Earlier today I had a fantastic conversation on the phone with the delightful Madeline Smith. Many of you will know Madeline from her successful acting career which has included appearances in Hammer Horror, James Bond and of course Carry On. So Carry On Reading to find out more about Madeline's life and career...
First of all, I'd love to hear more about how you became an actress in the first place...
It was never the plan. There were no connections to the acting profession in my family and it had never really occurred to me that it might be possible. I had always written little plays for friends to perform but that was all. When I was around 15 years old I discovered a youth theatre in Ealing called the Questor. At the time I was at a convent school - the same one Dusty Springfield had been at - and the nun who was responsible for us forbade me from attending the theatre group so that was that. She was very cruel and put me off pursuing acting for quite some time.
Interestingly, later this year I am going to a special screening of one of the films I made in the 1970s - Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. They are showing it at the Questor Theatre which is now run by the son of the man who was in charge when I wanted to join.
One of your early jobs was working for the legendary fashion store Biba, is that right?
Yes I took a temporary job there in 1967, first of all as an assistant in one of Barbara Hulanicki's shops. Barbara spotted me and I appeared as a model in her very first catalogue. That was how I got into modelling. London in the Sixties was a marvellous place to be - if you wanted to go out and do something you just did. I was cheeky and just asked to do things, more modelling and catalogue work followed and I loved it all.
Tell me more about your first professional acting role?
In the 1960s in London you could get spotted in the street and offered modelling work or small parts in films. The very first film I appeared in was called Escalation and it starred among others the actress Claudia Auger. It was fun to do, just a few days, but most of the films I made back then were very slight, fun but nothing to them. Eventually my agent at the time asked if I was serious about acting or wanted to continue as a model. I decided that although I loved modelling, I wanted to concentrate on acting and hopefully get meatier parts.
I must ask about the filming of Carry On Matron. What was that like and what were Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques like to work with?
When I got the part in Matron I was about to give up acting. I had a place to train to become a nurse at St Bartholomew's Hospital. However my father was very proud of the bits of acting work I had been getting and when he found out about Carry On Matron, he insisted I did it. It was a joy to make the Carry On, I was only there for half a day and gone before lunchtime which was a shame. The atmosphere on set was delightful and that was mainly down to the genius of director Gerald Thomas. He was such a nice man, genial with a sunny personality and loved making films and everyone he was with. Hattie and Barbara were really kind and easy to work with and the lovely Joan Sims was there too doing reaction shots to what the three of us were filming. Jacki Piper was also on set although I didn't do anything with her there. She is an adorable person, really lovely and a great friend. Even though I didn't train to be a nurse I did eventually go to University to study English when I was about 30 - I really loved that experience.
Would you like to have appeared in more of the Carry Ons?
Peter Rogers wanted me to come back for more of the films and I would have loved to, Matron was such a good experience. However by the time the next Carry On was going into production I was contracted to do a theatre tour with Patrick Macnee as the star. The tour was awful, the play was bad and the reviews meant nobody came to see us. Dinah Sheridan was also in the play and we were both so miserable. I really regret doing that tour now as it stopped me taking on other lovely jobs like more Carry Ons. Once the tour was finished offers like that had stopped coming in, at least for a while.
Of course they are talking about making another Carry On at the moment...
Yes every so often they come up with the idea to make another but I knew some of the people in the last of the original Carry Ons - Emmannuelle and Columbus - and they weren't fun to make or to watch because the innocence had gone. I have watched some of the comedy series they have remade recently on the BBC and I wish they had left things alone. They all had very talented actors in them but I wish they could do new things with the talent that is around today.
I watched the re-make of Porridge and although it had the same writers it just didn't work for me...
No it didn't, it needed the genius of Ronnie Barker - he was such a lovely man to work with and so was dear Richard Beckinsale. He was lovely and shy and very talented. I worked with him on something before he got Porridge and he was just superb. I could tell then that there was something not right as he didn't seem that well for a young man. It was such a shame when he died.
What are your memories of making the film of Up Pompeii?
It was another delightful experience. Bob Kellett was the director of that film and he was such a lovely man to work for. Bill Fraser was one of the stars of the film and he was an absolute joy - I had been a fan of Bill's for a long time and used to watch him in Bootsie and Snudge on television. Bill brought us champagne for the first day of filming and it certainly all went very well after that!
You worked with Frankie Howerd a great deal I believe. What was he like to work with?
I got on very well with Frankie and worked with him often, quite a bit of it on television. I was part of the furniture, didn't offer opinions or try to steal scenes because he was the star. He was such a talented man and there were never any problems. He was very kind to the women on set and those who worked with him. I don't know why they no longer show his work on television today - he did so many things for both the BBC and ITV and it's such a shame he's not shown, apart from the odd documentary.
You also appeared in the film Theatre of Blood in 1973. What are your memories of that production?
I remember that the part I was originally offered was much bigger than what I played but I really just wanted to be in the film to be with that cast! There were so many revered actors in that film that it was just great to be there with him all around me. It turned out to be a good film and I think it's now a bit of a classic. It was made on a tiny budget, all out on location in the freezing cold with no studio work. It was quite uncomfortable but just great to be with all those wonderful people.
I also must ask about the Bond film Live and Let Die - what was that like to film and what was Roger Moore like to work with?
Roger was absolutely adorable. I had previously worked with him on an episode of The Persuaders. He had slimmed down a bit since then, had shorter hair for the part of Bond was just as professional and lovely to be with. I may be wrong but I think Roger actually suggested me for the part in Live and Let Die. I was only there for three days I think but it was great. They had created Bond's very 1970s flat in a corner of one of the big studios at Pinewood and it felt like a real flat - the attention to detail was superb. It was great to work with the lovely Bernard Lee (M) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) too - she was such a nice lady and there was no fuss with any of them. I knew Michael Caine for a while around that time and the set of the flat always reminded me of his flat at the time.
Did you enjoy working at Pinewood Studios?
Oh yes! I worked at the beautiful Pinewood many times - it was a very comfortable place to work and you were always very well looked after there. The dining room at Pinewood is beautiful too. Very happy times.
I set up my blog as a tribute to Joan Sims, my favourite actress of the day. Why do you think actors like Joan are still so popular?
Because they were just brilliant at what they did. Joan was a superb actress, extremely talented and wonderful comic timing. I agree she could have been a great straight actress too but I understand she was quite insecure about her life and her career which is a great shame.I worked with Joan and Richard Briers in an episode of Ooh La La! a French farce on television in 1973. She was brilliant in that and kept myself and Richard laughing during rehearsals but even then you could see she lacked confidence in herself.
Even though she didn't do much straight acting, I think she was still an actor rather than a comedienne?
Yes you are completely correct - they were most definitely all actors who could do comedy first and foremost.
If you could choose between film, television and the stage, which medium would you prefer to work in?
This might surprise you but I prefer television. It's quick to do, you don't have to get up at the crack of dawn so you're not tired all the time and I like being in a studio, particularly with a live audience. I did a lot of satire and children's television later my career and I think those were my favourites.
What do you think are the main differences with the acting profession now compared to when you were in the business in the 1970s?
I think actors are expected to go a lot further with certain things now - particularly in terms of love scenes and nudity - it always seems to push things further than they need to go and if it was my time now I don't think I'd be completely comfortable with it. Having said that, there is a lot of great stuff being produced these days and I'd certainly say the quality of the drama we see on television now is definitely much better.
I had an absolute ball chatting with Madeline, she couldn't have been nicer to interview. It was fun, lively and thoroughly enjoyable. A bit thank you to Madeline for giving up her Sunday afternoon to talk to me. I hope you've all enjoyed the interview!