Published: 13:35, 11 March 2015
You might not know the name, but you’ll certainly know the face. Ever since actress Josephine Tewson appeared on TV with the Two Ronnies in 1970, the work has barely stopped.
After RADA graduate Josephine, now 84, appeared with Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in their sketches she then went on to Z Cars, Terry and June, Coronation Street, Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine among others.
However, it is as Hyacinth Bucket’s long-suffering neighbour Elizabeth in Keeping Up Appearances that we know her best.
In reality, Josephine had personal experience of a difficult yet comedic relationship of her own in her first short-lived marriage to the late actor Leonard Rossiter, star of Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
“It’s that big mistake a lot of people make if they work together and get on well together, which we did in the profession, but that’s not the same as living with anybody,” says Josephine of their union from 1958 to 1961.
“No, it was... well a total disaster, really. He didn’t know he was being self-centred, he really didn’t and he had an adoring mother who did everything for him.”
Pointing to her current one-woman show recounting the best bits from her life in showbusiness, called Still Keeping Up Appearances, Josephine says: “There are some very funny stories about her when we were together.”
If you want to hear them though, it will have to be at Deal’s Astor Theatre on Friday, March 13. “I can tell you it’s very funny and there are slides so that, when I’m talking about somebody, there will be a picture to look at. They’ll get a lot of laughs, I can guarantee that,” she says.
There’s certainly a lot of material at Josephine’s disposal. On top of the theatre work, there’s the TV work with the Two Ronnies (“We did something like 40 weeks every Sunday, and it got me very used to cameras and all that sort of thing,”), the Charlie Drake Show (“Once I’d worked with Charlie Drake a lot of comedians asked me to do something or other,”) and all sorts of brief spells in TV dramas from Doctors to Corrie (“I played somebody’s sister when there was a wedding.”)
Anecdotes about Keeping Up Appearances, which ran from 1990 to 1995, provide a rich seam of humorous stories, including Josephine’s memories of working with Patricia Routledge, who played the formidable social climber Hyacinth Bucket.
“I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her but nevertheless she’s very professional and absolutely marvellous to work with,” says Josephine.
It is Josephine’s energy, quick wit and ready stories that led a friend of hers to suggest doing a one woman show and at 84 she decided to meet the challenge head-on.
She says: “The first time, I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified in my life, it was just sheer terror, but I did it and it went terribly well. They go out falling about laughing.”
LOST AND FOUND
Josephine says her flair for acting could be in the family genes but she’ll never know for sure, because her father was a foundling.
“My mother, a nurse, was far from a performer, and even if she had tried she wouldn’t have been very good. My dad, though, was brought up at the Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square, London. The composer Handel was one of the people who founded it and he made all the boys learn a musical instrument .
“My dad happened to become a musician. He was a double bass player and worked for Joe Lyons Corner Houses.
“So as dad was just left at the hospital, perhaps it was an out-of-work actress who couldn’t keep the child?”
THE TWO RONNIES
“They were absolutely divine, really lovely: very generous,” says Josephine.
“Ronnie Barker and I were both in a play in London by Tom Stoppard so when Ronnie was then doing the TV and they needed an actress, he said, ‘Oh I know somebody; she’s very versatile and I’m working with her at the moment’.
Nothing was recorded then because it cost too much money, so everything was done live.
They couldn’t keep getting into drag when it was live, so they had to get girls in to play the girls’ parts, so I was very, very lucky there. I’m very grateful to both the Ronnies.”
Josephine Tewson brings her one-woman show, Still Keeping Up Appearances, to Deal’s Astor Theatre on Friday, March 13, at 8pm. Tickets cost £12. Visit www.theastor.org or call 01304 370220.
It will then visit the Stag Plaza in Sevenoaks on Friday, April 10. Tickets cost £12.50. Visit www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk or call 01732 450175.