Su Pollard

26 September 13 words: Al Needham
"When they told me I’d lost to a singing dog I thought, 'Bleddy hell, my career is over before it’s even begun'"
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photo: Simon Parfrement

Su Pollard and David Hasselhoff: the dream ticket of panto...
Aw, it really is. It’s really nice for me to be coming back to Nottingham, obviously, and the Hoff – well, he’s got the looks, the stature, the accent – did you hear him on the video saying he couldn’t wait to play the “Theader Royale”?

He called you ‘Super Lard’, an’all.
Yes he did! I quite like that.

Maybe you ought to leave a block of Trex with a little Superman cape in his dressing room as a welcoming present.
Hey, that’s a good idea, in’t it? I’ll sort that.

This is your first panto in Notts since the early eighties. Was it with The Krankies?
No – because of course, she fell off hers, the poor cow, din’t she? It was Roger de Court Case, as I used to call him, with Nookie Bear. And Stu ‘Crush A Grape’ Francis. It would have been Jack and the Beanstalk, round about 1983, the cow was a mother-and-son team called Paul and June Kidd.

Bleddy hell. Who was where in the cow?
I think it was June at the back. They had full-on rows inside the cow. I’d say, “Come on, Daisy, I’ve got to sell you at the market, but don’t be sad,” and the cow would be going, “You’re not seeing that woman again. There was nothing left of that food when she came round…” and I’d go, “Keep yer voice daahn.

What’s the difference between rehearsing for a panto and, say, a musical?
If there’s such a thing as pressure in the acting business, panto’s it. You haven’t got the luxury to try things out in rehearsal, so you run the risk of everything being set in stone right from the off. I prefer getting the script two or three months before the first rehearsal, and then come in with ideas for the director that you can work out or reject. Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Why have you been cast as The Magical Mermaid, and not Tinkerbell?
I was too young for the role of Tinkerbell, darling, so they gave me this part.

Isn’t it Theatre Royal’s way of getting in the massive indoor waterfall that they use every year?
Obviously there’s going to be some sort of water feature for me. But I’m a punk mermaid. I’m not going to be sitting on a rock all night, I’d be bored stiff.

photo: Simon Parfrement

photo: Simon Parfrement

What part of town did you grow up in?
I was born at the City Hospital, then I was brought back to my grandad’s house on Bentinck Road – he was a butcher and had a big house, and a lot of the family lived there. Then we moved to Clifton, but it was too far away for me mother’s liking, so we ended up just off Alfreton Road and had a lovely childhood there. Then I moved to West Bridgford with me best mate Julie Sparrow, that’s when I started with me fledgling acting career.

You used to be a regular in a gay club called La Chic Part Two. We’ve been told that on a good night you’d be having it on the dancefloor, Justin Fashanu would be on the cruise, and Noelle Gordon was at the bar…
Ooh, I absolutely loved it there. Noelle, bless her. If you’re too young, she was an actress in Crossroads, but she also did a daytime show, a bit like Antiques Roadshow called Lunchbox.

Imagine having a daytime show called Lunchbox nowadays...
Wouldn’t that be camp? Anyway, my first introduction to the gay scene in Nottingham – I was fifteen and at the Co-Operative Arts Theatre. One of the teachers said, “Now Su, darling, I’m going to take you to a pub you’ll probably like, but it’ll be different to what you’re used to. It’s called the Foresters and there’ll be a lot of ladies there.” He went to the gents and there’s me on my own, chatting to a lady at the bar who seemed very nice – what we’d call a ‘lipstick lesbian’ nowadays – and then this stereotypically butch bus conductress pitched up and shouted, “You get off my girlfriend, now.” I didn’t know what to think. Back then, most of the gay ladies in Nottingham worked on the buses as clippies. My first introduction to the boys was the Old Dog and Partridge. Is it still gay-friendly?

I don’t think it’s anyone-friendly nowadays.
Aw. Shame. I loved it there.

What attracted you to that scene?
Everyone was so friendly. No-one was aggressive, or horrible. I’d be swapping recipes and nail varnish tips with them.

How did you get involved with the Arts Theatre?
It was because of a brilliant headmistress at my school called Mrs Lee. A winter coat was part of our uniform, and I got done for wearing it like a cloak. She called me into the office and said; “Why are you wearing your coat like Dracula? Put your arms in like everyone else this minute.” “But that’s boring, Miss.” “You need to go somewhere like the Arts Theatre, where you can get all this theatricality out of your soul.” And she knew Mr White who ran it. So that was that.

You used to sing at working men’s clubs. What were they like?
I loved working there. Bestwood Miners Welfare. At fifteen. On a Sunday you’d do three fifteen-minute slots, and then you’d go to the bar and have a packet of crisps and a drink. But I was caught by the chairman drinking out of a pint glass, which was an absolutely appalling act at the time. “No, duck! We can’t have that! It looks ungainleh!I was dismissed on the spot and lost me five pound a week. I was heartbroke.

Your first TV appearance was on Opportunity Knocks...
I was beaten by a singing Jack Russell.

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So that’s not an urban myth, then.
No. I auditioned for it at the Trent Bridge Inn. It was like the early stages of Britain’s Got Talent, but without the cameras and in a pub. I did I Don’t Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar, but they said “Look, you’ve got a funny face – can you sing a funny song?” I was mortified. I didn’t have anything prepared so I went back the next day and did I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No.

What did the dog sing?
He just howled, really. His owner - Harold Gumm - sang Oh What A Beautiful Morning, and on certain notes the dog would join in. When they told me I’d lost to a singing dog I thought, “Bleddy hell, my career is over before it’s even begun.”

It seems that moving to London was inevitable.
Definitely. I’d already started reading Cosmopolitan, which was still a daring thing to do back then and everything in it was based in London.

Do you think Nottingham’s one of those places that you have to leave before you can truly love it?
Totally. When I was nineteen I was positively bursting to leave. Like all suburbs then, there was a lot of bigotry in Nottingham in the seventies. Now when I come back, I can see that Nottingham has progressed in so many ways.

It wasn’t until 1979 that you landed your first TV acting role in Two Up, Two Down - what happened in between?
I was very fortunate, there was a lot of work back then for jobbing actresses. I was a nun in an ice cream advert. I was in loads of musicals – Grease, Godspell – and just learned my trade.

Two Up Two Down only lasted one series. How did it feel to finally get your TV break and then have it taken away?
Shows stand or fall on whether the people who produce them can sell the idea properly or not. They billed it as a ‘comedy drama’, which was ludicrous.

Wasn’t the concept of a hippy couple squatting in a strait-laced couple’s house pretty dated by 1979?
Not really, that kind of lifestyle hadn’t been covered by TV, bar The Good Life. But they really didn’t know what to do with it, and we all felt ourselves floundering.

And then came Hi-De-Hi!, one of the last great traditional British sitcoms.
Well, I’m not going to argue.

It was the last great ensemble comedy. It’s definitely the equal of Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and not only because Jimmy Perry and David Croft wrote all of them.
They were very good at nailing the class distinctions in society, and they knew that you could get far more comedy out of an ensemble piece because people will love certain characters right away, while others grow on them.

…like Peggy; your part definitely grew over time. Did you feel yourself gaining momentum?
Absolutely. Jimmy and David didn’t know me at all at first, and they were brilliant at creating characters to fit the actors they knew. I used to think, why do they eat and socialise with us? Because they were picking up on what we were saying and how we were saying it.

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Su Pollard as Peggy in Hi De Hi

Peggy was, to use the Nottingham vernacular, proper suckeh. Was she based on anyone in particular?
She was based on me, to be honest. I’d go through the latest scripts, see some of Peggy’s lines and think, “hang on, this is what I said at lunch the other week…”

Hi-De-Hi! pulled massive viewing figures at its peak, but it took a while to really catch on…
The BBC were really good with new shows back then; if they were confident in what you were doing, your show would be given a chance to grow, regardless of ratings. Same with the other sitcom that started at the same time - Only Fools and Horses. Neither were seen as potential hits until the end of series two. I really feel sorry for new actors; there’s not the writers and mentors there were thirty years ago.

When the camp finally closes down and the series ends, it ends with Peggy bellowing the show’s catchphrase.
I was absolutely honoured by that. I so remember that day – the cameraman was on a cherry-picker, and it was just me in a deserted camp on a miserable day, by the crazy golf. It took nine takes, with me getting more and more upset. I had to say, “Look, this has to be the last take because I’m about to burst.”

It must be like turning off the life support…
That’s exactly how it feels. I was on the set for the second-to-last scene, with Ted and Spike by the swimming pool, and they were crying as well. It’s a big chunk of your life.

All three of you moved onto You Rang, M’Lord? straight away, though.
My instant reaction was that I didn’t want to play another maid, but then I saw the script and thought, “Cor, another fabulous part with the same lovely team”. David Croft had been made Executive Producer, which gave him total power, meaning he could hire all the backstage people on Hi-De-Hi!

How much did your life change when you became ‘Her Off The Telleh’?
I first realised when I noticed people were looking at me when I was at my local market. I thought, “hang on, they’re not staring at what I’m wearing because they’d be used to that by now.” Then someone said, “Saw your show last night – really enjoyed it. Can I have your autograph, please?” And for some reason I’ll never understand, this posh voice came out of me mouth. I’d never spoken like that in me life - bleddy ridiculous. The next thing you know you’re being invited on chat shows, openings, and all sorts.

Round about this time, you reached No.2 in the charts with Starting Together…
Held off the top by Chain Reaction by Diana Ross. None of us thought it was going to be that popular.

Does it bother you that it never got to No.1?
I used to say, “Diana Ross probably needs the money more than I do, the poor cow.” You had to shift a lot of copies to get into the Top Ten in the mid-eighties. I’ve got a silver disc for 250,000 copies sold. I know it doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things but it wasn’t a bad achievement. This was back when record companies were secretly buying their acts into the charts but, as far as I know, mine was genuine.

Did you go on Top Of The Pops?
I was ready to go on in person if it went to No.1, but it was not to be. There was a DJ who presented Top Of The Pops… the Radio 1 breakfast DJ…

Mike Reed?
That’s him. He said summat like, “I’ve got to play this video now, and I really don’t want to, it’s horrible.”

This is the same person that got Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood banned...
Did he? That’s fabulous! I feel better about it now.

Were you living the glamorous eighties pop lifestyle? Knocking about with David Van Day and Marilyn in Stringfellows?
Absolutely. That came with the territory. I remember going to a club in Earls Court and getting a tap of the shoulder, and Freddie saying “Su, can I have your autograph?”

What, Freddie Mercury?

Bleddy hell.
I know. Paul McCartney wanted my autograph as well. What people don’t teach you when you go into entertainment is that if you’re new and people like what you’re doing, you become flavour of the month. I kept thinking; “Ooer, I’m gonna have to watch meself here and keep me feet on the ground.” Which is a bit hard to do when Elton John asks to swap glasses, or you find yourself tap-dancing with Princess Diana.

Eh? How?
We were at 10 Downing Street for a charity event. I was wearing this fabulous dress – it was wool, in loads of different colours, and she said “Oh, Su, you look like a rainbow!” I was in Me And My Girl at the time, and she told me she’d just started tap-dancing lessons, so we both started tapping away. In 10 Downing Street. It was the campest thing in the world. And we had a hug at the end and I said, “Ooh, we’ve bonded, an’t weh?”

One of your exes did a kiss-and-tell on you in the News Of The World - how did it feel to become tabloid property?
That was hilarious. They had a picture of me in stockings and suspenders on a motorbike and everything. It feels absolutely horrible at first, but then the only proper reaction is to say, “Well, what a disappointment you turned out to be – no wonder you’re an ex.”

Why the obsession with big glasses? I used to wear a pair like that in the eighties and they gave me the sinuses of a cocaine addict. Aren’t you down with the smaller, lighter ones?
At the time I liked the design, and there were no smaller frames around. I actually wear a smaller pair at home. There’s no imagination in frame design nowadays; they’re all small.

How many pairs of glasses do you have?
At the moment, 25. When I have too many in the house I send a load of them over to Aid to Africa.

I’ve now got this image of a village in Somalia where everyones wearing massive lime green eighties specs.
Ha! All walking around looking like bleddy Elton John, the poor sods.

So, where do you get your sartorial inspiration from?
Anywhere and everywhere. The world is so safe nowadays. You’ve got to experiment. Hey, let me get you a quote, one second… (scampers off, comes back) I keep this on my kitchen noticeboard, it’s by Cecil Beaton, “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”

I’ve been asked by female friends; how do you keep your legs in such amazing nick? Oh! I’m so glad you asked. Well, I was blessed with them when I was born, but I’m very disciplined and do exercises every day. A lot of inner thigh work. I also do a lot of hill-walking.

So, are you planning to take the Hoff out on the batter?
I can’t wait. Across to the Turf Tavern, obviously, then onto the Newmarket and the Lord Roberts. If I can’t get him to say “Ayup, me duck“ and “Gerrof wi’ yersen” before he leaves town, it’ll be a poor do.

This has been properly mint and skill, Su. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of LeftLion?
(Clears throat) This is a message to the LeftLioners. As long as you don’t flatline, you’ll love Peter Pan. It doesn’t matter how cool you are, or how uncool you are – no one can resist shouting back at the artists and being ten years old again.

Peter Pan, Saturday 7 Dec 2013 – Sunday 12 January 2014, Theatre Royal, Theatre Square, NG1 5ND.

Su Pollard official website
Royal Centre website

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