Creative Forces



Comedian Dawn French is the daughter of an RAF technician. Actress Juliet Stevenson's father was a British Army Officer. In conversation with Fiona Lindsay (herself a Navy child), they explore how their highly nomadic childhoods may have shaped their adult careers.

Between them, they went to 28 junior schools in Germany, Malta, Australia, Cyprus, Italy, North Africa and all over the UK. They found themselves constantly adjusting to different climates, geology, cultures and people. They also regularly had to make new friends and adopt new life styles. Each developed strategies for dealing with the constant change.

Juliet sees parallels between the lives of an actor and army child. Both enter a community, make close relationships very quickly, and then move on. Her own separation from her mother, on being sent to boarding school, caused her great distress. It's an experience she says gave her a wellspring of emotional memory from which to draw when performing roles such as in the play Duet For One.

Dawn wonders whether her enforced childhood gregariousness helps her face new audiences. After a sleepless night, she would arrive at a new school and put on a display of 'personality fireworks' in order to win acceptance. She became the joker of the pack, perhaps laying the foundation for her starring roles in The Vicar of Dibley and French and Saunders. Indeed, when she first met Jennifer Saunders she reckons they got on so well because Jennifer too was a Forces child.

Producer: Chris Eldon Lee

A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.


Dawn French and Juliet Stevenson reveal how a military childhood shaped their careers.