The original independent woman, actress Honor Blackman found fame in the 1960s with her portrayal of feisty females. Now aged 88, she will be revealing all about her life and work in a new show which arrives in Kent this week. Honor chatted to Kathryn Tye about some of her career highlights, her new role as a grandma, and why she hates being called a Bond Girl.
Veteran actress Honor Blackman may be just two years from her 90th birthday, but she remains as feisty and forthright as ever.
Although perhaps best known for her iconic performance as Pussy Galore in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, she is quick to protest at being described as a ‘Bond Girl’.
“I hate being a Bond Girl. So many of them were absolute bimbos and Pussy Galore wasn’t. She was a professional and a very authoritative character who didn’t fall flat on her back when she saw Sean - though it didn’t take her too long! It wouldn’t take anybody too long! I loved working with him.”
Indeed, Honor’s most successful roles have always been as powerful females, from the leather-clad Cathy Gale in 1960s TV series The Avengers, to the mischievous glamorous grandma Laura West in hit 1990s ITV sitcom the Upper Hand.
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore
She said: “People often ask if I feel that my own personality is reflected in the characters, and I suppose in a way I am a strong woman. I think I am like my father and that is fairly forceful. I am fairly shy but when it matters I am quite a forceful character.”
“I laughed a lot - I don’t know how the show ever got done! My character was such fun, I had all the best lines. And it was such a lovely group, we were like a family and so fond of each other. It was nice to be part of a hit show again.”Despite her many Hollywood roles, Honor describes her experience on the Upper Hand, which ran for six years, as one of the best in her career.
Honor was playing a grandmother in the show, yet it is only in the last decade that she has taken on that role in real life, with four grandchildren aged from 10 to seven.
“People used to bore me to death saying how wonderful it was being a grandmother and now I bore everybody else to death! It is great. I love being a grandma.”
And the importance Honor places on family life is reflected in the relaxed tour schedule for her latest show.
“I’m at a stage in life where I can say my summer is sacred, so we did five or six in the spring and then I went to Spain and the family joined me for the school holidays, then I come back and start again. I definitely don’t overwork. Going on tour implies going out one day or at the most two, then waiting a week or a fortnight and doing another. I certainly don’t do one on top of another.”
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore
It is Honor’s fifth one woman show, but the first where she is joined onstage by Richard Digby Day, a director and long-time friend, who interviews her.
She said: “I thought that it would be much more pleasant to do it as a conversation, rather than talking about myself for the entire evening.
“Also, Richard has known me for 33 years, so if I can’t think of something, he will remind me, and it is so much more fun because we can have jokes of our own.”
Honor first came up with the idea of a show about her life in response to years of demands for an autobiography.
“I have been asked by publishers for ever when will I do my autobiography and I don’t want to write one. The idea of writing the whole damn thing down! It has been a long life, and I think it is very boring to sit and try and write it out. So doing a show was a wicked way of getting out of it.”
In addition to anecdotes about her career, Honor will tell stories of her childhood, of growing up during the Second World War, and of her rise to stardom, which happened by accident.
She said: “My family weren’t rich, and my father thought that if you could speak well it would help your progress in life, so he gave me elocution lessons for my 16th birthday.
"My education was broken up because of the war, and my teacher introduced me to plays and poetry, all the things I had never done. That’s how it all began.
"I hardly knew anything about the theatre. The idea of going never entered anybody’s head in my family. Nobody ever had. It was quite a shock all round really but I was buzzing there like a very direct bee because I found it all fascinating.”
Honor will also be demonstrating her vocal talents during the show, singing a selection of her favourite songs including Send in the Clowns which she performed in Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music, and Falling in Love Again, made famous by Marlene Dietrich.
Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee in The Avengers
One song she won’t be singing is Kinky Boots, the duet she recorded with her Avengers co-star Patrick Macnee in 1964, which enjoyed a revival in 1990, reaching No.5 in the UK chart.
She said: “I need my Patrick to sing that! The actual recording of it was a nightmare. As Patrick was first to admit when the idea was suggested, he has no sense of rhythm and he can’t sing in tune. We tried and tried, then we retired to the pub and had a couple of brandies and decided that Patrick would speak it.
"The producer tapped him on the shoulder every time it was his line and I did the singing bit, though it wasn’t exactly opera-style. But it was very funny and it has followed me around ever since. There are always great groans - from me, anyway - when it is played because it is not my best piece of work.”
She added: “I never dreamed of being a star, and I certainly didn’t think I would have such a successful career. I was on a TV programme recently where they put up on screen that I had been in the industry for 66 years and I nearly fainted!”
Honor Blackman will be at Deal’s Astor Theatre on Friday, October 18. Doors open at 7.30pm for 8pm. Tickets £15 or £12 for concessions. Call 01304 370220.