Watching the assembled Gurkhas and their supporters outside Parliament recently reminded me of how acting can be a perilous profession. Championing the Gurkha cause has been the evergreen Joanna Lumley, who has had to suffer the perils more than once over the years.
The young Ms Lumley was a top model in the 1960s, and for a while a regular on television, as Ken Barlow’s posh girlfriend in Coronation Street. She even got to appear in a Bond film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the one starring Big Fry) where she had one very memorable line: “Of course, I know what he’s allergic to”. But then she found herself out of favour and out of work.
Having to sign on, when folks still saw her as someone “off the telly”, must have been the most difficult of tasks. So it was no surprise that she went for the role of Purdey in the New Avengers with gusto and grim determination, to the delight not only of audiences, but all the womens’ hairdressers who cashed in on the craze for “Purdey cuts”. But later, again, she seemed to disappear from view.
Not for long: in the early 90s came Absolutely Fabulous, a series that could never be exported to the USA, because after taking out all the alcohol related content, and the non-PC language, there was very little left. Her character, Patsy Stone, had originally been pencilled in by creator Jennifer Saunders for a male actor. And Pats wasn’t a very nice person – but we didn’t care.
And now Joanna Lumley has become an occasional documentary star, campaigner, and all round National Treasure (thought she probably hates such labelling). Not by merely being there, but by being determined and purposeful as well as agreeable. All those qualities can be discovered in her first autobiography, which is a rather good read.
It’s called simply “Stare Back and Smile”.