Jimmy Nail: Acting harder to get into for those outside London than 40 years ago

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Jimmy Nail has said it is more difficult for young people outside London to get their start in acting than when he broke out on TV 40 years ago.

He had no acting experience when he auditioned for the role of Oz but he went on to make the Geordie hardman’s part his own, launching his career as an actor, singer and writer.

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – the story of ex-pats escaping 1980s unemployment to make a living in Germany – was first screened this week in 1983 and became one of ITV’s hits of the decade.

To mark the anniversary, Nail spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and was asked if he agreed with actor Michael Sheen, who has said there was a lack of talented working class performers coming through.

Nail said: “I think it’s more difficult now in terms of people starting out, getting a start, getting to the main drama academies, (when) most of them are in London.

“It’s certainly tougher for the regional kids starting out who have to climb all those hurdles before they do any acting or performing.

“It’s just how it is at the moment. It’s not great.

“I think Michael Sheen has a point.”

Nail, 69, spoke warmly about the camaraderie of the actors on the show, and of his “loud, belligerent” character, Oz.

And he chuckled as he remembered how he broke into acting in what was about to become a huge TV hit.

He said: “Not only was it my very first acting role, I hadn’t given acting a thought.

“It wasn’t something that I had considered. I’d had no experience.”

While acknowledging they were acting, not saving lives, he likened it to being pulled off the street and being asked if he had ever had any experience of neurosurgery, replying no but being gowned up anyway, taken to an operating theatre and being told: “Don’t worry, you’ll be with a load of other neurosurgeons, but you’re going to do an operation on someone’s brain”.

Entertainment – Television – Auf Wiedersehn Pet
The cast of hit 1980s TV show Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (PA)

Speaking of the show which made his name, and the anti-German jokes it contains, he said Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was of its time, that it “captured the zeitgeist” and that sensibilities have changed now.

But he disagreed that the show should be cut to remove content which may offend modern tastes, saying: “I’m with Steven Spielberg on this.

“I don’t think you should go back and edit the past in terms of content of films and TV like this.

“Personally, a disclaimer in front of an episode is enough, and then if people don’t want to tune it, they don’t have to.”

Nail said he has now moved back to his native North East after living for a long time in London, and praised the quality of life in the region.

Asked if he was frequently recognised, he laughed: “This face, this voice – no hiding place.”