I’m an actor, theatre director and writer. I’ve been in the acting trade for around 70 years – since the early 1950s. I’m mostly known for TV sitcom, and in the theatre for directing new writing and my productions at The King’s Head, and Dublin Theatre Festivals.
My mother was Hungarian, my father Canadian and I was born in Lille, France. In the first volume of Are You Going to do That Little Jump? I tell the exciting story of our escape from the advancing German army and how I became – “English”.
The family ended up in Manchester and I went to Sale County Grammar School for Boys. A new English master, just out of the war, cast me in three successive school plays. My career path was set.
I went to RADA – it wasn’t quite what I’d expected – lots to read about that in Are You Going to do That Little Jump? (Part One)… Then I spent two years with The Old Vic company (starring sexy Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Michael Hordern in the first season). I have a good deal to say about that too.
I have even more to say about the time I spent in rep.
Then there was a hitherto untold fiery time with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, and the thrilling start of modern theatre with George Devine’s pioneering adventure, The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre.
In the very new medium of television I seemed fated to play mainly small-time crooks, as in Z-Cars and The Professionals; though I also walked down Bond Street – as a woman – for the BBC in Mary’s Wife.
So that part of my life became Volume One of Are You Going to do That Little Jump? and you can buy that book here:
But I’d barely started writing about sitcom, so there had to be a second book. So in Are You Going to do That Little Jump? The Adventure Continues… I bring my story up to date: how a career-changing interview led to… Liver Birds, Butterflies, Rising Damp, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? George and Mildred, The Good Life, Robin’s Nest and so on.
Brian Cooke asked me if I fancied fronting a sitcom series of my own. The outcome was Keep it in The Family. I’ve popped up in movies; in Graham Stark’s The (Magnificent) Seven Deadly Sins; as a total weirdo in Barry Humphries’ dotty film, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.
I’ve been in well over a hundred commercials, including one selling long-life batteries on top of a glacier in Chamonix – but the least said about that, the better.
In 1963 I began to direct. At the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, I contributed seventeen productions in that venue’s earlier, formative, days. Outstanding was Mr Joyce is Leaving Paris. Unforgettable was the never-before-described battle with Dan Crawford to get the curtain up.
I’ve always had an interest in new writing and so formed a loose, ever-changing, band of actors called The Jane Nightwork Company to put on new or neglected – but often startlingly good – work.
I’ve never stopped acting. Once I tasted the glamour of the West End, in Peter Hall’s production of The Rose Tattoo. Out of the blue, I was hired by the Royal Shakespeare Company for two and a half years. The startling contrast with this experience and my time, way back, at the Old Vic still confounds me.
I have always written. Notoriously, I was responsible for A Consumer Guide to Religions – the sketch that shook the nation – penned for the BBC’s satirical That Was the Week That Was. I toured a two-hander about Death: it’s called My Heart. Love, Question Mark played at several venues in London: the Question is about us and our dogged obsession with searching for ‘mister or miss RIGHT’.
In 2016 I drove Woody Harrelson in a black cab in his movie, Lost in London. In 2017, it was a pleasure to find myself working with Sean Bean in BBC TV’s Broken. In that same year I spent several fascinating months on Mike Leigh’s Peterloo.
All this – and lots more – is in Are You Going to do That Little Jump? – The Adventure Continues. It’s full of stories and full of pictures, photos, posters… I hope you enjoy it.