The theme to True Grit by Glen Campbell
I grew up in Southport, Lancashire, with a cinema about 50 yards from my house. So Saturday mornings were spent with The ABC Minors: the Saturday cinema club with the theme song set to the tune of Blaze Away by Abe Holzmann, a red ball bouncing over the lyrics so you could sing along.
As I got older, I would go to the cinema by myself to watch matinees of westerns and historical Technicolor dramas. They were full of excitement, romance and action. As well as the movies, I also fell in love with the scores. I loved the theme tune to True Grit by Glen Campbell, who also had a rare acting part in the movie, so I bought it on record as part of a Glen Campbell compilation.
I was obsessed with John Wayne, who starred in True Grit. Then, when I got a bit older, I moved on to Richard Harris in Cromwell and The Heroes of Telemark and all those gloriously lurid films you could see on your telly on a Saturday afternoon.
Laurence Olivier and William Walton
My English teacher, Maureen Bowran, permanently loaned me the soundtrack to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet and Henry V. We weren’t studying either play, so I was just adding to my cultural education by getting into semi-classical movies at the same time.
It wasn’t long before I became obsessed with Olivier. At that age you can just sort of suck up knowledge. I would listen to my Hamlet and Henry V records over and over and probably spent more time learning soliloquies than I did studying for my O-levels.
I also loved the scores that accompanied Olivier, written by the English composer William Walton. His soundtracks added drama and action around Olivier’s speeches and I thought they were simply marvellous. I listened to Olivier’s words and Walton’s music repeatedly, way before I got to see and hear them in the movies.
I drew a lot in my teens, even drawing photographs of Olivier from a book about him. I wasn’t allowed to study art at school. I was very upset because at some point my folks deemed that art wouldn’t do me as much good as some other slightly more “academic” subject. I was forced to do history and got a terrible grade.
I was still happy sketching on my own – I wasn’t a big fan of oils and acrylics and preferred pencils, watercolours and pastels. There was a wonderful artist called Brian Hatton, who was tragically killed in the first world war and did wonderful depictions of Herefordshire life. I remember going with my folks to the Three Choirs Festival in my teens and my favourite venue out of Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester was Hereford.
It sort of fitted the goth/teen morbidity that Hatton was no longer with us but had had a very romantic viewpoint of the places he had grown up in and depicted them so wonderfully. I was sort of steeped in that as well.
I agreed to take part in a tennis tournament when I was 12. It was a beautiful day and I was waiting for a match, but I got completely obsessed by a kestrel that had flown into the wire fence around the courts and become dazed.
I didn’t know what to do, so I sat with her for about four hours. She moved from perching on the toe of my shoe to, eventually, my shoulder. I very carefully stood up and walked with her outside the tennis courts until she saw her mate flying round the nearby church tower and took off to join him. It was the most incredibly romantic and close encounter, so I was like: “OK, that was amazing. How do I get to be with these birds more?”
I found a book in my local library by Phillip Glasier, who was Britain’s leading expert on falconry and with whom I later did a course. I signed up for some local courses. I was fascinated by the arcane nature of all the props and paraphernalia and thrilled about getting so close to these birds of prey. I would say my interest has now evolved into environmental awareness. It’s so wonderful to see the birds in the wild and I am still in touch with Glasier’s daughter, who runs the National Centre for Birds of Prey.
I went to a girls’ grammar school, so we would often have to act out the male parts even just reading aloud in class. As a result, you would end up playing a lot of the meatier male roles; if it was helpful in making sense of Shakespeare, then that’s what we did. I probably played my most fantastic parts before I left school: Antony from Antony and Cleopatra, Richard II and Bolingbroke [from Richard II], because no one else was happy to read them out.
I remember being thrilled by the language, which I think changed my mind about studying English at university to wanting to go to drama school. I didn’t want to spend years tying myself in knots for exams and putting intellect over instinct. If you go to drama school after university, you have to unlearn a lot of stuff. You have to learn to play again. This is what we were told, because you can think too much. And I was keen to get on with it. So I ended up not going to university but straight to drama school at Bristol Old Vic.
Even before I was a teenager, I remember what a lovely feeling it was making people laugh at junior school. I think my dad most informed my sense of humour: a heady mix of The Goons and Laurel and Hardy.
There were a lot of books lying around that were up for grabs; gifts from my dad to my mum when he was at Oxford. James Thurber made me laugh like a drain. I loved The Thurber Carnival: a combination of Thurber’s cartoons and stories. I loved The Addams Family by Charles Addams. Both Thurber and Addams are incredibly dramatic; you have to delve through rainy, grimy landscapes and then see the point. They’re quite frightening but also very funny. I loved the craftsmanship; the deftness of line was very exciting to me.
Every year we would get the latest book by Giles, the cartoonist for the Daily Express. I found his cartoons incredibly expressive and brilliant depictions of character. I loved the things that were going on off centre stage, with the dog or the cat or the granny or the slobby auntie, or the even slobbier daughter. I just thought they were hilarious.
• Rams is released digitally on 5 February in the UK
• This article was amended on 4 February. The original said that Bolingbroke featured in Henry IV. In fact he is a character in Richard II. This has been corrected.