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Appearance on My Favorite Hymns (2003)

John Stapleton

Broadcast by:
ITV Wales (Granada Productions)

"[?]" is used to indicate uncertain transcription phrases.

The setting of the interview appears to be a cozy living room, with both Ms. Richard and Mr. Stevenson sitting in large lounge chairs.

JS: "Wendy, you've been in EastEnders right from the word 'go'. Is there a danger that Pauline might, sort of, consume your life?"

WR: "I think some ways she has, yes, because I found myself the other day with this crystal fruit bowl someone had given me as a gift, and I found myself putting it in the middle of the dining table. I thought: 'Pauline's fruit bowl: the woman's taking me over ...' It's difficult for me because you have to realize I've lived in Pauline's house longer than I have in my own home."

JS: "That's a bizarre thought, isn't it?"

WR: "It is, yes."

JS: "Do you like her?"

WR: (smiling) : "I do like Pauline, yes, and I get very hurt when they say unkind things about her in the paper, because . . . she would fight tooth and nail for her family. She would do anything for them. And of course she refuses to see any wrong in Martin. Really, he's a good boy, really. All her children have been good. And she loved Arthur, very much. And she misses him. And I think it's nice now that she's got a companion in Derek."

JS: "What about your relationship with your sons off-stage. I mean, are you something of a mother figure to them, off-stage as well as on?"

WR: "Well, James Alexandrou who plays my youngest son, he comes in to set when we meet in the morning, and he always comes up and gives me a kiss: 'hullo, mum', and that's it for the rest of the day unless it's in the script. But I always get a Mother's Day gift from him and a card. And Todd [Carty] sometimes used to call me 'mummy' [mom]. We were at a charity do [event] once, and we were all dressed up and everything, and Todd comes in, and he said 'oh, hello, mummy!' and I went 'not when we're out! Doesn't matter when we're in, but not when we're out!' "

JS: "You've had some good times there too; for example, Princess Di [archived link] came, I think, to see you all."

WR: "Oh, yes. I remember when she arrived on the lot. BBC security were in a real queen snit, because they didn't expect her, because as I say, it was a total surprise. And Susan Tully, who played Michelle, was holding baby Vickie in her arms, and the baby was crying -- it was teething time -- and Diana got out of the car and went straight up to Sue Tully, and started to talk to her about the baby, and making a fuss at the baby. Sue Tully was the first person Diana spoke to."

JS: "You talk to her yourself?"

WR: "Oh, yes, we had a long discussion about the merits of thermal underwear."

JS: "Because you have to wear it on the set . . ."

WR: "Oh, it's freezing cold on that lot. And Diana said, you know she was always so beautifully dressed, and when she had to attend parade grounds and things like that, with the wind blowing around, she found the benefits of thermal underwear very helpful."

JS: "Let's have a pause for some music; you've chosen as your first hymn Hallelujah. Now why that one?"

WR: "When I was a child, I was brought up in Shepherd Market in Mayfair here, and my parents had Shepherd's Tavern [in Hertford Street]. And the pubs in those days opened from 12 to 2. So we didn't go to church in the morning on Sundays, but I would get into bed with Mummy and Daddy, and we'd all sit up in bed and we'd have, as it was called in those day, a 'home service', and we'd have the morning service song, and we'd all sit there and have a rousing sing-song, and sing along to all the hymns."

A clip of a choir singing the "Hallelujah" from Handel's "The Messiah".

JS: "Let me talk a little bit about your background. You mentioned that you were brought up just around the corner from where we're sitting now, in London's Mayfair. Your dad was a pub landlord."

WR: "Yes."

JS: "What sort of childhood did you have?"

WR: "A very happy childhood. My school is just up the road in Mount Street. Because my parents were in business, I had a succession of nannies. My favorite one was a Dutch one named Wilhelmina, because she used to take my friends and I to the park, and she'd run around and play cowboys and Indians with us. T'was great fun."

JS: "What about the relationship with your Dad? Were you a bit of a Daddy's girl?"

WR: "Oh, very much so, yes."

JS: "But you wouldn't see that much of him, I guess, because of the business."

WR: "No, Sunday was the longest I ever saw them, with the pub being closed from 2 until 7."

JS: "And what were your interests as a young girl? Was the theatre foremost among them?"

WR: "Well, my father had been a friend of Chesney Allen some years ago. And so I was brought up on visits to Victoria Palace to see The Crazy Gang and always at least two pantomimes a year. And I think it's a shame that people don't encourage their children, or take their children, to see a live show. Because there's nothing like it."

JS: "But also you were a potential skater, at one time?"

WR: "Oh, yes, I used to go to ice-skating classes down at Queensway Queen's Ice Rink. And I thought I was going to be the next Sonja Henie or something like that, but unfortunately it didn't work out."

JS: "And you lost your father when you were 10, 12 years old?"

WR: "Eleven, yes..."

JS: "Eleven years old, when he committed suicide. That must have been devastating, not only for your mother, but for you as well, as a child."

WR: "Yes. Yes, it was. Life was obviously never the same after that. My mother had to go . . . I suppose there was a bit of Pauline in Mummy, really, because she had to go from being the governor's wife to having to go to work for other people. Whereas she was always beautifully dressed when she was behind the bar, she would put a pinny [apron] on and learn to get on with it. But you do. I was very fortunate that the Freemasons looked after me and I went away to [the] old Masonic school in Rickmansworth, to boarding school."

JS: "But you found your father, you found his body?"

WR: "Yes, I found Daddy, he was in front of the fireplace."

JS: "Terrible . . . So you went away to school, because obviously it was easier for your mum. What was boarding school like? Did you find that easy?"

WR: "Well, in some ways, no, but if I had had children -- and the money -- I would have sent them to boarding school, because I thinks it teach you to live in community, to get up in the morning, to be on time, and a bit of discipline."

JS: "And what happened to your theatrical ambitions, or interests?"

WR: "They had gone, obviously. And then when I left school, my first job was just down the road at Fortnum & Mason. I was a junior in the fashion department. Which was to hold me in good stead many years later."

JS: "Indeed, yes."

WR: "My mother then scrapped the money together to send me to drama school, which I did, I went to Italia Conte. But then you see I started to get work, so I never actually finished [?] course or anything, because as I said, I started to get work, so that was that." [webmeister's note: in her book, Wendy indicates she stayed 'three terms' at Italia Conte.]

JS: "Let's pause for some more music. The second hymn you've chosen is Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Another rousing one."

WR: "Yes, I love that. I mean, I am a sports-free zone; I don't like sports, but I mean Chariot has been connected with the rugby, and I do like rugby, especially when my country is playing, I get very [?] wave the flag."

A musical interlude featuring the music.

JS: "Now you mentioned that you worked in Fortnum & Mason's for a while, which is ironic wasn't it, given that in later life you'd be showing in Are You Being Served?. Was it really good training, I mean for the part?"

WR: "Well, I don't know. I mean, I say that lightheartedly. When you're a junior, you're the lowest of the low. You weren't allowed to speak to the customers."

JS: "But it's one of a number of jobs you had, with the intent of always being on the stage, correct?"

WR: "Obviously, I had to go to work before I went to drama school."

JS: "So, how did Are You Being Served? come about for you?"

WR: "Well, I'd worked with David Croft several times. The first job I did for him was Hugh and I, with Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd. And Mollie Sugden played my auntie. And then I did Dad's Army. And then Croft teamed up with Jeremy Lloyd, and Jeremy had this idea about a department store, because Jeremy had worked at Simpson's, and I think it was John Inman who was at Austin Reed in Reagent Street, and I'd been at Fortnum."

JS: "Do you regret the fact that you probably wouldn't get away with some of the lines in that show in these days of political correctness?"

WR: "I think political correctness is the worst thing ever to happen to British humor and British comedy."

JS: "It was harmless fun as far as you were concerned?"

WR: "Of course, and as David said, all self-cleaning jokes. T'was like seaside postcards."

JS: "EastEnders, of course, continued where Are You Being Served? left off, in a way, didn't it?"

WR: "Yes, I finished Are You Being Served? at the beginning of the year and was in the blue overall before the end of the year."

JS: "Now again, you've got a series that's massively popular and deals with some thorny sort of social issues, doesn't it?"

WR: "When we first started, we dealt with . . . Pauline having a late baby, she's, what, in her forties, and about having amniocentesis tests, and telling Pauline off of smoking, and then there was the teenage pregnancy with Michelle. Because I think we were there to entertain, but we had to put across a public message. As long as it wasn't too labored, it is still entertainment."

JS: "And other issues that affect everyday people."

WR: "Of course. The biggest one we had was with Mark, when he came home to announce to his parents that he was HIV. And I forget who was the Minister of Health at the time, but they wrote a charming letter which was pinned up on our notice board, to all the writers and the cast, to say how well they dealt with the subject, that it wasn't scare-mongering, it was a sensible and good way in putting it across."

JS: "You said something, that you accept that you have a serious responsibility in that regard, in that you're a fictional character, but you're dealing with real-life thorny issues and the way you play then and the way the writers write them actually could have a real impact on peoples' life, couldn't it?"

WR: "Yes . . . yes . . . oh, absolutely. I know that most of my fan mail comes from children, and I feel I have a responsibility toward them. When Michelle tells Pauline she was pregnant, I had a letter from a young girl, she said 'I watched EastEnders last night with my mother, and that gave me the courage to tell my mother that I'm pregnant.' "

JS: "You've chosen as your next hymn Jerusalem, a popular one with a lot of our guests. Why that?"

WR: "Oh, I just love it. You said earlier about a good rousing sing-song. And this is the one to have it to. I just think it's . . . wonderful!"

A musical interlude featuring the music.

JS: "Tell me about your faith. And how big a part it plays in your life."

WR: "Although we don't go to church regularly... You don't have to go to church to say your prayers, you can say them anywhere at anytime. And I do regard myself as a practicing Christian, because it was the way I was brought up, and both my parents were very Christian people. And I think it is important. I feel sorry for people who have no faith . . . I just don't understand how they can live their lives without having faith."

JS: "Have there been times when you've questioned it? I'm thinking perhaps in particular of the occasion on which you discovered you had breast cancer."

WR: "Yeah. Well . . . I sat there and I thought 'why me?', and then you think 'why not me?'. You know, you're nobody special. And then I thought, well, there's obviously a lesson in life for me to learn in this. This is for a reason. God only does things for a reason. So, fortunately I had this wonderful surgeon, Mr. Gilmore, and a brilliant oncologist, Carmel Coulter, and I was extremely well looked after. With their help and their skills, I got through it. And I was all clear for seven years, and back it came again. So I thought, well, obviously I didn't take on board the lesson I was supposed to learn the first time, so off we go again. So, same surgeon, same oncologist. And, please God, we've beaten again this time."

JS: "Well, let's hope you have. And what you think you learned from it? What did you learn about yourself?"

WR: "I think it's made me more tolerant. I've found as you get older, you get less and less tolerant of things and people. And also, my oncologist, Carmel, said to me, you must learn to cherish yourself. You've got to make time for yourself. Not always rushing around doing things for other people. Make time for yourself. So I have a lie-down every afternoon, go to sleep for a couple of hours, and then get up, cup of tea, learn my lines, and then get up at six o'clock the next morning and go to work."

JS: "And presumably in a crisis like that, you realize who your real friends are?"

WR: "Oh, absolutely. I mean, I've been so fortunate with my friends, and especially my partner John, who is a lot younger than I am, . . . and I know that with some people their partners have run off screaming, no help to them at all when they found out they've got cancer. But John has stood by me; he's looked after me, and, ... I don't think I could have got through it without him."

JS: "And your faith helped with cancer?"

WR: "Oh, absolutely. I mean, you pray to God for help to get you through it, and then you pray to give your thanks. I mean, I thank God every day that I wake up that I got my health back, and I also thank God that I've got such a marvelous job, because I'm extremely fortunate."

JS: "And there have been other times too when you've had some setback in life, like your father dying, and I gather that a fellow actor had a premonition of some kind, a spiritual premonition of some kind, about your mother. . ."

WR: "Oh, yes, yes, Ivor Dean. He had the gift of clairvoyance. And I was very worried about my mother, she was very ill. And Ivor, who used to live in the Brighton area, and traveled home on the train, he came up to me at work the next day, and he said 'I don't want to upset you, Wendy, but I understand you're a believer', and I said 'yes', and he told me that he had seen Daddy, and described him to the red carnation in his buttonhole and everything, and he said, 'you will not . . .' -- because I was terrified that I would go home and find my mother dead in her room. . . ."

JS: "He had a premonition that she was going to die . . "

WR: "He said, 'you will not find her dead, instead you will find her in a collapsed state, and obviously she will go into hospital, and she will pass away, but not for some time yet.' "

JS: "And can you sit, in your head, with that kind of spiritual premonition, alongside your more conventional faith? The two . . . They don't present any problem for you?"

WR: "No, I don't think so. I mean, it's not as if you're dabbling in witchcraft, or slaughtering white -- what is it? -- chickens or cockerels or something, whatever it is they do. No, it's nothing like that."

JS: "Did you believe that some people have some sort of supernatural ability?"

WR: "Yes, and I do believe in an afterlife, I think that's where you go, and you will see your loved ones again. And I'm sure there are times . . . I know that my parents are always with me now, probably just over my shoulder, and they'll help to guide me through the rest of my life."

JS: "Let's have a pause for some more music, and you've chosen Immortal, Invisible. Why?"

WR: "Again, it's a good tune, and its a good sing-song."

A musical interlude featuring the music.

JS: "I read a quote from you somewhere, saying that as far as men are concerned, your trouble is that you're too soft and too generous. Is that right?"

WR: "Yes!" (laughing) "I've learned my lesson now!"

JS: "How does that show itself; how has it manifested itself?"

WR: "Well, just being taken for granted, really. But I think with John, I have a proper partnership with him. And it's a two-way thing. It's like, on Friday it has to be bed-changing day and that's the day to do the laundry. And if I'm working on a Friday, he does it. If I'm not working -- he's probably out playing golf -- then I do it. It's . . . a give and take thing."

JS: "You've found someone you can really and truly be content with. And you love him."

WR: "Yes. Yes."

JS: "I'm not going into the nitty-gritty details, because [?] that kind of program. But there have been problems in regard to men in the past? And you've been betrayed by them too?"

WR: "Yes, you see, one of the sad things about being in a successful soap, and you see it with the new people that join, is there are ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, husbands, wives, all come out of the woodwork with checkbook journalism, and they say the most appalling things about you, and they get their money. But, you know, at the end of the day, it's tomorrow's fish and chip paper."

JS: "Well that can't at the forefront of your mind when you pick up that paper on Sunday morning. That must be pretty hurtful."

WR: "It is. You see . . . . I don't think people realize what nasty things they can say about people until they see it in print. You see? And unfortunately you can not take back the spoken word, once you've said that about somebody, something nasty. And I don't know how people live with themselves, really. I mean, I've had dreadful things said about me. One ex-husband said that I was an alcoholic. Well, I don't look like an alcoholic, and I certainly couldn't have kept my job for nearly twenty years if I had been an alcoholic. I mean, how could I learn my lines? I like to go out for a drink with my friends at weekends, yes, that's it. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to relax and have a drink when they've finished work."

JS: "And these are allegations, and these are stories -- everyone's got skeletons in their closets, everyone's got something they'd probably prefer not to have in the public domain, but these are things that are being revealed by someone that you trusted and helped . . ."

WR: "I know. ."

JS: "Which makes it worse, because it's not one of your enemies . . ."

WR: "No, I know . . . "

JS: "What do you do when you get up in the morning and see that?"

WR: "Well, this last one I just mentioned, somebody brought a copy of the newspaper in on a Saturday night, before it hit the newsstands on Sunday morning, and we were sitting in a pub having a drink, and there were about six of us, and we thought, oh, well, it could have been worse, he'll be the one who will be the loser in the end.. And it's funny, that it doesn't mention that I paid him money to go. And the day he did go, I'd left a meal cooked for him -- I didn't know what day he was going to go, and --" (laughing) "-- he ate his dinner, put the stuff in the dishwasher, packed up his stuff and went."

JS: "Others would say of course that is the price of fame, you've got to live with that, Wendy, if you want to be a star, if you want to be in people's home every 3 or 4 nights of the week. that's something you've got to live with."

WR: "Yeah, but I've never regarded myself as a star. I'm a working actress. I do understand that some of our life has be within the public domain, but we are still entitled to a bit of privacy. You see things in papers that say 'if you see a star on holiday...' "

JS: "Misbehaving...."

WR: "Even if they were misbehaving, or even just sitting by a pool. We're all entitled to have a break from work."

JS: "Looking back on it though, looking back on your life, and the days when you were a young girl running around these streets where we're sitting now in London's West End to where you are now. What are your thoughts?"

WR: "Well, I've worked jolly hard all my life, and I have got a nice house and I hope nobody begrudges me in it, because there's been a lot of tears shed and a lot of hard work, you know, to have the nice home that I have got."

JS: "You've paid your dues."

WR: "I've paid my dues. And you see, don't forget that because I was brought up in the license trade, I never had my own, as I call it, front door until 1974."

JS: "You're always living above the shop, as it were?"

WR: "Always living above the shop, as it were, yes."

JS: "I Vow to Thee, My Country is your last choice. Suggesting you're a pretty patriotic person."

WR: "Oh, very much so, yes."

JS: "And a [?] fan of a great tune."

WR: "Absolutely."

A musical interlude featuring the music.

JS: "What, if any, are your regrets in life?"

WR: "I didn't make more of the opportunities that I had before. You know, David Croft gave me an absolute gift there. And I did a few movies and everything. I did a movie with Albert Finney, which I got extremely good reviews for. And I just wonder what I missed, by not . . . Was there something else I should have done? Did I miss out a bit? But I mean, in another way, I didn't miss out, because Pauline is a marvelous character. She's done very well for me, and I've said before, I'm very proud of her. And I got the MBE for playing her."

JS: "You did indeed. [?]. And that brings me to the next question: what is your proudest moment; your proudest achievement?"

WR: "Oh, I think to go to the palace to meet the Queen to get my MBE. I took three of the best criers with me: I took John, my agent, and Joy, my closest lady friend. And then we had a party, at the Cricketer, down the road. And the whole place was done out with Union Jacks and crosses of St. George. We invited a great cross-selection of friends. The postman was there, people from the local, a couple of costermongers [fruit and vegetable street vendors] from Oxford Street that we were pally with, and we just had a wonderful celebration. Everyone said it was the best day they'd ever had; I thought it was the best day I'd ever had."

JS: "How would you like to be remembered? A question I ask all of our guests."

WR: "Oh, 'she was a good girl.' "

JS: "I don't think you have any worries. Wendy, thank you very much indeed."

WR: "Thank you."

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