David failed his 11+ exam, and was dispatched to St. Helen’s Secondary Modern,
where the Headmaster announced that the school would be holding auditions for an
inaugural Christmas Panto, and any interested pupil should contact one of three
teachers: Audrey Hopkins, Trevor Hesketh or David Dyson. Thus began a fruitful
relationship that lasted six successful years, almost 5,000 attending annually; and it
was following Sinbad The Sailor when David blacked up for the role of lovelorn Ali Ali
that rumours spread about a feature film to be made at the school.
Around 100 youngsters from three sub academic schools met Director Ken Loach,
Producer Tony Garnet and author of the novel A Kestrel For A Knave, Barry Hines;
before a select group of 36 auditioned at the Queen’s Hotel for the role of Billy, or
one of his classmates. Although many of David’s friends thought him a shoe-in for
Casper, he wasn’t so confident - being a year younger than Billy was in real life.
Several boys read for MacDowell and Billy preceding “the fight on the coke,” then Ken
Loach asked three boys to improvise the Library scene – with teacher Trevor Hesketh
Shortly afterwards, the Director’s 2nd Assistant delivered a letter to David’s home,
inviting him to play the coveted role and later, after school meet the three kestrel
chicks at Barry Hines’ house. At the time they were just three speckled balls of fluff
named Freeman, Hardy & Willis; after a well known shoe shop in the1960’s.
KES was filmed in sequence, except for climbing the wall to take a chick, as the
kestrels were growing daily and close to gaining their primary feathers used for flight.
The film took around eight weeks to shoot, working six days a week through the
summer holidays. Suffice to say, it was a memorable experience for all involved – cast
Post production (editing, post-synching, adding a soundtrack etc) followed, and after
three months Kestrel Films had “the finished article,” yet with no-one keen to release
it onto the big screen. The American backers wanted a happy ending (Billy gets a job
in a local zoo!), and as for the broad Barnsley accent, they felt it would be more
understandable in Hungarian.
Undeterred, Kestrel Films finally got a break when the film was invited to screen (out
of competition) at The Cannes Film Festival in May‘69. It took the press and film
industry by storm, with many suggesting it would have won the Grand Prix had it
been an entry in the competition. And yet the American distributors still remained
unconvinced. Another opportunity arose at The BFI’s London Film Festival held in
November; it was the first UK screening with David in attendance, which evoked a
standing ovation, and an uproar among the British press.
Reluctantly, the distributors agreed to a limited northern release in Spring of 1970,
but rather than honour the town where it was filmed, they chose the ABC cinema at
Doncaster for its official world premiere. A few days later KES was finally released in
Barnsley (to tremendous appreciation) then shortly after at most other northern
towns and cities, breaking box office and attendance records along the way. It was
finally given a southern release in summer, where it continued to break box office
Leaving school prematurely, now known as Dai Bradley, David featured on several well
known TV programmes including Z Cars, A Family At War and the children’s series The
Flaxton Boys, before being offered the opportunity of working at the Old Vic, and
later the new National Theatre, for what would be the first of three twelve month
engagements spanning ten years – where he played featured and leading roles, most
notably Alan Strang in Equus. It was a role he would re-create for an eight month
tour of South Africa, followed by a year long national tour of America; receiving Best
Actor nominations in both countries.
Other stage credits include: “Coriolanus, The Tempest, Danton’s Death, Julius Caesar,
The Fire That Consumes, Macbeth, Night Must Fall, The Lion In Winter (Vienna), two
productions of Billy Liar, and The Wound, which he co-directed.
Film and TV credits of note include leading roles in All Quiet on the Western Front,
Absolution, Zulu Dawn, The Glory Glory Days, The Seaweed People, For King And
Country, The Flame Trees of Thika, The World Cup – A Captain’s Tale, and the yet to
be released, Refuge, playing a priest who gives sanctuary to Kurdish refugees fleeing
Saddam Hussein’s inhumane regime.
Over forty years, David has enjoyed working with many celebrated actors; among
them Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Burt Lancaster, Peter O’Toole, John and
Hayley Mills, Joan Plowright, Bob Hoskins, Derek Jacobi, Nigel Hawthorne, Ernest
Borgnine, Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward – and a prima donna Joan Fontaine.
In his personal life, David competed in the World Backgammon Championships, and
reached the semi final and a quarter final in the intermediate division, and in a team
event against the world’s best, made it to the last eight.
During the 1980’s he bought a church in the West Country, partly converting it into
an ideal home before his so called friend pulled out of the venture; leaving him with a
white elephant during the Thatcher years.
David’s main hobbies are: music (Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner and
Oregon, Pat Metheny, and other jazz artists), books (Paul Auster, Jeff Noon, Herman
Hesse, Russell Hoban to name a few), films (his favourite director is Akira Kurosawa,)
the theatre / Fine Arts, TV dramas and documentaries, and all things Mother Nature.
David has been a fervent Barnsley Football Club supporter since a young lad, and
when work allows sits on the terraces with his nephew, Tom cheering on the team.
In the 70’s / 80’s he regularly played charity football for the Entertainers XI alongside
legends like Jimmy Greaves, Ray Crawford, Terry Cooper and Jack Charlton. A gentle
rebel with a cause, he continues to aid charity through his KES – BILLY CASPER web