I enjoyed the extracurricular activities such as sport and drama so much at Bedford that I persuaded my parents to let me become a boarder, even though I lived only 20 minutes away from the school. The facilities were great. We had an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a fantastic theatre. I rowed pretty much every day and ended up representing England in the junior eights.
I loved acting, which I had been doing since I was eight or nine, and was in the first group at Bedford to take theatre studies. Robert Lowe was the head of drama and taught theatre studies and English. He'd been an actor himself - he was in Emmerdale - and he had a tremendous influence on me. He made me realise that acting or working behind the scenes in the theatre or television were possible career options.
I didn't really fit the mould at Bedford, which was a school that turned out scientists and stockbrokers and people who went into more conventional professions. I was a cheeky chappie, a bit of a ducker and diver. I kept out of trouble and was senior prefect, head of my boarding house and captain of boats, but my reports always said the same thing: "If Joel showed as much enthusiasm in the classroom as he does outside maybe his results would be better." My parents encouraged me to do what I wanted, but when I told my father I was going to drama school his response was: "I always thought you might go into the City."
Robert Lowe was one of those special teachers who talk to you like you're a human being and treat you as an equal. He was youngish, probably in his thirties, about 5ft 8in, wore grey flannel trousers and a tweed jacket and silver-framed square glasses. He was shy, but you could see he had a passion for the theatre and he built up the school drama department and extended the repertoire so we did more demanding productions. He was a very good director. We put on Julian Mitchell's Another Country and he persuaded the author to come to the school to see it. Wow, we were quite blown away by that, sitting talking to the author and taking notes from him.
Robert Lowe also got the press to come along and review our shows. He got local sponsorship for things such as lighting and organised Duke of Edinburgh Award courses in stage management, lighting and building scenery.
He blew the budget, but the plays he put on were so good that the headmaster saw the theatre as a real asset to the school and invested more.
He was basically a quiet and inconspicuous man, but when he was teaching, Robert Lowe's persona changed. He performed. He started off quite slowly. He was a good storyteller and hooked you in as an audience. Then his eyes would light up and he would sparkle. He was constantly in motion; he wasn't one of those teachers who perched on the edge of the desk, he moved around the room a lot, gesticulating. He'd take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves and probably swear. He knew just how to deal with teenage boys, which bits of a poem or play would appeal.
After I left school I went to Leeds Poly to study public relations with the idea of going into advertising or marketing if my theatrical ambitions didn't work out. When I then decided to apply for a post-grad drama course I called Robert Lowe out of the blue to ask his advice. He was teaching at Oundle by that time and invited me over. He helped me choose my pieces for the audition and coached me. I think he was still a frustrated actor himself and he was really, really pleased I'd decided on an acting career.
Actor Joel Beckett was talking to Pamela Coleman.
The story so far
1973 Born Cambridge
1976-80 Polam school, Bedford
1980-91 Bedford school
1991-94 Leeds Polytechnic 1994-95 Webber Douglas theatre school
1995 First professional appearance in The Bill
1995 Researcher on Two Fat Ladies TV cookery series
2000 Sets up own production company, Twisted Productions, and appears in Band of Brothers, a Second World War TV film, with Tom Hanks
2001-03 Appears in The Office as Dawn's boyfriend, Lee
2004 Joins cast of EastEnders playing Jake Moon
August 23, 2005 Appears in Green Street, a film about football hooliganism starring Elijah Wood, premiered at Edinburgh Festival.