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WEEKEND, 2-8 March 1977
Wendy Richard looks quite at home as a salesgirl in BBC TV's Are You Being Served? But that's because she's worked in almost every large store in London.
Her role as the delicious, but dim, Miss Brahms, of Grace Brothers' lingerie counter, gives her a lot of laughs. But Wendy reckons she's had just as many real-life troubles in stores.
She said: "At one shop, I spent a fortnight lying in a bed in the window pretending to be a dummy. I moved when a woman was looking at me and she fainted clean away. Passers-by soon caught on that it was a stunt and would leave prams full of kids by my window for me to keep an eye on."
Her first job after leaving school was at a high-class store. She said: "I got about £3.40 a week and no luncheon vouchers. But I was handling 200-guinea silk suits.
"One day I was trying to dress a dummy with one when I tripped and nearly sent the two of us out through the window. If I had damaged the suit I think I'd still be paying it off now. I only stayed six months because I had a flaming row with a buyer and stormed out in a rage."
Even after establishing herself as an actress she often returned to casual work in department stores when times were hard. But she said: "I wouldn't now -- I couldn't stand being recognised. Actors who are 'resting' make up quite a proportion of stores' staff. You can always tell because they speak so well."
Miss Richard, who is in her early 30s, is noticeably lacking in well-rounded vowels, despite attending a public school and elocution lessons. "This is my natural London accent. Why should I put on a posh voice? It's never got me more work."
As Miss Brahms, she's pretty and pretty clueless. And her inefficiency is all from memory. She said: "At one store, I only lasted a day and a half because I only sold £9-worth of clothes in the sales while other staff were selling hundreds. That was my fault, though. I just couldn't lie to people. If they looked dreadful in something I told them so. I didn't sell much, but my conscience was clear."
Wendy lives in a large, luxury flat in London which she bought mainly with capital from the sale of a hotel left by her mother.
She said: "It was called Alcock's Bed and Breakfast when [Wendy's mother] bought it. We had to change that. After she died I tried for two years to run it but I couldn't face getting up at 7.30 and cooking for 35 people. When I tried to sell the hotel in 1974 I had trouble getting it off my hands. That was a very bad time for me. My marriage had just broken up -- it was a total disaster. It lasted only five months. I was getting very depressed about what was happening to me, or rather what was not happening. I was really low.
"To cap it all, 1975 was my worst year. I only worked a few weeks. The rest of the time was spent sitting by the phone waiting for a call or going to auditions and finding they were for soft porn movies. I was desperate for work, but not that desperate. I don't mind saucy parts such as the 'Carry On' films. I was an unmarried mother in Carry On Matron but that's as far as I go.
"I was offered one part in a Dick Emery film about a search for a number tattooed on a girl's bottom and I turned it down for a week's work on Dad's Army."
[Webmeister's note: the movie to which Wendy refers was 1972's Oooh . . . You are Awful!, distributed by British Lion Film Corporation.]
Then she met the man she now lives with -- advertising man Will Thorpe. She said: "That's about the best thing that's happened to me. Before he came along I vowed I'd never get married again, but he changed my mind. We haven't got spliced yet, but it's bound to happen.
"I met him about a year before we started living together. Will says I'm trouble and I guess I am. I know I am very hard to live with. I keep picking on him but he doesn't seem to mind. I'm the sort who follows him round the flat emptying the ashtray he uses. I'm gradually making him perfect.
"He's been married before too and lot of his money goes toward supporting his two children. But that hasn't put him off marrying again. We were going to get wed before last Christmas but we had a row over something daft and called it off.
"I would like to have children, especially now I have no family left. But I would have to get married first. No love-child for me. It's just another way of saying 'b-----d'."
In the Sixties she once earned £15 for a few words in the hit pop song Come Outside, with Mike Sarne. And ever since she's been given Cockney roles.
But the type-casting suits her. She said: "I'd love to play someone like Lucrecia Borgia, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't love to do another 'Carry On' film. They're great fun. There's even talk of a film version of Are You Being Served? this year, but nothing's settled yet. I've no ambitions to go completely straight. I prefer to keep plodding along, doing what I do best.
"A friend of mine won a best-actor award and then didn't work for two years . . ."