There is a wealth of British acting talent coming through the ranks on stage and in films. Over the last year people like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Rosamund Pike have all gained critical acclaim and A-List status in Hollywood, and they all have one other thing in common which is that they were privately educated.
It is not just at the top where this is the case; a report by Goldsmiths has shown that only 10% of actors working in the industry are from middle and lower income backgrounds. There are some clear reasons for this which has been well stated before.
One that has affected a large percentage of the nation's youth as a whole is the rise in tuition fees. It is particular worse for drama students as to get truly recognised you need to do a post grad and post grad drama school places aren't funded by the student loan company. This means that they have to attain the fees themselves either by finding scholarships or work to obtain the money. In an interview with The Guardian Julie Walters had something to say on this "People like me wouldn't have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don't know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think: I don't know what to tell you."
Speaking to actors who are from lower income backgrounds they all agree that the worst problem is that to get any work as an actor it is important to have experience. Producers and Directors understand this as well and exploit it by making young actors do gigs for free. From this performers from lower income backgrounds are getting priced out of the market and have to take normal jobs to cover their backs. Whilst there are some companies (like www.RSVP.co.uk , the call centre where I'm working) that offer flexible work for actors, for most employers the fact one of their staff may have an acting career won't even factor in to their contracts.
It is important in the light of the injustices that young actors a facing that we don't take it too far the other way. People like the aforementioned Benedict Cumberbatch and the like, are fantastic actors and deserve to be at the top of the industry because of that. But you have to think that if the actors from the top 10% are doing this well then there must be some really special talent that we are missing out on in the rest of the 90%. What we don't want to happen because of this is that British culture is represented abroad by a completely 'Upstairs Downstairs' point of view. Although the 'Downton Abbey' way of living is a part of our culture and history we are a diverse set of islands with many more stories to tell, we need actors from all backgrounds to portray them. In all industries making people work for free for experience and notoriety must be stopped, or we will have a two tier system in all creative industries.