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On the Stage

Though her career was by and large as a screen actress, Ms. Richard also counted among her experience a number of stage plays, done mostly between 1970 and 1980:

Are You Being Served?

A Tribute to John Inman

Blithe Spirit

Let's Go Camping

No Sex Please -- We're British

More recently than these major productions (though not in the latter ten years of her life), Ms. Richard did some panto, which is short for pantomime, a type of seasonal theatre production that is common in the UK, usually around Christmas time. Pantos are generally based on fairy tales, and include singing, dancing, and comedy.


Dick Whittington And His Cat

Wendy also in later years participated in a number of cruise ship programs where she talked about her career and chatted with audience members. I'm told that this sometimes got a bit tricky, since the BBC discouraged EastEnders cast members from talking about the show and, of course, that is often the first thing that she was asked about . . . Granted, this wasn't true 'theatrical' work, but it still meant standing up in front of a live audience, and in my book that falls under the category of stage experience.

Why didn't Wendy do more on the theatrical stage? In her autobiography, she actually addressed this question directly and stated simply that "I'm the first to admit that I've a short attention span and I'd just get bored with the same old lines time and time again." On the lighter side, in a 12 Sep 98 interview with Raymond Jones of PBS station WHRO (Virginia Beach, VA) friend and co-star John Inman made a playful observation:

Jones: ". . . And somebody like Wendy Richard, you mentioned, is a television person."

Inman: "Oh, she's television! She's only done television. She's dreadful -- I love her, I love her to death -- but she's dreadful on the stage. You can't hear her past the front row. She's a telly, or film performer. And she's very, very good at what she does. But that's her bit, you know. It's like a lot of people you've got in television shows here. . . . Not a lot of them go and do a play on tour, on Broadway, or somewhere, or do a piece in the theatre -- not many of them do that. They stick to television."

Thanks to R. W. Hobbes at the AYBS Scrapbook for this interview fragment!

I'm confident that Inman's remark was greatly exaggerated and not altogether accurate, since, as any actor can tell you, someone who fails to project properly while on stage will very quickly have the failing brought to their attention by the production director during rehearsals. Enough said . . .

Yet despite the implied aversion to stage work, in the May 93 Radio Times interview, when asked what she would like to do that she has not done, she responded: "If I were talented enough to sing and dance I would do Annie Oakley, and I would like to do panto again." (Wendy also discussed her panto work in her book.) In regard to the Annie Oakley reference, she said to me that it was because the production has some nice music.

Stage Details

Are You Being Served?

The success of the television series Are You Being Served? drove this stage version of the show. It actually would not have been difficult in some sense, given that the televised series was shot very much like a theater play -- that is, a small number of characters moving within a small number of fixed sets. Of course, Ms. Richard reprised her famous role as Miss Brahms.

The show (here's the cover of the program, 20k), staged by Roger Redfarn (whose earlier work included staging the theater version of Dad's Army), premiered on Friday, 18 June 1976 at the Winter Gardens Pavilion, Blackpool, and played twice a night for about fifteen weeks during the summer season (until October). Here is the program's bio page for her and Nicholas Smith (71k). According to John Inman again:

". . . [I]t was wonderful. There wasn't a seat to be had. It was a great sell-out. It was marvelous, 1976 this was. And it was so successful that what they did was they took the entire script of the stage show and turned it into a movie."

Here's a nice publicity shot of the four primary cast members.

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A Tribute To John Inman

Despite the name, this was not the same production as the television special which Wendy had been the presenter for in March of 2007, shortly after John Inman (a close friend of Wendy's) passed away.  Rather, this tribute production was a one-time theatrical stage event which took place the evening of 30 Sep 07 at the Lyric Theatre, in London's West End. The proceeds from the event went to two charities:  the Grand Order of Water Rats and the Entertainment Artists Benevolent Fund.  Here is a handbill from the show.  Judging by the review offered (archived link) over on the (now defunct) Gracebrothers.net website, Wendy's role during the show appears to have been mostly as a presenter or introducer for various other performing artists.

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Blithe Spirit

"Life without faith is an arid business."
-- NoŽl Coward, Blithe Spirit

This play was written by British playwright NoŽl Coward during the dark days of early World War II. The work was very popular and actually ended up being one of the longest running plays, of any category, in the British theatre. (My suspicion that it holds a firm and recognized place in the British consciousness was set some years ago by a sighting in central Shropshire of a van from "Blythe Spirit Catering Ltd.")

The work is a light comedy and it centers on a writer doing some research into the supernatural by conducting a sťance -- with unexpected consequences . . . There's a much more detailed description in this review of a New England production (archive link) of the play. In the production Wendy played the role of Edith, the nervous maid in the Condomine household. Here is a typical cast page from one of the play's programs (50k) -- in this case, it's from her Darlington engagement.  Theatre programs traditionally include biographical sketches of the primary cast members.  Wendy's write-up is as follows:
"Wendy Richard was born on Teesside, but has lived all her life in London and is a natural Cockney.  She trained at the Italia Conti Stage School and her first success in Show Business was, not as one would expect, in television, stage or films but a record which was made as a gimmick with Mike Sarne, Come Outside, which shot to Number One in the Hit Parade, carrying Wendy to national prominence.
Her television appearances have been numerous and include The Newcomers, Dixon of Dock Green, No Hiding Place, Hugh and I and of course Are You Being Served?, where Wendy has achieved fame as Miss Brahms, a part she has also played on stage and on film."

She appears to have begun touring with the production in August of 1980 for at least four months (squarely between Series 7 and Series 8 of Are You Being Served?).  Covering much of the country, the engagements were patterned as weekly runs, with the troupe spending about a week -- Monday through Saturday -- in each city.  It is certain Wendy performed at the following locales:

  Also, there were performances at the Theatre Royal, Bath, Avon; as well as the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.  In Wendy's book she mentions stops in Lincoln and Eastbourne as well.  New data  A few items from the production are shown below:  (left to right) a poster from the Richmond run (left); an excerpt from the program for the play's Darlington engagement; and the cover and center page from the Peterborough's program.

Poster for "Blithe Spirit", with cast photo of Wendy Richard.
program for "Blithe Spirit", Darlington, with Wendy Richard listed in the cast
program cover for "Blithe Spirit", Peterborough
Center page from program for "Blithe Spirit", Peterborough

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Likely everyone in the Western Hemisphere and beyond is familiar with the Grimm fairly tale and the Disney movie of this name, but what may not be as widely known is that the tale of poor Cinderella has also been the source of inspiration for a rich variety of European and American stage works, from high opera to burlesque. Indeed, Cinderella has evidently been the favorite subject of pantomime plays, ever since it was first produced on the London stage in that form back in the mid-19th Century.

Though the various kinds of stage productions seems to often differ from each other in various details, the play's story nevertheless still roughly mirrors the fairytale: a young, oppressed girl without hope is magically allowed to attend a royal ball, but she must hurry out before the magic's midnight deadline. However, she leaves evidence of her presence which the handsome prince eventually uses to find her again, and they live happily ever afterwards.

Wendy participated in this venerable and popular English Christmas-time tradition many times, beginning with the Christmas season of 1983.  Her role in panto productions of Cinderella was nearly always as Dandini, the Prince's valet and best friend (though one year, 1989, she played the Fairy Godmother instead). Her appearances included:

Christmas season, 1983/84 -- The Orchard Theatre, Dartford, Kent.  This engagement was Wendy's first after her stint in Let's Go Camping the previous summer.  Written and directed by Charles Vance, this production also featured musical direction by David G. Allen (who'd recently written music for the Tom Selleck movie Lassiter).  Other members of the cast included actors Jack Douglas and the late Dickie Henderson
 A cast photo from the show's program:
Cast photo for Wendy's late-1983 pantomime 'Cinderella'
The program's biography for Wendy:
Biography page for Wendy from play's program

Christmas season, 1986/87 -- Brighton, East Sussex. Wendy did a run at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, from Friday, 12 Dec 86 through Saturday, 10 Jan 87, for two performances a day, including New Year's Eve. The production was written and directed by John Nathan-Turner. Ms. Richard shared top billing with Colin Baker (of Dr.Who fame). Hugh Lloyd, with whom she'd worked years before on Hugh and I, also appeared in this production.  There are additional snaps of Wendy in-costume in the 1986 room of the Gallery.
The program's cover page
cover page of program for "Cinderella", Brighton, 1986
The program's bio page for Wendy and Baker:
Biography page for Wendy from play's program
The show's handbill:
Handbill for her late-1986 pantomime 'Cinderella'

Christmas season, 1987/88 -- Hayes, Middlesex (on the west side of what is now Greater London). This performance ran from 12 Dec 87 to 17 Jan 88 at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. Wendy did two performances a day (except for Sundays) in a production directed and produced by Roy Minting (or Minton--references disagree). Here's the flyer printed for the run:

Handbill for her 1987 Cinderella panto appearance

Christmas season, 1989/1990 -- Bromley, London (on the southeast side of the metropolis), at the Churchill Theatre on the High Street.  Wendy remarked in her book that this run was the only time she was not Dandini, and that she much preferred the valet's role to any other in the play. There is also a great photo in the book of her as Fairy Godmother. On the flyer for the run, note that Wendy is introduced as "special guest star":

Handbill for Wendy's 1989/1990 Cinderella panto appearance

There is some evidence that Wendy performed in other years as well; here's a photo of her, possibly from late-1990, in panto costume.

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Dick Whittington And His Cat

The base story for this particular panto is about a boy of low birth who makes good by travels in the exotic east, accompanied by his cat.  It is a well-known story in the UK, though much less so elsewhere.

Wendy's association with this particular production is a bit curious.  Many years ago, this website reported her participation, based on the discovery of a handbill that prominently advertised Wendy's presence for a run during the Christmas season of 1997 (see the "before" handbill, below left).  But as it turned out, she did not do this panto, having injured (or re-injured) her back, preventing any stage work while she recovered.  Your webmeister has the impression that there may have been some hard feelings about her withdrawal.

Had Wendy carried through with the play, it seems like she would have have been Fairy Bowbells, since (as one can see in the "after" handbill, below right) that is the role shown for her replacement, actress/model Lorraine Chase.

Christmas season, 1997/98 -- Theatre Royal Brighton, Brighton, Sussex.  Directed by Antony Johns, who also played one of the characters within the play.  Other members of the cast included Kate Staples (billed as Zodiac, from a previous television sports role of hers) and long-time stage actor Michael Kirk.
The show's original flyer, with Ms. Richard top-billed:
handbill for panto with Wendy's picture
According to Wendy, copies of this flyer with her signature are quite rare (for the obvious reason).
The revised flyer, after Wendy's replacement:
handbill without Wendy's photo

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Let's Go Camping

Wendy appeared in a single run of this production in 1983, for the summer season in Weymouth, beginning on Monday, 13 June.  Unfortunately, it was an experience she later described as "disastrous", due to below-average attendance and an illness on her part that prevented Wendy from performing during the last half of the tour.  The production's handbill (left) and program (right):

Handbill for one of Wendy's appearances in "Let's Go Camping"
program cover for "Let's Go Camping" - Weymouth engagement

New data  There's evidence that before that difficult Weymouth engagement, the production was presented earlier in Bournemouth.  Here's a handbill that indicates there was a run at the Pier Theatre in town, from 16 May to 11 June 1983:

flyer for "Let's Go Camping" - Bournemouth engagement

One of Ms. Richard's costars in Let's Go Camping was Billy Burden, with whom she would later work in 1991 on the television series Grace and Favour.  She had already worked with her other costar, Dora Bryan, on the television series Both Ends Meet.

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No Sex Please, We're British

Written by the team of Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot, this play has been described as "saucy", "farcical", "madcap", "silly", and "delightfully involved". The plot revolves around the misfortunes of Mr. Peter Hunter, an assistant bank manager of the fictitious National United Bank, and his bride, Frances. They live above the bank in a flat where all is peaceful and calm until one day when Frances innocently orders some glassware via an advertisement placed by the "Scandinavian Import Company". This simple attempt at mail-order quickly turns comedic as they begin to receive, instead, an ever-increasing flood of smutty pictures, magazines, books, and movies. By the end of the play, the deliveries even include a pair of attractive -- and willing -- young women named Susan and Barbara. Peter searches frantically for a way to get rid of the tide of deliveries, with the help of his button-down friend, the bank's chief cashier, Brian. Further complications are provided by a visit from Peter's snobbish mother, Elenor; Peter's boss, Mr. Leslie Bromhead; a bank inspector, and of course, the police.

NSPWB seems to have made quite a hit on the British stage in the early Seventies. It ran for years in London, first showing in June of 1971 and finally closing in September of 1987, and thereby edging out Boeing-Boeing as the longest running comedy in British theatre history, according to the USF BritProgram web page (archived copy). Considered today virtually a classic of British comedy/farce, it can still be found in performance in theatres throughout the UK and the US.

Ms. Richard did a relatively short, two week run of this play in Billingham (across the river from her home town of Middlesbrough), and it may possibly have been her first commercial stage experience. She played the part of one of the delivery girls. This was probably in the early or mid-Seventies, since she did it before 1976's Are You Being Served? play.

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