Saturday, 7 January 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Josephine Bailey

I first got in touch with actor and writer Josephine Bailey via Twitter. Josephine, now living in the United States, was born in England and trained to become an actor at a young age, studying at the famous Corona Academy. One of her earliest roles was as one of the school children in the classic 1959 film, Carry On Teacher.
Jo very kindly agreed to answer my questions about her early times as an actor, her experience of meeting the legendary Kenneth Williams and the diverse paths her life has taken her in ever since. It's a fascinating story so Carry On Reading...

First of all, I'd love to know what led you to becoming an actor as a child when you lived in England?

My sister and I were not given a choice; my mother decided that "show business" was the only future for us. My sister went to the Italia Conti stage school and I to the Corona Academy (now called the Ravenscourt Theatre School). My sister played Cinderella to Jon Pertwee as Buttons at the Wimbledon Theatre. She became a professional dancer and danced at the Empire Leicester Square when it belonged to MGM, was a Tiller Girl and was with the Silhouettes on the Billy Cotton Band Show for a few years. She married a well-known trumpet player who counted Louis Armstrong, Liberace, Lord Roundtree and George Melachrino among his many friends. Growing up, before my time at Corona, I spent a lot of time backstage theatres and in TV studios. 

I believe you trained at the famous Corona Academy. What are your memories of that experience and which other young actors did you work alongside during that time?
There were some illustrious schoolmates in my class, including: Richard O'Sullivan, Jill Haworth, Francesca Annis, Frazer Hines etc. A good vintage. I was a very shy child so this was probably the worst profession my mother could have picked and I was in awe of the (seeming) absolute self-confidence of most of the kids. My misery was exacerbated by her less-than-professional skills in hair cutting, which resulted in the unexpected, not to say often startling, appearance of my fringe. 
With my long hair tied in a pony tail, and wearing the school's green blazer, I must have looked fashionably gender-neutral because to my mortification (my toes still curl with embarrassment) a producer at one audition called me "sonny". Well, he did have slightly crossed eyes... I had a huge crush on Richard O'Sullivan, who was present at the audition, and I recall the acute longing for a bolt of lightning to strike me. And the producer. 

Can you tell me about any of the  productions you worked on around this time?
I'm still amazed I got any roles at all; some non-speaking parts in films: Clowns in Clover (Life's a Circus) with the Crazy Gang, during which I became terribly ill with appendicitis; Corridors of Blood with Boris Karloff (my scenes were cut!), whom I remember as a quiet, gentle man; Carry on Teacher; promotional stuff for The Belles of St. Trinians. 
My speaking roles were all for live television, either ITV or BBC. I was cast twice as a child with polio--my mother always said I looked sickly--once in a drama with Dermot Walsh and Eunice Gayson and another time in a children's TV play. The "In a Nutshell" and "Bookshelf" series were an excellent means of inspiring children to read. A "celebrity" introduced a book, followed by dramatized excerpts. In one I played Anne of Green Gables and two or three were adapted from Five Children and It/ The Samoyed. Rolf Harris created and animated the Samoyed puppet. He seemed like a nice enough guy at the time and had very little interaction with us, or at least not with me. Maybe it was my fringe. 

I know you had a small role as one of the school children in Carry On Teacher in 1959. Do you have any specific memories of that film and of working with the likes of Kenneth Williams?
Kenneth Williams was the host of one of these series for a while, although I didn't actually meet him until working on Carry on Teacher. I found him to be utterly charming; he was kind, even seeming interested, in an inconsequential, unattractive kid. He asked me if I would like a cup of tea, brought it to me with a currant bun and sat chatting. I loved him for that. I believe that the affection of the public for performers of the 1950s/1960s has endured because they were so much a part of our every-day lives; coming into our homes on radio before they were even seen on TV. And that affection is why their popularity is so enduring. The talent to make people laugh is surely the most precious of all and is what they all had in common. The utter stupidity of "political correctness" was still unknown.
Kenneth Williams, Al Reid, Frankie Howerd, Sid James, Irene Handl, Hattie Jacques, Tony Hancock et al brought fun and laughter into our lives, they felt like family and watching them again rouses bittersweet, nostalgic longing for our youth and simpler times.

After your time working as a young actor, you trained as a dancer. Can you tell me more about that experience?
At Corona we were trained for every theatrical discipline: ballet, jazz, tap, voice and drama. I was never a good dancer, not like my sister, but I needed to earn a living and when I was sixteen I auditioned for The Stafford Dancers. To my surprise they offered me a job. There were usually twelve of us, sometimes a smaller group of five. We toured Europe and beyond. I danced in Paris, Nice, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland and even Libya, when it was still a monarchy. One terrible night in Benidorm, Spain, after eating dinner some of the dancers decided to take a horse and carriage to the nightclub, which was outside the town. At some point, on the dark highway, one of the two dim carriage lamps fell off, leaving us virtually invisible to traffic. We, of course, were oblivious to this until a truck came barrelling out of the night, the driver not seeing us until it was too late. Only the poor horse did not survive. We were all thrown across the highway, suffering concussions, bruises and cuts. The next night we were back on stage. 

Moral of the story? Make sure it's an equity contract!

I understand you mainly work as a voice actor and as an author now? How did you come to specialise in voice work and in what ways does it differ from other areas of the acting profession?
After a long hiatus in what I laughingly call my career, during which I raised two daughters and lived in Canada, the USA, England, France and Bermuda, I moved to the United States permanently. Needing to earn a living, I used my vocal acting talents and was very fortunate to be represented by two of the most prestigious agencies: ICM and Willlam Morris in Los Angeles. I found, belatedly in life, an area of the profession that I truly loved and enjoyed. Voice actors are among the most talented in the business, and the most fun to work with. I did character voices for TV cartoons, Disney theme park rides, commercials, industrial videos and even GPS systems. 
I did several play readings with my dear, late friend Tony Jay and had the honour of appearing in Betrayal with the superb Ian Ruskin and Jacob Witkin. At the suggestion of an actor friend I auditioned for Books on Tape, which is now owned by Random House. I have now recorded more than seventy audio books and received one Audie award (for Sherlock Holmes with Martin Jarvis, directed by Yuri Rasovtsky), two Audie nominations and several "Earphones" awards.

You have also written a book, Hotey. Can you tell me more about this story and what motivated you to write it?

During this time my husband, who is a brilliant, compassionate psychologist, urged me to complete writing a book I'd begun a few years earlier. Hotey  was published in 2013. I love the book, love Hotey, love all the characters and believe everyone should also love it and read it! Although I wrote it with young people in mind the reviews on Amazon are all from adult readers. The biggest thrill, and that which made it all worthwhile, is receiving essays written by thirteen/fourteen-year old kids who read Hotey as their class literature project. 

With experience in so many different mediums, what's next for you?
You ask what comes next? Who knows? I don't suppose I shall record any more as I've dismantled my home studio and no longer live in Los Angeles or New York, which is where the studios are located. Possibly another book, depending on the success of Hotey. For now I'm tending a new home, enjoying life with my husband and reveling in the loving companionship of our little foundling dog, Annie. Annie weighs twenty pounds, was abandoned in the woods when she was about six months old, where she survived an entire, freezing winter. She was too fearful to approach us but we put food out every day and eventually trapped her. I promised her she would never be cold or hungry again and I absolutely adore her. Here we have deer, bears, bobcats, coyotes, delicious water, fresh air and glorious, mountain countryside. It's a lifetime away from a post-war childhood in Harlesden and Chelsea and I count my blessings every day.

I'd like to thank Jo for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully and I wish her well for 2017! You can follow Jo on Twitter here and visit her website here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

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