ON October 9, 1961, 15-year-old Brian Cox stepped on to the Dundee Rep stage for the first time, in AA Milne’s The Dover Road. “I’ve no idea why I wasn’t fired immediately,” he says. “I was to play a waiter, but had no idea what Silver Service was, so they arranged for me to go to the Queen's Hotel and do my homework.

“I’m at the back of the stage with my back to the audience. I would put fish in sauce on a plate and a waitress would take it away. The last portion I was to serve, but I dropped it on the floor.

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"On stage I thought nobody’s looking... I bent down, slapped it back on the plate and got cream sauce all down my arm. Then I proceeded to get it all over an actor’s tuxedo and a waitress’s face. An utter disaster.”

The teenage Cox had first known about the Rep through his Auntie Cathy, who was part of the audience that director Tony Page dubbed “the felties” after their collective penchant for a nice felt hat. “My Auntie Cathy was a wee bit snooty, it’s true,’’ says Cox. ‘‘I was a movie kid though and wasn’t sure about live theatre. Then a teacher of mine, Bill Dewar, started something called The Rep Club. We would go to the Wednesday matinee performances. For me it was important because there I saw Nicol Williamson act.”

Dewar was a teacher who looked out for Cox, who describes his education as disastrous. “I knew I wanted to be an actor, but I had no idea how to achieve that. I was even thinking about the Merchant Navy.”

When Dewar heard of a job opportunity at Dundee Rep, he encouraged Cox to apply. “On the day of my interview I came across Nicol Williamson in the middle of a punch-up with a stage manager. It was proper fisticuffs that I needed to dodge to get up the stairs. A man on the landing was smoking, and he said, ‘Are you OK darling?’. I knew this was my life now.’’ The theatre in Nicoll Street became the teenager’s virtual home. He would sleep under the stage more often than not. It was fortunate that he wasn’t in the building on the day of his 17th birthday, June 1, 1963, when it went up in flames. “I was broken-hearted,” he says. “They struggled to keep me from running into the building when it was still on fire.”

This was the year he would take his place at LAMDA, having auditioned successfully at 16. “The tragedy of the fire is that Richard Buckle had just redesigned it, decorating it with beautiful dark roses. It was a warm and welcoming auditorium for just over 200, with a small raised balcony. It also had a very good stage with great acoustics.

“To be honest, I was never impressed with the Lochee Road theatre, I thought it was tinny. I suppose it was a church hall, so it was what it was, but that original Rep was converted into a real theatre.”

Brian credits his years at the Rep as providing the education of experience.

“It was fortnightly rep, so we worked hard. The actors who had been through the theatre by that time included Glenda Jackson, Susannah York, Virginia McKenna and Richard Todd. Nicol was still there when I joined, as well as Edward Fox.”

Theatre, however, is “the great leveller” he says. “Class and background are irrelevant and that’s why I think it’s fantastic to be a part of. When I joined, I had a strong Dundee accent – I was ‘a’ like thon eh?’ It made no difference. I knew I had to learn to speak differently but I also had to learn to produce my voice.

“I still have great fun with Americans, giving them things to say in the Dundee dialect, especially ‘I’ve eaten it all’, which is ‘Eh eh ih ah’. It’s all vowels.”

A rounded theatre education meant taking on the role of stage manager. “Again, I have no idea why I wasn’t fired. I shot another stage manager in the nose when he was trying to show me how to handle a prop gun. ‘It’s OK son… it’s just a wee bit burnt...’ “I forgot to put the safety curtain up twice, leaving the actors stranded. I would just hear ‘oh f***’ and think, ‘that’s not in the play’. I was terrible. Once I was on page 11 of the script and the actors were on page 26. An actress came and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Telephone!’, and I said, ‘What, for me?’ and she said, ‘No. On the stage!’”

Brian credits the formation of the Ensemble 20 years ago as maintaining the Rep’s collaborative culture. “Hamish Glen’s idea to have an ensemble company again in 1999 gave the Rep that strength again – a chance for actors to work together with meaning and immediacy.

“It formed me and shaped me and introduced me to my world. I owe the Rep everything.”