John Dagleish, who stars as Alf Arless in Lark Rise to Candleford, knew from an early age that he wanted to be an actor. He was just five in 1986 when he appeared alongside his little sister in a community theatre production of South Pacific at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre, a few miles from the village of Kelvedon where he was born.
When he was 18, Dagleish moved to London where he found that becoming a working actor wasn’t as easy as he thought. After about five years of doing menial jobs just to pay the rent, Dagleish decided he needed to hone his acting skills, so he applied to and got accepted into a London drama school. It proved to be a wise decision; the day after he graduated Dagleish started work on Lark Rise. He’d auditioned for the series a couple of months before graduating and found out he had the role of Alf three weeks before leaving the school. It came as a huge shock.
“It was unreal”, recalls the doe-eyed actor. “I convinced myself that it wasn't going to happen, and that there had been a terrible mistake, that they were going to phone up and say they'd changed their minds. I didn't believe it until we did our final graduation performance on the Saturday night, and I got on the train later that night and did my first shots for the BBC on Sunday morning.”
Prior to the filming, Dagleish and the rest of the cast had gathered for a read through of the script where he got to meet the other actors, including Julia Sawalha who plays Dorcas Lane. Having had a crush on the actress since he was a young child, the experience was extraordinary. Dagleish had limited on-camera experience and knew nothing of film work. It was unnerving. When he now watches himself in the first series he can see that he’s “a little bit terrified behind the eyes - a bit of a rabbit in the headlights”.
As well as learning the intricacies of filming, Dagleish also learned how to play the melodeon. Initially the plan was for the music to be dubbed and for Dagleish to just look like he was playing. Instead, the eager young actor took it upon himself to learn how to play and by the second series had become so good that he not only played the instrument but he also chose the songs he played. The success of Lark Rise made Dagleish instantly recognizable and he “went from being a student to people stopping me in the street”.
After Lark Rise finished, Dagleish played an entirely different character in a series called Beaver Falls, a comedy-drama about a trio of university graduates working at an American summer camp. Most recently, the 6’ 4” tall actor appeared in the film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney and Matt Daemon. He also made his West End debut last fall in the show Sunny Afternoon, about the rise to stardom of the 1960s band The Kinks. In it, Dagleish plays Kink’s frontman Ray Davies.
Sunny Afternoon opened to rave reviews and has been nominated for various theatre awards, including an Olivier award for Dagleish as Best Actor in a Musical. Dagleish will find out on April 12th, whether he’s won the award, but regardless the reviews have been calling his performance “career-making” and Dagleish hopes to eventually bring the show to Broadway. If he does you can be sure I’ll let you know. In the meantime, you can watch Dagleish in his first television show, Lark Rise to Candleford on Afternoon Tea, weekdays at 4:30pm.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117