Shying away from praise and money TV Times, 18th October 1973 - Bel Mooney

Michael Kitchen as Branwell Bronte

The pub in Hampstead was crowded with young men who looked very much like him: faded denim jeans with holes, an old shirt, even older waistcoat. His curly, reddish-brown hair coiled over the casually rumpled, unbuttoned collar.

It would be dishonest to say that Michael Kitchen stood out apart from the fact that he was reading a script with just a little too much attention, and nervously fingering his beer glass in anticipation of the approaching interview.

For a young man who, at 24, is already being praised as one of television's brighter acting talents, and currently in The Brontes of Haworth, Kitchen is surprisingly shy and unused to publicity. That, by the way, is why he wanted to meet me in a pub. He thought a few drinks would help.

Viewers who know him as the tempestuous Branwell Bronte, may be surprised to learn that Kitchen is a quiet, unassuming lad from the Midlands. He was born and brought up in Leicester - where his father is a butcher - and attended the local grammar school.

At that time he wasn't specially interested in acting: "It was just that everyone was joining school societies so I picked the dramatic society."

There, on the school stage, be starred in Shakespeare and Shaw - "I've never played such marvellous parts since." At 15 be joined the National Youth Theatre and to the envy of his fellow pupils went to London for a whole summer. "But I didn't think that much of acting, just of having a good time. And the Youth Theatre certainly gave me that."

At school Kitchen was "difficult", not interested in exams; a rebel, in fact. His parents were worried when be announced his intention to become an actor.

"They thought the theatre was full of freaky people. It was the same at school - the teachers thought acting was a waste of time, even though the same school had produced Joe Melia. Perhaps that was why I got so keen. Everyone wanted me not to do it, so I was determined to do it."

When he left school. Kitchen went the way of most aspiring actors - to a repertory theatre in Coventry, where he cleaned the stage, made tea and emptied dustbins for a few pounds a week. Then came the break. He auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was accepted. If they hadn't taken him, he said, he would have given up.

"Actors I had seen from RADA had so much polish, I knew it would do me good. But," he added mischievously, "I also fancied the idea of two years in the big city. It had given me such a good time in the past."

So the lad from the Midlands came to the bright lights - and lost his Leicester accent. He won a major prize at RADA, learned how to speak, not to droop his eyelids, and how to set about finding work when it was all over. One of his many letters must have struck the light note, for his first job was with the BBC.

"I was fascinated by TV and wanted to know what it was like. Ron Moody was in the first play I did. My parents really liked Ron Moody and so they thought I had made it when I was in a play with him. It finally made them think acting was not such a bad idea after all."

Kitchen left the one quiet corner in the increasingly noisy pub to get more drinks. By now be had switched from beer to vodka and lime with lots of ice, but his reserve remained. He confessed he was as nervous as ever and was hating the interview.

"Some of my friends have been interviewed and told me what to say and what not to say. Anyway, I hate talking about myself."

And it was obviously true. Ask Michael Kitchen how he feels about what he has done, and he is an odd mixture of evasiveness, shyness and sudden flashes of honesty. He'll avoid an easy question with: "I don't know, I haven't thought about it really", then look you in the eye and admit that he is worried about getting hooked on money. He has a little-boy look about him that makes you feel bad about pressing any question. But what about that money? Does he feel he has compromised himself?

Kitchen explained that it is very easy to get lazy, and accept a "bad" part merely because you like the money it brings.

Max Stafford Clarke, Resident Director at the Royal Court Theatre, where he has worked on a few occasions, shares Kitchen's reservations about television work.

"Too much of it can be harmful. Michael has a very edible character and talent, and if TV goes on chewing it… The thing about Michael is that he has a very contemporary face and presence; he is very much an actor of today. I think he is very talented indeed. On stage he has quite a tangible effect on the audience which it is difficult to foresee from rehearsal. And one of the nicest things about him is that he is such a delightful actor to work with - very easy-going and co-operative."

Despite the fact that Kitchen does love the theatre, it is in television that be has really made his mark. He has starred in a number of good plays, including Arthur Hopcroft's The Reporters, and thinks that Branwell Bronte is one of his best parts.

Marc Miller, director of The Brontes series, chose him for the part of Branwell because: "I felt after having watched him in other television programmes that there was a far greater emotional range inside him. I have been very impressed with Michael's sensitivity and depth of feeling. He is a fascinating actor to work with but he is a very reserved person, almost totally private. The parts of Branwell which are like this he found easy, but where be had to show great emotional power, it was much harder for him. But he worked hard at the part and has done exceptionally well. It's exciting for a director to find an actor with ability that hasn't been plumbed, and I felt rewarded to see it come through. People should see what Michael's range is from the character he plays in this series. He has certainly got a very promising future."

Of his role as Branwell, Kitchen says: "I was frightened of it. Marc Miller made me do it. The thing is. I'm lazy and have to be made to work. In many ways the part was hard for me - and I know I could have put a lot more into Branwell than I have. I feel I learned a lot and changed a lot during those months we were working on it. So although I know I didn't give all I might have to that part, I will one day. I'm confident that there is a lot in me still to come out."

At this point, an actor-friend of Kitchen's came up and asked if he would like to go to a party. He declined, since he had to rehearse for another TV play next day - but quickly pointed out that he liked his social life. Mainly this consists of sitting and talking with friends over a few drinks.

Michael Kitchen with Juliet Aykroyd Apart from that, his favourite occupation is sitting at home, a flat in Hampstead, London, playing his guitar, or listening to blues, classical and pop records, with his girlfriend, Juliet Aykroyd. He said he neither reads much, nor gets involved with political issues.

"If I think about world affairs I get depressed. So it is best for me not to - just to go on with my music and my acting, and try to be a bit better at both."

For although people praise Michael Kitchen's talent, he thinks he has a long way to go yet. Wisely, he doesn't think of the future too much; though when he does he has the nightmare of becoming an ageing, out-of-work actor. For the moment he shrugs at success.

"People keep saying I'm talented, but really I'm just a working actor. Not exceptional at all. It surprises me that I'm doing so well. I haven't been out of work for ages now…" He leans forward and touches the wooden table as he speaks… "but when you're up, the only way you can go is down."

Many thanks to Lynne for sending over this article from the TV Times