AVOIDING NATIONAL SERVICE
National Service or conscription was still in force in the UK until 1960. This act meant that single men aged 18 to 41 years old were liable for two years in the armed forces. So being of age, the teenage Stamp was duly summoned, and rather annoyed with himself because he didn't have an escape plan. Fortunately, due to 6 months of electrical treatment on his feet Stamp had undergone when aged fourteen it meant he was exempt from National Service and marked as Grade III (unfit for service). Unlike his contemporaries who had the next 24 months of their lives accounted for, Stamp was now free to realise his dream of being an actor.
LEARNING THE CRAFT
A key figure in Stamp's life at this time was a guy he'd met at a house party called David Baxter: a Beatnik type who dressed cool, danced cool, knew his jazz, and naturally attracted girls. They became friends and hung out together in coffee shops (late night cafes).
They started taking weekly evening classes in Soho (London) learning Method Acting. This was Lee Strasbourg’s famous system who’s pupils included cinematic greats such as Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean. It was when Stamp saw James Dean in East of Eden (dir. Elia Kazen. 1955) in a cinema on the eve of 1956 did he become a convert to the Method Acting system and truly understood why his fellow classmates were so inspired by him. In fact he sat through the screening twice. He was now in the same boat; they were all learning the acting system because they knew their hero James Dean had.
THE MOVE FROM EAST TO WEST
Drawing on the confidence of his friend David Baxter, Stamp joins him in renting an appartment at 64 Harley Street. Located in West London, this street is famous for it's large number of doctors, surgeons, hospitals and clinics. At the same time Stamp's mum, Ethel, had found out she was unexpectedly pregnant, and so it was just as well that Stamp was leaving his small East End family home at 124 Chadwin Road to make space for the new arrival, her fifth child, John Drew Stamp.
Serious steps were needed to get from once a week evening classes to movie star. In 1950's Britain actors in film and television had first to have done their time in theatre. But to join a reportory theatre company one first had to have attended a recognised drama school. London is home to some big name schools: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA); London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA); and Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD). Graduates from these establishments include Peter O’Toole (RADA), Donald Sutherland (LAMDA), and Sir Laurence Olivier (CSSD). The only drawback was the financial expense. That left a fourth option, the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts who offered a ray of hope: a scholarship for students who lacked the finaces but who were of outstanding ability.