Amanda Redman

20th April 2007 at 01:00
The TV actress had given up on teachers until the day she met a compassionate, wise and funny man

I went to Hove County Grammar School for Girls and I pretty much hated it.

If I tell you that the teachers there were almost invariably "Miss" - as in, none of them were married, and it showed - you'll get the picture. On top of this, they were more interested in the sciences, which they regarded as proper subjects, than they were in the arts.

In the Seventies, when I was at school, there was no such thing as drama or theatre studies at O or A-level. At one point, I was punished by not being allowed to take part in the school play. When my parents asked why, they were told: "Amanda needs to learn the importance of maths before acting."

So, it wasn't until I left that school that I met the teacher who changed my life. I was lucky enough to get into Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and it was there I encountered the legendary Rudi Shelly. He was not so much a teacher as a guru. Ask any of the students who were taken under his wing and any of them, from Daniel Day-Lewis to Jeremy Irons, can still do marvellous impressions of him. It's a mark of how much affection we held him in.

Rudi was an extraordinary man. He was a Jewish Austrian who escaped the Nazis. It had given him a kind of inner steel and also a great understanding of human nature. He was compassionate, wise and hugely funny.

Plus, he was a born teacher: He taught, not because he couldn't have acted but because he had a passion for young people.

He had a unique style and tremendous flamboyance. The first time I met him was at my audition. He said to me, "Amanda you haff a voice like a fart in a vicker basket. It hass no idea vich hole to come out of." And I think it was because I immediately laughed that he put a tick against my name.

He had a great way with words and some favourite sayings too. For example, "Danger. Actors At Work!" In other words, he hated any performance in which you could see the wheels turn. That wasn't what he considered good acting.

"Squeeze a lemon between your buttocks" was another favourite. He would yell it when someone's posture was poor. It's amazing how well it works and how often I've used it myself.

As a teacher he was so particular. At times you'd think, "Oh God, no. Not another three-hour Rudi Shelly lecture on how to deliver one sentence." But you have no idea how many times in my work I've gone back to his advice.

I've also been able to pass it on to the students who come to the theatre school in Ealing that I have been running for years.

Sadly, Rudi has died but he lived until the age of 90 and shaped the lives of so many. He stayed in touch with favourite students and I was lucky enough to be one of them. A call from Rudi would make my day. I loved the man so much.

There's a bench at Bristol Old Vic that commemorates his life. It says, "Unclench Your Lemons And Rest A While". Rudi would have loved that Amanda Redman, 48, is a highly successful TV and film actress. She is starring in New Tricks, the BBC series, and is filming Honest, a five-part drama for ITV. Her many other roles have included the beleaguered mother in the TV series At Home With the Braithwaites and the wife of a gangster in Sexy Beast, the film. Amanda was talking to Daphne Lockyer

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