He epitomises the cockney geezer and hard man on screen, but actor Kenneth Cranham's roots – and fondest memories – belong to Fife

AT THE end of the Second World War, the little mining town of Lochgelly in Fife boasted a miner's institute, a library, a fish and chip shop and an Italian ice-cream bar, Mazzonis.

The latter had a stylish art-deco shopfront and an interior of peppermint-green marble and chrome, with a jukebox that played 78s.

Lochgelly also had two cinemas, as the actor Kenneth Cranham, who was born there, vividly remembers. There was the Cinema Deluxe and the Opera House – the "opry hoose" – where the double features changed three times a week.

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"The only acting I knew when I was a boy came from Lochgelly," he recalls. "With a double bill, people would live their lives in the cinema. You would even see babies being breastfed in the audience."

Cranham is one of Britain's best-known actors, renowned for bringing alive film and TV character roles varying in style from the sinister mobster Jimmy Price in Matthew Vaughn's crime-thriller Layer Cake to the enigmatic preacher Pastor Finch in the multi-award-winning screen adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

He is in Scotland this week to narrate Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. "It's fantastically alarming, because as I do it, (it] is going straight out on Radio 3," he says. Part of the BBC SSO's Russian Winter series, performed at Glasgow's City Halls, it is the story of a man who makes a pact with the Devil, with the 64-year-old Cranham playing the combined roles of the Soldier, the Devil and Narrator.

Cranham trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and his West End credits range from Entertaining Mr Sloane to Gaslight; he got his film breakthrough in the musical Oliver!. But, while he found his greatest fame as a demobbed corporal trying to reconstruct his life and bombed-out home in post-war England in the acclaimed 1980s TV series Shine on Harvey Moon, his own childhood was shaped by post-war Scotland.

He spent a string of childhood stays in Lochgelly with his relatives. The stories of his mother, Margaret MacKay Ferguson, and his aunt, who had Down's syndrome, living with his grandparents in a tiny two-bedroom flat on Lochgelly's Dundas Street, are the stuff of memoirs. Most of all, though, he remembers the cinemas: "When I was in Lochgelly as a boy, I went to the cinema every night – and on Sundays I used to go to Cowdenbeath and see something there."

The acting career that was inspired in part by those films has been remarkably diverse. They've run from his first TV role in Coronation Street to memorable dramas such as Prospero's Books and a starring role as Dr Philip Channard in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, a cult hit about to get its 20th-anniversary DVD release in the US.

Cranham was born on 12 December, 1944, in Dunfermline Infirmary. His father, Ron, a public schoolboy from London, was 19 when the Second World War broke out, and joined the Royal Engineers. He was sent to Cowdenbeath to train, where Lochgelly-born Margaret worked as a librarian. Soon she was also in uniform. They were posted together near Manchester, where Margaret was arrested for smoking on a railway platform. She was something of a rebel, who had proudly flashed her army knickers to her girlfriends.

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His father, posted to Kenya at the war's close, didn't meet his son until he was 18 months old. "He wore a bush hat. When he returned to Lochgelly, his son cried when he tried to pick him up."

After the war Ron Cranham went to night school, took four A levels, got a degree from the London School of Economics and became a civil servant. The family moved to London, but it took time to find a home.

"Camberwell (in south-east London] had four cinemas and a variety theatre that, amazingly, was still going. But London was tough then; it was all like Hiroshima, having been heavily bombed. You certainly didn't have the freedom you did in Scotland.

"My grandfather, Harry Ferguson, was a butcher in Hill of Beath; so even though my grandparents lived in some poverty, we got loads of beef. My grandmother, Meg, was a fine Scottish cook who did slow cooking."

Cranham can remember men gathering in the streets in their dark blue suits and flat caps, in a town that was part of the West Fife constituency known as "Little Moscow". It was in the town library that Cranham read George Orwell for the first time. For "grand" outings, the family would take the ferry to Edinburgh, or go to Dunfermline Glen, the grounds Andrew Carnegie bought for the town.

Cranham's mother had got the Dux Medal in school, and on VE Day the newsreels caught her in the crowd in London.

"All those that knew her in Lochgelly went to the cinema to see her," he says. "She had a smile that would light up the night."

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She died aged 80, still very much a Scot, particularly after a whisky or two.

Cranham has continued to visit Scotland regularly, both as a professional – on stage at the Traverse, or in the Fringe – and privately to tour the islands, visiting North and South Uist and the Orkneys.

His wife, the actress Fiona Victory, whom he met on the set of Harvey Moon, where she played his son's headmistress, is coming up to Glasgow to see him this week. Roger Lloyd Pack ("Trigger" in Only Fools and Horses), Cranham's oldest acting friend who was with him at Rada, will also be in the audience.

Cranham stopped holidaying in Lochgelly in his later teens, when he started having girlfriends. The town's cinemas have long since gone; the Deluxe went first, when it was turned into a drycleaner's.

On one later holiday to Inverness, with fellow actor Peter Firth, when he visited his mother's oldest friend, "Aunt Margaret" (who was actually his mother's cousin), he recognised a footbridge he used to cross as a small child.

"My earliest memory was of this bridge across the river; we turned left along a path and there were pipers with bearskins sitting down in the long grass. They talked to me, and we went through this parade and saw a pipe band marching under floodlights."

It was the drama teachers at Cranham's London school who persuaded him to act in Shakespeare rather than play football in his free time. But in Lochgelly, he says: "I didn't do anything else that would feed into that. I wasn't seeing any theatre. The first thing I wanted to do, as a boy, was to be a skier, because I had seen film footage of somebody skiing. When you see moving images, it (takes you into a] dream world."

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In retrospect, the little Fife town and its cinemas were grist to the mill for any artist, writer or actor in the making, Cranham says. "It was pure escapism, it was captivating, in the form of flights of fantasy."

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