SO, shock horror, the worst kept secret in the acting profession is out. The posh boys, such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and James Norton, are getting all the best jobs. Recent research by the Sutton Trust found that 73 per cent of polled actors were from a background of privilege and that 47 per cent of Bafta winners had been to public school. This, in a country where the middle class make up only 27 per cent of the population.

Over the last few months, such well-respected actors as Julie Walters, James McAvoy, David Morrissey, Ian McKellen and Christopher Eccleston have expressed concern that working-class actors are being sidelined. Are they right?

My own professional journey may give you some indication as to the challenges facing working-class actors. On leaving school in Drumchapel, at 16, I started work as an apprentice in the Glasgow Steel Roofing Co in Springburn, the place my father worked as an electrician. I had no choice in the matter. "You start on Monday," I was told. "We need the money."

Some 18 months later I walked up the steps to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), in my boiler suit, burst through the door of the registrar's office and heard a voice saying: "I want to be an actor." Where that voice came from I have no idea, but probably somewhere in my subconscious. I auditioned and was accepted.

My three years' training were challenging, exciting and eye-opening. I learned what it means to create a character then stand under a bright light on a stage and communicate, project that character, that story, to an audience.

Many years later, I began to realise that you cannot teach someone how to act; you either have it or you don't. What you can teach, is how to show off that talent to its best. Acting on stage, on radio, television or film demands different techniques.

After my three years at the RSAMD, I was asked to join the company of actors Giles Havergal was forming at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre. I was one of a company of 24, the only Scot and, if memory serves, the only working-class person amongst them. I spent the next 10 years at the Citz playing such classical roles as Hamlet (twice), Troilus, Figaro, Bosola, Nijinsky, Lady Macbeth, Petruchio, Al Capone, Stanley Kovalski ... and Mother Goose.

For all of those years I was Scotland's leading classical actor – not because I was the best but simply because I had the wonderful opportunity to play more of those roles than anyone else. Those years were innovative and truly exciting. The Citizens company toured Europe and the Middle East, representing Britain at festivals of theatre around the world. I felt very privileged.

Today, the demise of the repertory theatre system in our country due to successive cutbacks in arts funding from governments of all political persuasions, means that such opportunities are not available to young actors, and that is a tragedy.

After leaving the Citz I starred in my first film, A Sense Of Freedom, in which I played Jimmy Boyle. Based on the autobiography of the convicted Glasgow gangland killer, it was the first working-class character I had played since I started acting. Stylistically, that Scottish Television film was ahead of its time. It garnered great reviews and much controversy. Personally, I received reviews such as: "Hayman is magnificent but I would like to know the street corner in Glasgow where they found him, a natural talent."

I had three years' training and 10 years of classical theatre behind me, yet it was presumed I must have happened to be standing on a street corner when the director was looking for someone to play Boyle.

After that, the telephone didn't stop ringing. Come and play a Glaswegian thug, a Glaswegian drunk, come and play Jimmy Boyle again and again and again. The industry had found a working-class pigeon hole they could put me in.

As a guest at the Television and Radio Industry Awards (predecessor of the Baftas), I was approached by a television executive who warmly congratulated me on my performance as Boyle and said: "You deserve it but you won't get Best Actor Award because it's too working class and too controversial."

The offers kept coming, but I refused them all, as I did not want to play Jimmy Boyle or Glasgow thugs all of my life. Disillusioned by the industry, I stopped acting and concentrated on directing, where I had more control. I directed theatre TV and films and in my time managed to discover or give a start to the likes of James McAvoy, Robert Carlyle, Douglas Henshall, Tommy Flanagan, Andy Serkis, John Hannah and Iain Glen.

That is not a bad line-up of successful talent and all but one are working-class actors with not a shred of privilege between them. I am proud of that and it was intentional on my part to give those from a similar background to mine a start in the industry. But of the countless directors and producers I have worked with over the years, I'd say that 90 per cent were middle-class and many of them attended fee-paying schools. Would they feel the same responsibility to working class talent?

(Interestingly, I thought James McAvoy's performance in the film of Irvine Welsh's Filth truly extraordinary. It was dangerous, sexy, charismatic, beguiling and morally challenging. I thought he would be nominated for an Oscar and a Bafta, but no, he was ignored except, thank heaven's, not by Bafta Scotland and I had the honour of presenting him with the Best Film Actor Award. Was that a case of his performance being too controversial, too working-class?)

Of the above list of talent, all, apart from Flanagan, went to drama school. Nowadays, they would be much less likely to access this kind of training, given the costs involved. To audition for any drama school in this country costs £75-£100. If you are lucky enough to be recalled, you'll have to pay yet another fee.

Then there is the cost of travelling to those auditions, particularly if you live in a rural area. A couple of years ago, I worked with a teenage girl from Islay, who was acting in a film that I was producing about issues affecting young people on the islands. She desperately wanted to go to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). That entailed either a flight to Glasgow, or a ferry to the mainland followed by a trip by car, bus or train to Glasgow then home again. An overnight stay may also have been required. With or without a recall, you are talking about a substantial financial outlay by her parents.

If even getting into drama school can cost a couple of hundred pounds, what about the costs of living in a city far from home? How many working-class families, however committed they are to their children's future, can afford that outlay?

Let us say a working-class teenager is accepted for drama training. What happens when they graduate? There are around 35,000 actors in the UK, yet at any given time there are only around 3,000 jobs in radio, theatre, television and film. That equates to a perpetual unemployment rate of more than 90 per cent within the industry. And your average working actor only works for three months per year.

Those are horrific statistics. However, actors put up with the situation because we love what we do, it is a vocation, we have no choice. Actors at

have to keep abreast of what is happening in the industry and that means going to see theatre and movies, it involves meeting people who might be in a position to employ you, it means, that terrible word, networking.

And that costs money. Going to theatre and movies these days is expensive but as a performing artist it is a necessity: to be inspired, to be motivated, to make connections, to be seen ... to feel that, even though you are not working, you are still part of this wonderful, magical thing called performance art.

Julie Walters has said she worries that a time will come when there are no working-class actors. I think she is wrong: of course there will always be those from a less privileged background who wish to act and will do so. However, chances are they will be ghetto-ised in soaps like River City, EastEnders, Brookside and Coronation Street and those endless cops and docs dramas broadcasters can't seem to get away from.

Since those actors will not have been trained, they will not have the abilities to tackle the challenges of a Shakespeare or a Webster or a Eugene O'Neill, they will not have the technique to fill a proscenium arch theatre and experience the joys of doing so. They won't have learned to speak in different accents. If they are happy in the soaps playing the same character year after year, then I am truly happy for them, but if they have the aspiration to explore and expand the range of their acting talent then I am afraid the odds are stacked against them.

I remember my first meeting with a top London casting director who asked me what work I had done. When I listed the huge range of classical roles I had played at the Citizens Theatre, she responded, very patronisingly, with: "Well, dear, all that means nothing down here."

Ten years of the classics, representing the UK around the world: nothing?

In contrast, I was recently filming Henry IV for television and was talking to a young cast member. He was 18 years old and very posh: he'd been educated at Eton. Intrigued, I asked him what it was like.

He told me that his father, the managing director of a major company, had wanted him to go to Eton and then into business but his son wanted to be an actor so they visited Eton to see what they had to offer a young man wishing to enter the acting profession. He was shown round their television and film studio, their small, intimate cumpus studio theatre and their much larger classical stage and was asked what parts he would like to play while he was a student.

Having had access to that kind of resources and opportunities while still at secondary school, his way will be paved with gold. I expect to see that young man's name up in lights before very long.

The late, great Jimmy Reid once said to me, on walkabout round Glasgow as we passed a domestic tower block: "Behind that windae, son, could be a future politician; behind that yin a formula one racing driver, behind that yin a writer or performer or musician, behind that yin could be an engineer. We just don't know and the way of the world means we may never do."

Words of wisdom from the great man: he is sorely missed.

At the heart of every child is a dream. On a trip to Afghanistan on behalf of my humanitarian organisation, Spirit Aid, to visit a small school that I set up, I asked the pupils what they wanted to be when they left school. The answers were many and varied: I want to an ambulance driver, I want to be a farmer, I want to be an electrician.

Then an 11-year-old boy named Shafiq put his hand up. "Mr David," he said, "I want to be an actor."

Shafiq had known nothing but poverty and war for all of his 11 years living in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, and he had a dream in his heart of being an actor. I was speechless. Where was that dream given birth?

I do not know, but that is why one of my projects, Shooters, is a film production company that gives young people a voice through the medium of film to express their thoughts about the world around them and the issues that are important to them. We neglect the children of our world at our peril. And to our great loss, we trash too many of those young dreams.

So, is this exclusion of working-class actors deliberate?

It is certainly true that there is a class ceiling. However, I don't necessarily believe it is a conscious one. It comes about because most of the people who run broadcasting and film companies and theatres are from a very small demographic. They are from middle-class, fee-paying school backgrounds and the work they commission will reflect their lives, needs and aspirations, their values and outlooks on life and the world.

If the purpose of art is to hold a mirror up to society, to reflect the diversity and richness, the challenges and triumphs of humanity in all its complexity, then we are doing so from a very narrow perspective: the perspective of privilege. Actors are in the business of entertainment and through entertainment we have the opportunity to educate, to illuminate, to inform and inspire. That is both exciting and challenging, but if middle-class tastes are the only ones deemed culturally legitimate, then those tastes will prevail – and the views of the less privileged in our society will effectively be ignored.

To put all of this into some kind of context, we have to look at the professions in general where the same trends and tastes prevail. From politics to banking, from medicine to media, from journalism to business ... all these fields are led by and reflect the interests of the privileged.

This is even true in sport. Over 40 per cent of medal-winners at the London Olympics were from fee-paying schools. What does that tell us? Quite simply that if resources are available, young people will respond and talent will be discovered.

Recently, the Warwick Commission stated that arts and culture are systematically being removed from the state education system as women, black and ethnic minorities and those from less affluent backgrounds see their social mobility decreasing, if not actually coming to a halt.

If less privileged youngsters are to have the glorious opportunities afforded to that aspiring young actor from Eton, we will need to change the system of state education, from a no longer fit-for-purpose, 19th-century, industrial focus to a more vocational based education which is geared to discovering and nurturing the natural inclinations and interests of our young people. They are our future and the future is precious.

If the creative, cultural industries such as theatre, television and film help shape and organise our understanding of society and make sense of a fractured, unjust and increasingly complex and violent world, then it is vital that the stories we tell not only reflect all the richness and diversity of our world, but also that the storytellers do as well.