TO his millions of fans, Hollywood actor Christian Bale is known as the Caped Crusader but his former primary school teacher will always remember his Donald Duck impression.
Val Knight, 77, of Shiplake Cross, taught the Batman star in his first year at Shiplake Primary School which he attended from the age of five until 11.
Now she is keeping her fingers crossed for the Oscars on Sunday night where Bale is nominated in the best actor category for his role in American Hustle.
Bale, 40, plays conman Irving Rosenfeld in the crime drama set in the Seventies.
As a child, the actor lived in Gravel Road, Binfield Heath, with his parents Jenny, a dancer, and David, an entrepreneur, and sisters Sharon and Louise.
Mrs Knight said: “He was talented, popular and lively — a good lad. I was very fond of him and all the family.
“When he was five he had no weaknesses. He was a good impressionist. He had star quality.
“Now his American accent is absolutely faultless. He has turned from a beautiful talented boy into a talented adult.”
Bale, who now lives in California, paid a return visit to the school with his wife and mother 10 years ago and left a signed photograph of himself in his Batman costume for a fund-raising auction.
Mrs Knight recalled: “He turned up in the playground. I showed him around and he remembered so many details I’d forgotten. He remembered all sorts of things.
“One of the things he used to do was Donald Duck, a very good Donald Duck impression. When he came to visit I said ‘you used to do Donald Duck’ and his wife said to him, ‘you still do that’.
“He got his part in Empire of the Sun when he was about 11, I think. He was in year six, the top class.
“We never actually gave him the starring role in our school productions. We could have kicked ourselves.”
Mrs Knight said the Bale children were all talented, musically and artistically as well as academically.
Louise starred in Bugsy Malone in the West End at the age of nine or 10 and Mrs Knight believed she might have been the one destined for stardom.
She said the family also lived in Queen Street, Henley, when Bale was a little older.
Mr Bale snr, who died in 2003, was a talent spotter and had a pilot’s licence while his wife was a circus entertainer and later a member of the Cameo Dancers, who were founded by Maggie Beedell, of Valley Road, Henley.
Mrs Knight said: “They were a really lovely family. I remember they would leave their Christmas tree and decorations up for months and they were all crazy about animals. They were always picking up stray cats and God knows what.”
Margery Williams, 94, who still lives in Gravel Road, used to babysit the Bale children when the family lived a few doors away. She said: “I knew Christian when he was a little lad, a toddler. He was a lovely little boy, very chatty. If you went by he’d be on the gate and he’d talk to you.
“I’ve often thought I’d love to see him again. I’d say to him, ‘you’ve done well in your life, young Christian, keep it up’. I do hope he wins [the Oscar].”
Mrs Beedell, 70, said she hadn’t heard from Mrs Bale for about 20 years but added: “I think she’s going to be very, very proud.”