YOUNG actor Elliott Francis is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell after his long locks helped him get a place with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

Fresh from a local production of Kes in which the 15-year-old played amateur falconer Billy Casper, Elliott arrived for an audition with the RSC complete with the long hair he had grown for the part.

But, after three separate auditions which pitted him against fellow actors, he proved himself to be a cut above the rest and was promptly chosen for the company's forthcoming production of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

Proud mother Liz reckons a combination of aspiring acting talent and the hairstyle helped him stand out from the crowd.

Mrs Francis, from Ingleby Barwick, said: "He had just finished playing Billy Casper and had grown his hair long for the part.

"But when he came to audition for the RSC he did not bother getting it cut. When we went to the first audition all the other lads had short, smart hair. But I guess it helped him stand out - that and his brilliant acting skills, of course.

"We are just so proud of him. This could be a really big chance."

Elliott, who attends Conyers School, in Yarm, was chosen after three auditions and will start work on the play in the next week or two.

He said: "I don't know which part I'm going to be playing yet, but it doesn't really matter. I want to go to acting college so this is a great start."