Former student Kenneth Branagh has been named as the next president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, following Richard Attenborough’s death last year. The announcement comes following a slew of Eton- and Harrow-educated actors taking lead roles on stage and in films, prompting a warning from Julie Walters that actors from working class backgrounds are being pushed out of the industry.
Branagh was born in Belfast, Ireland to a working class Protestant family, his father having been a plumber and joiner. They relocated to Reading in the late 1960s to escape the Troubles, a period of severe political conflict that caused thousands to fall into poverty, and over 3500 people were killed.
Following the recent accolades of Eton-educated Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne and Harrow alumnus Benedict Cumberbatch, many have speculated that elitism in acting is on the rise. RADA director Edward Kemp says it is a common misconception that their students are privileged and that their intake comes ‘from every corner of society,’ with 40% of the 2012/13 students from a family income of less than £25,000 and 57% currently receiving financial support from the institution.
Actors ‘are being confronted with huge challenges earlier and earlier,’ says Branagh, who hopes to continue the legacy left by Attenborough. Branagh, the first president from a working class background in 40 years, joined RADA in 1979 and has since been nominated for numerous Academy Awards and won three BAFTAs.