Ambridge’s aristocrat is a smash hit

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FANS of the BBC Radio 4 series The Archers will know that David’s year started on the roof and has been on a downer ever since.

They may not know, however, that Tim Bentinck, the actor who plays David… sorry, chaps, it’s not actually real life… grew up just outside Potten End, attending both Rothesay and Berkhamsted schools.

He is also, as the 12th Earl of Portland, a patron of Berkhamsted Town Hall and it was here, in front of a full house on the second day of the Graham Greene International Festival, that he talked with great affection about his childhood in and around Berkhamsted and the part the area has played in shaping his life.

The fact that prior to his invitation to speak this multi-talented man – Tim is also an accomplished stage and television actor, an inventor, writer, computer programmer and a musician – had never actually read a Graham Greene book was immediately forgiven by the audience who were obviously in friendly mood.

Arriving from Tasmania at 18 months old the young Tim lived with his parents – his father Henry Bentinck was a non-conformist intellectual and environmentalist, a remarkable man of whom he is clearly very proud – and two older sisters at Thorn Bank on the Nettleden Road.

Alas, his former home is no longer having been replaced by Ambury House – spookily close in name to his radio home in Ambridge.

His playground was Berkhamsted Common where he and his friends liked to race their bikes through the trenches, build camps, shoot at each other with cap guns, and learned to swim very fast in the freezing cold water at Deer Leap.

One day on an errand to fetch a loaf of bread from Groom’s Bakery on Water End Road he discovered he was a penny short. When he returned with the money later the shopkeeper was so astonished and pleased she gave him a macaroon for his honesty. He’s not told a lie since!

More sombrely, like Graham Greene, Tim’s mum Pauline struggled with depression and eventually took her own life in 1967 close to the water tower where the author had dabbled with Russian roulette.

“I’m surprisingly normal considering”, he said, and it was time for questions from the audience, fielding those inevitable Archer’s ones.

He is like David? No, probably a bit posher and definitely a lot naughtier.

What was it like on that roof? That one was deftly handled with a song from his one man show Love Your Chocolates – go see it!

Extracting Tim from the town hall wasn’t easy but eventually we headed to The Crown having discovered that Costa doesn’t actually sell beer.

There was a bit of Archers chat and we talked about his other projects.

There’s a part in 2012, the BBC 4 Olympics sitcom starring Hugh Bonneville, and a part in Silk, the BBC series about the ups and downs of life as a barrister.

But most exciting is his role as Sir Edward Hasting in the new BBC1 series The Royal Bodyguard with Sir David Jason, Geoffrey Whitehead and Tim Downie.

The first episode of this extremely funny, feelgood, family entertainment, six-parter will air after the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day.

We also chatted about his passion for swimming, his love of buildings, his wonderful, fascinating family and lots more. David Archer is lovely but Tim Bentinck is infinitely more interesting.