Stephen originated from a lower-middle-class background. As a child, he was a pupil at Orange Hill Grammar School in Edgware where he excelled at drama, English, and swimming. He was extremely popular and was feted for his performances in school plays. He defied predictions of academic greatness by choosing to work in the building trade, prior to becoming involved in acting.
His love of acting was sparked in his teenage years when watching a performance at the Watford Palace Theater. IN 1968 he joined Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating in 1971. After his studies he joined the Ipswich theatre, and later the Stephen Joseph Theatre, in Scarborough, at the invitation of actor and playwright Alan Ayckbourn. While in Scarborough, he appeared in several important productions, including Absent Friends, Bedroom Farce, The Breadwinners and The Brontes of Haworth, by Christopher Fry, in 1985.