at the Nottingham Playhouse. I joked about the photograph of him as Antonio: "There you are, camping it up." But in fact he's not camp at all.'

It's rather difficult to credit that, what with Alan's eyes ringed in kohl, his hair bleached and permed and that pout in place. He looks like a decadent thirtysomething cherub suffering from orgy-fatigue.

"The vanity of an actor is endearing,' observes Peter. 'Alan doesn't really like being recognised, but he doesn't like not being recognised either. If they aren't recognised, they don't exist. It reminds me of a story about Al Pacino who took great pains not to be recognised - and then complained when he wasn't.'

It was in that hectic year of 1977 that Alan and Rima, still an item after twelve years, decided to move in together.

Although he was doing the dreary rounds of theatrical digs in the provinces, they wanted to show their commitment to each other. So they rented a small, first-floor flat in a three-storey white Victorian terrace on the edge of upmarket Holland Park. It was a




quiet, private haven just minutes away from the gridlock of the Shepherd's Bush roundabout, a major west London intersection. Alan was to stay there for the next twelve years.

'With actors, you are buying their personality so you do want to know a bit about their private life. With a writer, it's usually only the writing that people are interested in. There were hundreds of girls waiting for Alan at the stage door when he was doing my version of the Japanese play Tango At The End 0/ Winter in the West End. One of the fans recognised me as the adapter one night and asked for my autograph - but only one,' says Peter with a mixture of regret and relief.

Another old friend from those days is the director, Adrian Noble, who first met Alan in 1976 when Alan and Ruby joined the Bristol Old Vic, where Adrian was an associate director. 'He was in almost the first play I ever directed, back in 1976: Brecht's Man Is Man. I stayed with him on a few occasions in an old town house that he shared with Ruby.

Then he came to Birmingham and did Ubu Rex. He played the multi-murderess Ma Ubu, Mrs Ubu, alongside Harold Innocent. Alan was a hoot. There's a side to him that's a real grotesque, and it was first seen as Ma Ubu. I still have a photograph of Alan as Ma, sitting on the toilet and soliloquising with a wig on. Though he doesn't normally like wigs.'

In Bristol, Alan found himself playing next door to Thin Lizzy, and later confessed in a Guardian interview with Heather Lawton in 1986 to being 'knocked out by their high-octane excitement. I'm not trying to be a rock group, but there's got to be a version of that excitement - otherwise theatre is a waste of time.'

Rickman's association with Peter Barnes was auspicious from the start (Tango At The End Of Winter is, indeed, their only flop). Barnes' version of The Devil Is An Ass earned excellent reviews when it travelled to the Edinburgh Festival and the National Theatre.

Alan embarked on yet another drag role as Wittipol, the lovestruck gallant who disguises himself as a flirtatious Spanish noblewoman. The Daily Telegraph wrote from Edinburgh of the 'Superb effrontery by Alan Rickman', while Alan's Latymer Upper contemporary Robert Cushman's succinct Observer review said it all: 'Alan Rickman speaks breathtaking verse while in drag.' Well. he'd been to the right school for it.



In the Glasgow Herald, Christopher Small thought he looked like 'Lady Ottoline Morrell' - something of a mixed compliment, unless you're a tiresome Bloomsbury groupie.

'Alan Rickman is handsome, graceful and inventively funny as Wittipol and a couple of ladies!' noted another writer in the Observer of 8 May, while John Barber in the Daily Telegraph admired 'Mr Rickman's capital scene when, disguised as a Spanish lady, he imposes himself on society and reels off a wonderful recipe for painting the face.'

'Alan Rickman caresses Anna Calder-Marshall with the most honeyed, erotic words imaginable,' wrote the Sunday Telegraph in a ferment of lather. A photograph in the Coventry Telegraph proves that Alan looked more like Charley's Aunt than a Spanish lady, although the Guardian kindly compared him with Fenella Fielding. The previous year, Alan had also played Sherlock Holmes for Birmingham Rep, still looking like an overpromoted schoolboy under the deerstalker. 'Although looking a little young for the part, he catches just the right combination of fin de siecle cynicism and scientific curiosity,' opined the Birmingham Post.

The Sunday Mercury was almost orgasmic over this new discovery: 'Holmes is played with superb coolness and languid authority by Alan Rickman in a performance which interweaves touches of melodrama with masterpieces of understatement in such an absorbing and funny fashion that it dazzles the audience. Others on stage therefore look grey and we have the odd phenomenon of a one-man show with a cast of more than 20.'

Castle Bromwich News also rhapsodised: The play is worth seeing for Alan Rickman's superb tongue-in-cheek portrayal.' But the Express &> Star was vitriolic: 'Alan Rickman's Sherlock Holmes behaves like a supercilious prefect, whose deductions are one-upmanships more than shrewd observations. His most common expression is я smirk, which one longs for David Suchet's bald domed Moriarty to wipe off his face.' (Temper, temper!)

Yet Redbrick, the Birmingham University paper, knew a man who could wear a deerstalker when it saw one: 'Alan Rickman's brilliantly funny performance as Holmes . . . rightly dominates the stage and keeps the subtle humour flowing.'

All of which was most encouraging, so he took the logical next step up and auditioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company at a time when, as Adrian Noble recalls, '. . . it was an odd year, a fantastically competitive one'.




In 1978, Alan joined the RSC, and Ruby went too tor a series of small roles that she was later to describe as 'chief wench'. It was a period in his life that was to prove disastrous for his development and very nearly led to him leaving the profession for good. Alan Rickman does not thrive on gladiatorial combat against other actors; an uncompetitive soul, he withdraws broodily into his shell instead. That passive aggression comes out when he retreats into his citadel as if he were playing life as a game of Chinese chess.

In 1994 he told his former Leicester colleague Jude Kelly at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in front of an audience of 750: 'I was miscast very quickly in national companies. 1 was unhappy very quickly and I ran very quickly! Within tour years of leaving drama school, I ran away from the Royal Shakespeare Company and found the Bush Theatre and Richard Wilson, a wonderful theatre director who taught me stuff I needed to know

'You go to places like Stratford and learn how to bark in front of 1,500 people. You're taught that talking to people on stage isn't very valuable and that what you should do is shout. I met Richard W'ilson and he was my saviour.'

It was at the RSC that Alan first met Juliet Stevenson. She has since become such an inseparable friend and collaborator that the playwright Stephen Davis mischievously calls Rickman and Steven­son the Lunts of our day' after the rather grand Broadway actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, famously despised by anti-hero Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye.

'Alan was always rather intimidating,' Juliet told GQ magazine in 1992. 'We first met when Ruby and I were playing Shape One and Shape Two in The Tempest with plastic bags over our heads.

'I was quite frightened of him, but he was very kind and sort of picked me up in a non-sexual way. He had a talent for collecting people and encouraging them.'

He went there with what he called 'a burning idealism' and was inevitably disappointed One RSC director told James Delingpole in the Daily Telegraph in 1991 'When he first came to Stratford, it was terribly embarrassing. There was one season when he was so awful that we had a directors' meeting and we asked each other, "What arc we going to do with him?" Then he just grew up and suddenly even-one wanted this wonderful new leading man.'

Clifford Williams, his director for a notoriously jinxed produc­tion of The Tempest in which Alan played the rather forgettable part



of Miranda's suitor Ferdinand, remembers all the problems with a polite shudder.

The lasers broke down on the first night and Sheridan Fitzgerald, who played Miranda, cut her nose very badly on a piece of jutting scenery. The stage looked like an abattoir as a result.

'Alan was difficult in rehearsal; he even found difficulties in lifting logs,' admits Clifford. 'But there were problems with the production. We got on well, though.

'Mind you, I also thought I got on very well with Michael Hordem, who played Prospero. Then I went into Smiths to buy his autobiography and in it he had referred to me as "that boring man" - it was such a shock.

'I recall distinctly that Alan was very meticulous, anxious to rehearse everything inordinately. We ran out of time. I got rather impatient at the time, I must admit. He had terrific charisma, slouched about and had this deep slurred voice. He was always examining things. He questioned rather more than the part of Ferdinand warranted, frankly.

This was the 1970s, yet he wasn't at all the hippie type. He was a contradiction in terms: extremely acute and questioning, and sometimes appeared almost antagonistic.

'But physically he was very relaxed, almost louche, slouching, with a slurred voice. He was an odd paradox. He struck me as a rather modern actor, by which I mean he questioned, he was his own man. He was not quite part of some RSC tradition.

'I think he was of the Jonathan Miller school: not keen on projecting. In the RSCs Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, you have to push it out. It's not an intimate theatre. Eventually he was extremely good, though the production wasn't. I'm afraid it wasn't,' allows Clifford, 'the cat's whiskers. And Alan seemed to lack energy in rehearsal. But I couldn't be unaffectionate about him, though I certainly could about some other actors whom I won't mention.

'I think he was being deliberately laid-back: he wanted not to get too quickly involved in things, he was trying to pace himself. But you realised he was not relaxed at all. Yet he struck me as always totally sincere. I never felt he was playing tricks to conceal anything, as some do.

'He would make an extremely good Prospero now - he has the weight and the clarity,' adds Clifford.



I remember him as always hitching up his jeans with his sweater hanging down over it, standing with hands on hips and looking out front and saying, "Weeeelll . . ." He was rather reserved. I have a feeling that he wished he wasn't there - he was not entirely happy. There was something in the environment of the RSC that didn't suit him. He was a bit in check, holding back. He certainly behaved in a professional way, but he was a bit stiff.

'He was uncertain, insecure. It's a sine qua поп of their profession. Actors are dealing with their emotions, so perhaps they tend to get worked up more. They are cast on their physical appearance, no matter how one tries to avoid it. So they don't always get to play the parts they feel are within them. It's the Fat Hamlet syndrome.'

Peter Barnes offers another insight into that production: '1 remember him and David Suchet laying into the director of The Tempest in David's narrow-boat. Alan asked me for tips for stage business for Ferdinand, and I suggested picking up a really big log in the fuel-gathering scene. Clifford Williams cut it out. So I then suggested going to the other extreme to make a point and fastidiously picking up a tiny twig!

'Most theatre directors are arrogant and incompetent,' adds Peter, who has directed many of his plays himself. 'Over 50 per cent of the plays are directed by the actors. The arrogance and ignorance of directors is astonishing. Most of them come from the universities. Alan doesn't like directors either; he's diplomatic, but underneath he's as venomous as I am.'

Sheridan Fitzgerald left the acting profession to become a theatrical agent and has never regretted it. She traces her disenchantment to that season with Alan at the RSC and vividly remembers their unhappiness at playing such mismatched lovers.

Т didn't enjoy the role of Miranda, but I would never be a Juliet, either. That natural innocence is not me ... I'm something of a practical beast. I went off to do a bit of TV afterwards, but I wanted to grow up. You have to remain a child for ever as an actor. It's a very victim position to be in. As an agent, I can grow old at my own pace.

'Acting is very vocational. I didn't have that vocation, and at first I wondered whether Alan did either. He was miscast the first time round at the RSC. I thought the place was like a boarding-school. I looked at him, and thought. "THAT'S my Ferdinand??!" He just wasn't a romantic young leading man.




'You can do Ferdinand if you come on looking like a dish. Alan, bless him, did not look like a dish.

'At first he looks quite evil' (and with Sheridan, this is meant as a compliment). 'So there he was, looking evil, and Miranda is supposed to be a complete innocent.  Frankly I felt that his Ferdinand and my Miranda were heading for a shotgun wedding.

'It was a jinxed production: Clifford Williams had a motorbike accident shortly after we opened. And then an actress called Susannah Bishop tore an Achilles tendon, so Juliet Stevenson had to step in.

'A lot of egoes were crashing around in that production. Ian Charleson was sulking because he was trying to play the sprite Ariel as a political figure.

'Alan announced he didn't like playing young lovers. He tried to bring out the humour instead, and 1 developed my gallows-humour as a result,' says Sheridan with a wry laugh. '1 was never part of the wining, dining, clubbing set at the RSC that he seemed to be part of. He immediately took to Ruby Wax and Juliet Stevenson - I thought they could easily play brother and sister, or husband and wife. 1 was not part of Ruby's circle: they would punt down the river, do anything that was fun and vibrant.

'In fact, there was something slightly withdrawn about Alan. He was not part of the bridge-game clique. I had the impression that the girls were cheering him up and he was appreciating their qualities, especially Ruby. No one could see what she was doing at the RSC. So it was an almost charmed circle.

'Ian Charleson was another friend, they had the same political perspective,' adds Sheridan of the actor who went on to make his name in the Oscar-winning film Chariots Of Fire but later died, tragically young, of an AIDS-related illness. The common denomi­nator with Ruby, Juliet, Alan, Ian and also Fiona Shaw is that they were all risk-takers. I remember when Juliet took over from Susannah at short notice. She was playing a part in the masque, and suddenly we realised she had something.

That drawling university articulation in Alan's speech was not unfriendly, but I would never have guessed that he came from the working classes. I can't imagine him as a juvenile in rep. There was always a certain amount of maturity in him. I could never imagine him as a silly young man.

'He certainly had the capacity to be brilliant, but he was totally miscast as Ferdinand. He would have been a very funny Trinculo



instead. Bless him, he tried. I think he knew he was miscast, but I think he felt he still had to try.

'And of course you have to learn to shout with the RSC. With Ciss Berry (Cicely Berry, the famous voice coach), you put five inches on your rib-cage.

'Alan's voice goes with his body-language - slow-moving. The arrogance that says, "I will not be hurried ..." There's an impression of arrogance. I found that arrogance quite threatening, but I remember his moments of gentleness too. His drawling voice and languid body seem contemptuous, but you eventually find that he isn't.

'It could have been a defence mechanism. Actors have to put on so many shells ... if they're allowed to keep their clothes on, that is. One of the first questions I ask new clients these days is, "Now how do you feel about nudity?"

'But Alan realised I was unhappy at the RSC, and we would go off together to try to make things work out. His whole voice changed then; he lost the actor's drawl and he became far more friendly.

'He had a lot of wit about him. He was into intelligent conversation, a wicked sense of fun. I came more and more to the idea of Alan really liking women: he likes their minds, and he had a big female coterie around him. He admires women's minds; so many men just want you for your body. He recognises talent; and he has a soft side. It's enormously flattering to Rima that he's interested in women's minds, because he's so witty and dry.

'It was mentioned that he had a steady girlfriend, but it was never overloaded into the conversation. It was just understood that he was spoken for. But none of the other men came into the Green Room or the dressing-room for long chats in the way that he would. There was this appeal about Alan. He would flirt, but in a non-threatening way. In an enormously flattering way. His moral code, his fidelity to Rima, is a grown-up side to him; so many actors remain children.

'He drew a very wide range of women around him - Carmen Du Sautoy Jane Lapotaire, all very different. He brought a little bit of flamboyant gayness to the role of Boyet in Love's Labours Lost, but he was absolutely not gay himself.

'He's one of those very masculine men who never ever fell the need to prove his manliness and who is completely relaxed with



women as a result. Some men feel like sex objects as well these days, and young actors are always mentioning their girlfriends to me just to make sure no one assumes they're gay.

'Alan doesn't flannel himself and flatter himself, even with all those female chests heaving out in his wake and all their grey cells fluttering out to meet his. 1 don't think I appreciated him enough at the time, and I don't think you can blame those who cast us Both Alan and I were perfectionists; and we knew we were cheating at Ferdinand and Miranda.

'Had Alan been my first director, I might have been terrified of him because of the superficial first impression, especially if 1 had known of his hyper-intelligence. But he's a good 'un,' concludes Sheridan, 'despite the initial appearance.

'1 did realise he was unhappy too, but he had the intelligence to get out of the RSC then. I was just so wrapped up in my own vulnerability. He's definitely a survivor. As an agent. 1 would have loved his initial attitude that an actor can and should be able to play anyone We have something in common in that I used to try to make good boring girls interesting, while he has humanised villains.

'Michael Hordem was playing Prospero in our production of IV Tempest, and even he was unhappy He had difficulty in learning the lines Everyone seemed to have their own ideas of how to play the role and no one would compromise And the laser lighting went out of the window

'On the first night, the blow from the scenery knocked me out 1 came to as the lights went up It was like Moby Dick .. . blood all over the place. The computer lighting broke down, so I lost my guiding light And the dry-ice machines were slightly leaking I stumbled off and Makeup gave me a false nose to cover the bleeding

'Alan was great when I came back on stage like Cyrano de Bergerac He would mutter through his teeth. "You are pumping blood again", and turn me round so the audience couldn't see.

'He was very good at thinking on his toes and being sympathetic, « crisis seemed to bring out the best in him.

'I really laughed at his card when he was leaving it said "Alloa". because it was from Hawaii, and he wrote underneath, -Goodbye-ee". If I had been less vulnerable at the time. I think we would have become great friends.'



Needless to say, the critics had some fun with The Temppest's opening night problems, in some eases almost forgetting to review the play itself

B. A. Young in the financial Times was quite kind: 'Apart from an occasional habit of slurring two or three words together at the start of a speech, Alan Rickman is a personable, if not exactly magnetic Ferdinand . . . Miranda is a brighter girl than we sometimes see, as Sheridan Fitzgerald plays her.' He even found Michael Hordern's 'down-to-earth' Prospero 'vivid and uncom­mon1,

But the Dully Telegraph's John Barber found 'Alan Rickman's Ferdinand a gawky oddity1, while living Wardle in The Times didn't mention him at all, 'Michael Hordern was able to leave a lasting impression, but little else did,' said the Leitester Graphic, which mustered a wonderfully unflattering cartoon ol Rickman, Fitzgerald and Hordern trying to make themselves heard above the sound and fury of an out-of-control storm. Milton Shulman in the London Evening Standart, however, found Rickman and Fitzgerald 'suitably star-crossed as young lovers' . , perhaps he was impressed by Alan's tender ministrations in the First Aid department

After a frustrating season of small roles, Rickman left the RSC in 1979 to strike out on his own. Away from the big companies, he hoped lo rediscover his talent before it was too late.

He found it with the help of another late starter, the actor and director Richard Wilson, at a tiny experimental theatre over an unpretentious Irish pub in London's Shepherd's Bush. It was back to the future as he started all over again, earning a pittance at the age of 33.



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