An actor and author who originally wanted to be a clown tells PHILIPPA MAY about his inspirations NICK Asbury, whose second book inspired by being part of the epic RSC Histories project is published this month, was just seven years old when he first took to the stage with The Wye Players in Hereford and experienced the thrill of connecting with an audience.

“I was cast as the man who walks across the stage, so I whacked a jumper up my waistcoat to do it and made the audience laugh. That was the moment I realised I could do this standing on stage business.”

Nick retained the ambition of becoming a clown until he was about 12 when it metamorphosed into wanting to be an actor.

“It was the only thing I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I was very lucky to be at Hereford Cathedral School where Colin Gray encouraged me and others to be creative and to consider acting as a way of life.”

Making the decision proved to be the easy part.

“I rang the council in 1989 to ask about getting funding to go to drama school and their response was to laugh down the phone,” he says.

“I then went to Dartington College of Arts as it was the only place that gave you an acting training and a degree at the end of it.

“I then turned up in London at the age of 23 and found that I might as well have trained as a plumber.

My response was to set up a theatre company and work incredibly hard.

“Then doors started opening for me including getting an audition at the RSC. I went in right at the bottom and within a year I was playing major parts.

“Today, I’m in the position of being offered major parts in major shows on stage and even turning them down, but in television I almost have to start at the beginning again.” Though another project could see that change as Nick will be seen on television at the beginning of next year, playing Churchill in a major BBC2 drama entitled 37 Days, and he’s quietly hopeful that his book White Hart, Red Lion might find its way onto the small screen. “There are some documentary companies interested in it,” he says.

Nick’s blog, written while taking part in the ‘crazy, wonderful project’ that was the staging of Shakespeare’s epic history cycle, became his first published work, Exit Pursued by a Badger.

Like his first, White Hart, Red Lion has also grown out of that experience. As he writes in the preface: “I began to find resonsances that seemed to chime with my own experience. Scenes took place in locations that I knew ... but famous events roared by with the hazy familiarity of a schoolboy’s knowledge. Talking to the cast, crew and audience I could sense the same. On some level these Histories touched us all.”

His response was to go on a journey “to find out why they seemed to touch something within us – what is the England that now watches these plays”.

“I want to explore the battlefields of England where the bandages of a wounded nation lie beneath the soil.

“If you look at the tracing paper image Shakespeare puts over history and then at what he came up with, that’s the interesting bit,”

he says.

And so he embarked on his journey, taking with him some of the actors who played the parts “to see what Falstaff thinks of Eastcheap and what Henry V makes of Agincourt”

The result is a book that Nick emphasises is not an academic treatise: “I’m no Simon Schama.” Rather, it’s a book that invites the reader to travel with him as he engages, amuses and informs along the way.

When Nick wasn’t at Hereford’s Nell Gwynne Theatre with his parents, he was often on his cousin’s farm in Devon. “I had two choices, become a farmer or become an actor. It turned out that a farmer’s life is even more precarious than an actor’s.”

As it is he has no regrets, “though I do sometimes wish I was a farmer in the sense of being on the land”.

“In Henry IV part one, Shakespeare talks about Herefordshire without even naming it. I remember when we were performing it, I thought, that’s my area, and being incredibly proud but not really knowing why.

“The older I get the more proud of Herefordshire I am and the more I see how startlingly beautiful and unique it is.”