Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Cheeser's Choice: Joanna Lumley

A logical progression from my last Cheeser's Choice post - here's the lowdown on an absolutely fabulous lady, of whom I am a big fan.

Now although lots of you will probably already have heard of her, WHAT'S to know about Joanna Lumley? And why do I like her so?

Joanna is an English actress in the classic sense, coming from a well-heeled background - her father was a Major in the army in India, she went to Lucie Clayton finishing school (daaarling!) and later worked as a house model for Jean Muir before moving on to acting. Certainly she's always been a very well-spoken person with her cut-glass tones and her glamorous and refined image has usually led to people's perception of her as being "posh totty". She's rather older now (61 years old!) but still looks good and carries herself well, even if younger models have assumed her place in the category of "sex symbol" (those with a liking for the older woman may disagree...) Ms Lumley is also rumoured to be a supporter of the Conservative Party. Well, no-one's perfect and perhaps this fact isn't surprising, given her upper-middle class upbringing. But in all other respects, Joanna has always seemed a jolly good sort. In interviews and performances she comes across as intelligent, witty, observant and funny, as well as refreshingly humble and self-deprecating - posh she may be but you never get the impression she's arrogant or regards herself as superior to others. In fact, as her appearances on the Ruby Wax show attest, she has a great propensity for taking the p*ss out of herself (more on that in a bit). She's also a vegetarian, an active crusader for animal rights and is meant to be pro-gay (let's hope so!) Last but not least, Joanna has proved to be a highly versatile and consummate actress, playing a variety of roles to perfection with poise and style.

My first memory of Joanna - and one of her most iconic roles which many remember her for - was as Purdey in The New Avengers (looking lovely above with co-stars Gareth Hunt as Gambit and Patrick Macnee as Steed). I have this distant memory from primary school when, one break time in the playground, I made classmate Mandy Gash (no comments please) play Purdey, whilst I was the nasty baddie tying her up. I kept making her say: "Let me go, you horrible old man!" again and again in appropriate yah-yah tones. God I was a fascist. To tell the truth I don't remember watching The New Avengers very much as I was rather young and probably wasn't allowed to stay up and watch it.

But I DO remember Purdey. This was the role that really shot Joanna Lumley to fame. Her bobbed, lampshade hairstyle (see above) quickly became known as "The Purdey" and was copied by females nationwide (even my Mum had a similar style as I recall). Actually here's a photo of Joanna publicising The New Avengers BEFORE they began filming - note the longer, darker hair:

I think you'll agree the shorter and blonder look is far more striking! Apparently Joanna shocked the production team by turning up to film with her radical new haircut. Love the pose she's striking in the pic above though and her female take on the classic English gent. The gun tucked in the garter belt is a particularly nice/kinky touch.

However Purdey provided more than just a trend-setting hairstyle. What was refreshing about the character was that she was beautiful AND tough. In fact, Purdey followed on from a tradition of strong female characters in the original "Avengers" like Cathy Gale and Emma Peel - like them, she was sophisticated, humorous and intelligent, with athleticism and physical prowess to boot. But at this time (1976) it was still quite unusual to see strong female characters on TV. Purdey didn't scream and cower when threatened by some "nasty man" but knocked the sh*t out of him! (So why I told Mandy Gash to say that I don't quiet know...) She had a special aptitude for martial arts, developed from her knowledge of ballet - hence her fighting style lent heavily towards high kicks.

Here's some evidence of Purdey in action (loving her gold kung fu outfit - and also featuring one of the best Avengers baddies, the deadly Cybernauts):

And here's Joanna at the time of New Avengers appearing on Russell Harty's chat show and showing her gift for comedy by telling a great finishing school joke - love the cockerney-type teacher accent that she does. Not to mention her red sequined sling backs which get a close up of their own - Dorothy from Wizard of Oz would be exceedingly jealous. Andy Williams seems rather keen on Joanna too:

The New Avengers lasted two years before vanishing from our screens. However it wasn't long before Joanna returned in another iconic role, that of the mysterious investigator Sapphire in Sapphire and Steel. If you want the lowdown on the show, as well as the character of Sapphire, you could do far worse than trying here. However I'll risk repeating myself by saying that Ms Lumley was perfectly suited to the part, portraying the otherworldly Sapphire with that familiar Lumley intelligence, poise and class. Unlike Purdey, this wasn't a "physical" role, but one in which the character demonstrated a range of extraterrestrial powers - turning back time, the ability to tune into atmospheres and to read people's minds...what a clever lady! She also looked very alluring in a variety of outfits modelled on the colour blue (in keeping with her character's name). At the time of broadcast I was convinced that I was in love with her (awareness of my true sexuality was years off) and I had pin-ups of Sapphire from Look-In on my bedroom wall. When Sapphire and Steel came to an abrupt end in 1982 I was quite mortified by the loss of my heroine. Thanks to VHS and DVD though I've been able to relive Joanna's glory days as Sapphire all over again. If you want to see some clips of Joanna as the simply super Sapphire, go here.

After that Ms Lumley's career proved solid if unspectacular. I remember her appearing on as a presenter on "Children In Need" for a number of years, alongside the perennially annoying Terry Wogan. The highlight of her appearances was one year stripping to her underwear live on air (for charity of course). She also did a lot of adverts like erm, Mellow Birds (I seem to remember one in which she rolls around in the hay with some bloke - naughty) and guest presented shows like "Wogan" from time to time. All probably helping to pay the bills but perhaps not stretching Joanna's creative talents to their zenith (although she did manage to squeeze in an amusing cameo as a posh schoolgirl-cum-hooker in "Shirley Valentine"...)

But then, in 1992, came a character which brought Joanna Lumley exploding back into the public consciousness as well as bringing her to the attention of a whole new viewing generation: Patsy Stone in the BBC comedy "Absolutely Fabulous". As I said earlier on, Ms Lumley has quite often been perceived as a posh, middle class woman in the "nice" and respectable sense. Whilst no shrinking violet, it was kind of hard to imagine her saying or doing anything particularly rude, dirty or outrageous. But as Patsy, she would prove just how wrong the public could be...

How best to describe Patsy? A "chain-smoking, boozing, cocaine-sniffing and other drug-taking sexpot fashion director" is how Wikipedia defines her, which is pretty near the mark. Patsy was a mass of contradictions and also (I think) one the greatest comic creations of all time. And one of the major reasons for the character's success can surely be attributed to Joanna Lumley's fantastic performance and brilliant comic timing. She is a total REVELATION in this part!

Watch any episode of "AbFab" and you'll see how Joanna inhabits the role completely. Over the course of five series, we get to see many facets to Patsy's character.
Her closest relationship is with Edina (or Eddy, played by the great Jennifer Saunders). Patsy has been Edina's lifelong friend, not to mention corrupter. She despises Edina's daughter Saffron (Saffy - who Patsy sees as a rival for Eddy's affections, and the two endure a relationship of mutual loathing which makes for some great, if nasty, comic moments - Patsy refers to Saffy as "bitch troll from hell" and "little trail of cat sick" amongst other things and in one episode, she even sells her into slavery in Morocco).

Patsy has an eye for fashion and trends, and a knowledge of what's in and what's not. She is often dressed stylishly - as opposed to some of Edina's rather unsuitable sartorial creations - and wears her hair in a blonde beehive (which in some episodes gets way out of control). Despite her position as magazine editor (apparently she got the job after sleeping with the publisher) she never actually seems to do any work.

She's also a bit of a nymphomaniac - in the very first episode we hear that she picked up
a windscreen wiper she met whilst her car was stood at the traffic lights: "Buns so tight he was bouncing off the wall". In other episodes she takes home and sh*gs one of Saffy's (unusually) attractive school mates; gets off with a former school friend who is now a headmaster (during one of Saffy's science presentations) and even organises a couple of male prostitutes for her and Eddy (one of whom is called Hilton, cue classic Patsy dialogue: "Nice shirt, Hilton. I was wondering what it would look like if I ripped it off your chest?" and "Hey Hilt, if I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?)"

Patsy also smokes and drinks to extremes and to frequently hilarious effect. In one episode we see her descend the steps of Eddy's kitchen with five cigarettes all lined up in her mouth ready to be lit (the "bloody bastard asthmatic cab driver" wouldn't let her smoke in his cab). In another installment, Eddy and Saffy, realise that the house is on fire and call the fire brigade. After it's extinguished, they descend to the kitchen to find a blackened Patsy sitting at the table, having nodded off with a lit cigarette in her mouth - she inhaled the whole kitchen. As for the drinking, Patsy can often be seen swilling on a bottle of champers or vodka and getting blotto in the most inappropriate of places e.g. stuck on a ski lift in Vale d'Isere and going round and round for hours on end without realising, or drunkenly falling into the open grave of Eddy's dead father!

Throughout all of these episodes Joanna is never less than riveting in her portrayal of Pats. The character has gained cult status and become an icon to many, particularly the gay community - the hedonistic (booze, drugs and sex) aspects of Patsy have endeared her to so many homos out there - I'm not sure if this is an entirely positive thing though, as these are things for which gays are sometimes criticised ... In fact, in some interviews Joanna L has stated what a horrific person she really thinks Patsy is and how she'd be fascinated to meet her - a testimony to how good an actress she is, if she can distance herself so much from the character!

Enough talk and let's see some classic Patsy moments. The first clip comes from the first episode of Series Two in which Patsy has been caught in a "compromising position" with an MP and the ensuing incident has made the tabloid newspapers ... whoops! Perhaps Joanna is slightly
OTT in the first few moments but funny nevertheless, particularly her reaction to one newspaper's "lie" about her age. And I love the headline that Saffy reads out. Then fast foward a bit to approx 4.30 mins to see Patsy's interview with Hello magazine! (And incidentally, can you spot a rather younger-looking Torchwood character in here somewhere?):

Next, an excerpt from one of my favourite "
AbFab" episodes "Happy New Year" in which Pats is reunited with her long-lost sister, the wild and exotic Jackie, played by none other than Kate "I once sunbathed topless on top of a North Sea ferry" O'Mara. Except it turns out that Jacks isn't quite so wild these days ... It's a funny but actually quite tragic episode, as Patsy tries to convince Jackie to accompany her and Eddy on a clubbing night out, and Jackie declines. Whilst Pats is desperate to stay young and keep doing way-out things, Jackie has mellowed. Fast forward to 2.10 mins onwards to see a revealing conversation between the two sisters - and a flashback to a nasty childhood incident! And Jackie's revelation around 6.23 mins is a killer - not to mention Pats' reaction!

Clip 3 comes from "The Last Shout" which was meant to be the last ever "AbFab" until Jennifer Saunders changed her mind. Saffy is dating the eligible son of a mega-wealthy family and wants to marry him. The parents have come to meet her and Edina, but rich-bitch mother Kalishia clearly doesn't approve. However, Patsy recognises Kalishia from somewhere ... and then she twigs. Fast forward to approx 4.00 mins to see Patsy's confrontation with Kalishia - totally and utterly hilarious and Joanna's comic timing is superb - her facial expressions and "movements" left me in stitches.

Mmm. Did I go slightly overboard on my Patsy appreciation there?! But it can't be denied that "AbFab" certainly helped to put Joanna firmly back "on the map" and as a result she became prolific all over again.

One of the highlights of Joanna's "comeback" for me was her appearance in the Dr Who Spoof, "The Curse of the Fatal Death", made especially for Comic Relief in 1999, in which Joanna played ... wait for it ... the Doctor!! In this ever-so-slightly satirical take on the sci-fi tale, the Dr is forced to regenerate several times and his different incarnations are played by a variety of well-known faces - Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and finally ... Joanna Lumley! I like the way the episode capitalises on all those "Dr regenerates into a woman" stories we heard every time an actor like Tom Baker or Peter Davison quit the role - rumours which turned out to be - well, just rumours. Now we get to see, albeit briefly, exactly what the Doc really WOULD have been like as a lady! The companion (as played by "Saffy" actress Julia Sawalha) isn't too happy at this gender transformation (she was about to get spliced to the Time Lord and doesn't have any lesbian leanings) whereas arch enemy the Master (played by Jonathan Pryce) is rather chuffed!
And it has to be said, although she only gets a few minutes' screetime, Ms Lumley is pretty good - commanding, humorous and sexy. Skip to 4.50 mins to see the evidence.

I wonder what Jo would have been like had she taken on the role of the Doctor permanently?

Well, I feel like this post is never going to end (and you're maybe feeling the same! But I hope you're enjoying...)

A few final observations on Joanna then. I mentioned earlier on that one of her best qualities was an ability to send herself up. This came to the fore particularly during her involvement with comedienne Ruby Wax (also script editor of "Absolutely Fabulous", fact fans). In the late 80s/early 90s she made a number of appearances on Ruby's show, "The Full Wax", as ... herself! The "Joanna" she portrayed was a washed-up, alcoholic, mentally ill actress desperate to make a come back (hopefully not art imitating life there!) In one installment we got to see Ruby breaking into Joanna's house to get some "footage" and interrupting her and her lover sh*gging, much to Jo's chagrin. Ruby's persistent hectoring of Jo lead to further mental instability and she ends up going into a sanotarium! On her "recovery" Ruby attempts to help Joanna relaunch her acting career with disastrous/hilarious results (Gawd I really wanted to find some clips but there's nowt on You Tube...) In my favourite bit of all, we see Joanna dressed up Purdey-style in the BBC carpark, Ruby announcing loudly into a megaphone: "Attention! Attention! Joanna Lumley has returned!" She then produces a ghettoblaster on which the theme tune to "The New Avengers" starts playing and Jo starts doing lots of Purdey-type stunts, rolling over car bonnets and hiding behind pot plants ... except she does it in a totally cr*p style. A bit later we see her doing Purdey again in the gents' toilet, kicking open a toilet door and knocking some poor geezer into a urinal. A wonderful parody of the original.

So what's Jo up to now? Most recently she's appeared as Deliah Stagg in the French and Saunders comedy "Jam and Jerusalem", which I confess I have never watched once:

!! Er, yes!! Surely proof of Joanna's versatility as an actress that she can play such an ... elderly-looking lady. A far cry from the days of glamour girl Purdey but good for her for trying something different!

She's also appeared in the comedy-drama "Sensitive Skin", which again I haven't seen but heard good things about. Apparently she's very good in it.

Right, I'm done now. Hope I've convinced you of my love of La Lumley. And hopefully you're now all converts too.

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  • At 6:23 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    My favourite "Avengers" girl is Linda Thorson as Tara King, the one you haven't mentioned! I guess that's because she's the least well-known. I wonder if that's because she was the only one who wasn't English?

    Recently to be seen in "Emmerdale", Miss Thorson's Canadian, of course, but that shouldn't be a problem when taking into consideration the creator of that other Great British television institution "Doctor Who" was also Canadian!

    And, no doubt, everyone will say I like Linda for the same two reasons I like Nicola Bryant. They might be right. Ironically, the problem with "The New Avengers" is that it was a co-production with Canada!

  • At 7:19 am , Blogger Steve said...

    A fab blog-based biopic! Purdy always made me purr... I recently saw The Corpse Bride where Joanna supplied one of the voices to one of the nastier characters. For all that it still sent shivers down my spine for different reasons!

  • At 1:16 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Tim - I didn't mention Tara King, well spotted. For some reason I didn't think of her as being in the "action" mould in the same way as Cathy Gale and Emma Peel - even though she probably was. Unlike you though, I wasn't so much of a fan of her character. But then Diana Rigg was quite a tough act to follow.

    Yes I read about the second series of New Avengers going downhill when they had to relocate the cast to Canada - apparently very poor stories ensued. Would still like to revist the show though!

    No comments on Joanna Lumley then? I thought my bit on "Curse of the Fatal Death" would appeal?

    Steve - Ha ha. She JL was pretty purrrrfect.I haven't seen that movie but it looks weird and wonderful in typical Tim Burton style! Oh and JL did "James and the Giant Peach" as well didn't she? The more I think about it, the more interesting stuff she did...

  • At 3:25 pm , Blogger Deemer said...

    OC you just keep giving and giving since the new year with these amazing posts. This is almost to thesis caliber. It will take me a few days to get through it. But I am happy to learn about someone who I only knew through Ab Fab. Thank you for sharing.

  • At 10:39 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Oh, I do so love an AbFab girl!!!

    Clatterford (as they call it for us dumb Americans --- and I do think us dumb!) has grown on me. Tho, I've tired of the theme song.

    I adore Ms. Lumley!!!! She so totally rocks!

    You know, Jacks was played by the French actress from Roman Polanski's REPULSION which seems to fuel a great many of Patsy's fears as they are always referring to it in one way or another!

    AbFab was a great work of casting all the way round!

    And, I always enjoy the Avengers clips! I don't think her version of that show ever really aired in the US or I just never saw it. Saw the Rigg version a lot, tho.


  • At 1:20 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    I'm not really a fan of Joanna Lumley, to be honest. I know she's very popular with "Doctor Who" fans but she just never seemed to rock my boat! I've seen her in the excellent Lazenby Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (co-starring Diana Rigg!), alongside Katy Manning in the God-awful "Don't Just Lie There, Say Something!" and as Jessica Van Helsing in the ridiculously motorbike-laden "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", Hammer's last bite of the Bram Stoker cherry!

    I love Julia Sawalha in "The Curse of Fatal Death" and think she would've made a good full-time companion. It was rumoured she would be doing just that at one point, joining Richard Griffiths as the Doctor, but it never transpired. Of the actors playing the Doctor in Steven Moffat's Comic Relief sketch, at the time I thought Hugh Grant turned in the best performance. Watching your YouTube clip now, Richard E. is also pretty good!

  • At 1:52 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Just thought of something else! Another possible reason why I'm inclined towards Season Six (IMDb, inaccurately, have it down as Season Seven!) of the original "Avengers", other than the lovely Linda, is that a few "Doctor Who" writers were working on it at this point. These were Terry Nation (also as Script Editor), his old "Doctor Who"-mucker Dennis Spooner, and, on one script, Sea Devil/Silurian creator Malcolm Hulke with a certain Terrance Dicks!

  • At 1:47 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Deemer - Thank you! Yes some of these posts have been a labour of love, that's for sure. I do enjoy writing them but tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. And maybe some of the posts are TOO long - I'm aware that people can switch off sometimes if you go on too much. But I can't help it. My fingers get kind of carried away (on the keyboard) as my brain runs away with me too...I like to share my knowledge and passion for a subject as well.

    Yes I know Abfab was a hit in the states - I heard at one stage they were going to do a US version but they wanted to take out all the sex and drugs references. Like...what?! That's the whole point of the show and without it...well there wouldn't be much point, would there?

    And yes, Joanna has done plenty of other good stuff!

    Matty - Do you mean Jam and Jersulaem? That's the name of the place it's set isn't it? You can tell I've never watched it.

    Me too - JL is tops!

    Erm - I don't think that Kate O'Mara (who played Jacks) is French - are you confusing her with Eleanor Bron who played Patsy's mother? I'm not sure if she's French either...

    Diana Rigg rocked too and was great in "The Avengers".

    Tim - Fair enough! Mmm strange how Joanna doesn't mention some of those films you've listed! The Katy Manning one sounds hilarious. Of course even the best actors/actresses have dodgy stuff on their CV.

    I agree Julia S was good in that clip and could have made a great companion.

    On a personal level I find Hugh Grant kind of annoying with his oh-so-English mannerisms, then again he might have cut the mustard as the Doc...

    And yes, interesting that so many DW writers were involved with "The Avengers". That would explain the high calibre of the stories as you say. There were also quite a lot of DW actors in there as well, weren't they?

  • At 9:29 pm , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Interesting that you "find Hugh Grant annoying with his oh-so-English mannerisms" because it's always been Joanna's, dare I say false, English "cut-glass tones" which have distanced her from my affection!

    Yes, there were a lot of "Doctor Who" actors in "The Avengers" as well as guests who would later go on to star in "Survivors" and virtually the entire cast of "Dad's Army" cropped up, individually, at some point! Oh, and Alf Garnett appeared twice, I think, as well!!

  • At 3:01 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    I suppose Joanna's posh accent DOES sound a bit contrived but then again, I thought that's how she really spoke?! Given her upbringing and background. But unlike Hugh, Joanna seems to have a warmth about her which I like. In virtually everything Hugh Grant has done - e.g. Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, even a gay movie which I quite like called Maurice - he ALWAYS projects the same persona - the awkward, bumbling, repressed Englishman who isn't good at expressing his emotions, oh-so-apologetic and sometimes neurotic with it - which I can't stand. It's a stereotypical portrayal of English people which just adds weight to foreigners' misconceptions about us! And I find it so damn annoying!

    Joanna on the other usually portrays quite feisty and independent characters - strong women - and a good thing to.

    There! I'll get off my soap box now.

    I do seem to remember Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) in The Avengers, now you come to mention it!


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