Monday, 27 February 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Amanda Barrie


 

Earlier today I had the great pleasure of chatting with the Queen of the Nile herself, the wonderful Amanda Barrie. It was quite a surreal moment to have Amanda ring me up at home for a chat but it was absolutely joyous. Amanda is best known for appearing in two Carry On films, for her twenty year stint as Alma in Coronation Street and more recent appearances in series like Bad Girls and The Real Marigold Hotel. As well as finding out more about all this, I also wanted to ask Amanda about some her earlier work as a leading lady on the West End stage. 

Here's how I got on...

I wanted to ask about your time working as a dancer with Barbara Windsor and Danny La Rue. What are your memories of that time?


That was back in the 1950s, we did cabaret together! Bryan Blackburn produced a lot of those shows and there was an incredibly high standard with lots of good people. That was how a lot of people like Barbara and Una Stubbs got started and we all went on to do revues in the theatre. Of course the revues don’t happen any more which is a shame.

The cabaret shows were always late at night and people would come and have dinner and sometimes stay up all night and have breakfast! I remember one night staying up talking to Judy Garland’s husband all about race horses. Sometimes I look back and can’t believe it all actually happened. 

 



You appeared in the revue On The Brighter Side with Stanley Baxter and Betty Marsden. What were they like to work with?

I’d known Stanley even before we did the revue. I did a panto up in Glasgow at the Theatre Royal on Hope Street and he was Buttons! He is a great man and very talented. On The Brighter Side had a great cast – people like Pip Hinton, David Kernan, Ronnie Barker, Una Stubbs. Wonderful.

I remember while we were doing the pantomime in Glasgow I ended up in a Police Station! In those days the dancers weren’t listed on the theatre posters and I was caught adding my name to one of them! I was dragged down to the station and made to rub it off!



Six of One saw you work with the great Richard Wattis and Dora Bryan. Were they happy times?

I’ve never laughed so much! It lasted a full year and I think it’s probably the happiest show I have ever been involved in. We once laughed so much that they actually had to bring the curtain down! I was dressed as a daffodil, Dora was a primrose and then Richard Wattis came on a bluebell! We just couldn’t stop laughing and they both ran off and left me on my own! Richard was great and I still miss him. And Dora was such a talented woman.

 

You worked for Stephen Frears in one of the Plays For Today on the BBC. I read that your history as a Carry On actor caused him to think hard on whether to cast you?

Yes that’s absolutely true! The play was Early Struggles with Tom Conti. People had suggested to Stephen that he should see me for the part and he called me and walked round and round and said he’d have to go and think about it overnight as he’d never cast a Carry On actor before! He did subsequently cast me and the play was very good, it was much more serious than some of the other work I was doing at the time and it was good for me. And it’s great to say I’ve worked for Stephen Frears.



I think you starred in two West End runs with the wonderful Paul Eddington. What was he like to work with?

Yes I did two years in the West End with Paul. We did Donkeys’ Years by Michael Frayn and then Absurd Person Singular. I played his wife, he was a good actor and it was such a privilege to work with him. We had the best time and the work we did was equally written and very shared. He was a good friend as well as a colleague and such a nice man. A great loss.

 

You appeared in a revival of Oh Kay! In 1974. How important a role was that for you?

It meant a lot to me personally as I have always been a massive fan of Gertrude Lawrence. Guy Bolton who had written it – he met me and took a lot of convincing to let me go on and do it. I had to prove to him that I was such a fan of hers, that she was my heroine and that it meant so much to me. Once he understood he let me do it. P.G Wodehouse, who co-wrote the book with Bolton, sent me a letter while I was playing in Oh Kay! and he signed it “Plum” which was what he always called himself. I treasured that letter.




My comedy heroine is Joan Sims. Are you a fan of her work?

Oh yes, she was such a good actress. She was so underrated but she had the ability to do anything. Joan was a fine actress. She could have gone and worked at the National Theatre. 

 

I think she was quite insecure, despite all her talent.

Yes a lot of actors are – they have a love/hate relationship with acting and the insecurities and lack of confidence can plague them.



I understand you got on very well with both Sid James and Charles Hawtrey while you were making Carry On Cleo?

I loved Sid! Again, we just laughed all the time when we worked together. He was great to work with as was Charles. Charles Hawtrey kept bringing me in bits of food as he always worried I wasn’t eating enough. I was rushing around filming Cleo in the day and performing in She Loves Me in the West End at night so I didn’t have a lot of time. He kept bringing me in pieces of haddock for my dinner but I never got around to eating it! I think Cleo actually stands up pretty well as a film in its own right, even after all these years. It’s got a brilliant script and we had all the sets and costumes from Cleopatra so it looks like a big budget film. I saw some of it when it was on television last weekend and I thought it stood up well.

 



You went off to the Bristol Old Vic after making Cleo. Would you have liked to have made more Carry Ons?

You’ve done your homework! Yes by that stage I’d done quite a few bits and pieces for the people who made the Carry Ons and I’d done other films like them…



You made a Doctor film (Doctor in Distress) and films like A Pair of Briefs…

A Pair of Briefs! All the classics…Operation Bullshine! Yes I could probably have done more Carry Ons as I was becoming known to them and I think they wanted me to come back but in those days the Carry Ons weren’t thought of as anything special. You couldn’t do them and be seen as a serious actor. So my agent packed me off to the Bristol Old Vic to do proper acting and it was probably a good thing.



Your first Coronation Street scenes were with Pat Phoenix as the legendary Elsie Tanner. How was that?

Terrifying! Even though I’d worked in films and television and been a leading lady in the West End I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was acting opposite “Elsie Tanner”! I think the characters in Coronation Street are so strong that after a while the actor and the character merged into one and that’s how it was with her. She had played her so long by that point, she just was Elsie.

The other one I loved was Doris Speed who played Annie Walker. I had such admiration for her, she was a lesson on how to deliver those speeches and her timing was wonderful. She would go down the corridor next to me and ask me if she had odd coloured socks on! She was lovely.

 

I loved your rapport with Sue Nicholls who plays Audrey. What was she like to work with?

I absolutely love Sue, she’s a great actress and a lovely person to be with. We had such fun and I remember we always wanted to do more comedy between Alma and Audrey but it didn’t work out like that which is a shame. She was with me all the time when Alma was dying towards the end, we worked together a lot at that time. I always laugh when they repeat that episode of Alma going as Audrey wasn’t there, she was late and when she finally gets there Alma’s gone and all you can see is the tip of my nose as I’m lying there!  I loved working with Sue and Helen Worth who plays Gail. Barbara Knox (Rita) and Eileen Derbyshire (Emily) were also lovely and great to work with. I still think Barbara could have been one of our biggest music stars, she’s so talented.



One of my all-time favourites was Jill Summers who played Phyllis Pearce. What was she like to work with?

I’ll always remember coming on set with Jill and she’d recently been quite unwell. All of a sudden she grabbed my arm and said “Amanda! I’m going! I think I’m going!” I asked her where and she said she thought she was dying! I said she couldn’t die as we had a scene to do and I wouldn’t let her go in the chair! Oh, I thought I’d never work again after that! And the director Brian Mills didn’t know anything about what was going on at the time! She was something else!



At this point Amanda does an uncanny impersonation of the gravel-voiced Jill Summers which takes me some time to get over! 

 

Jill was a great actress though, very real. She had quite a history, she’d been a stand up comic and done all sorts of work, she was very experienced. She was quite well to do, I don’t think she needed to work but she loved it. She used to come up to my dressing room and pester me to come down because we could get a free meal at the local French restaurant! She was a real character.

I went to see her in hospital a few days before she died. Her last words in hospital before she did die were typical. The nurse had asked if she wanted a drop of brandy and she said no. Then she was offered a cup of tea and she said no. Finally the nurse offered her some water. Jill replied “It gets better, doesn’t it”.



I remember a scene you did with Jill in the café. She was talking about getting older and how she’d once been young and gorgeous and how nowadays she looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise herself.

Yes I remember doing that scene! She was wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I’d worked with her in it, but it all tends to merge together because there was so much.

 

Do you keep in touch with people from Coronation Street?

Mainly Helen Worth and Sue Nicholls because I knew them best while I was in the show. Helen came to my wedding. I invited Sue but she was busy working. I keep up with what they are doing and make sure they are all still in it. They do such a good job.



Finally, what’s coming up next for you?

Well The Real Marigold Hotel is going out at the moment. It was a great show to do and I’m still in touch with everyone who was on it with me. I rescued a stray dog while I was in India. You’ll see Poppy in the last episode. I couldn’t bring her home with me but we got her checked out and treated and rehomed.

I recently received an Icon Award for outstanding achievement from Attitude Magazine. Paul O’Grady presented me with it and I was so proud! When I wrote about my private life in my autobiography I didn’t know what people would think but I needed to do it. It was so hard while I was in Coronation Street because the press were always after a story and it made it very difficult. But look how things have changed even in the past decade.



Will you be back in Benidorm?

Yes I’m in an episode of the new series, as Psychic Sue again. It was good to be back and working with Sherrie Hewson again. I’ve also been to Tel Aviv to do the most outrageous series for a new online channel called Black Pearl. There are twenty short television episodes and some of the material was outrageous! I ended up in bed with a drag queen, he’s a big star over there and it was quite a big deal! I’ve also filmed a series called Bus Pass Bandits which was me and Henry Blofeld in Soho! That was a hoot and he’s become another good friend.



And you’ve been causing controversy on morning television! 

Yes, I didn’t realise saying “shit-hot” was a swear word! And anyway I was shit-hot on that Segway! 


I had an absolute ball talking with Amanda. She has long been one of my heroines and she was just as funny, entertaining and delightful as I'd hoped she would be. I'd like to thank her very much for giving me a ring on a wet Monday in February - it brightened up my day. And i'll be holding her to the offer of a drink or two in Covent Garden! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

2 comments:

  1. wonderful interview guys, loved it and made me sigh for those good old days!

    ReplyDelete