Michele Hewitson interview: Su Pollard

By Michele Hewitson

Wild and wacky actress is recognised wherever she goes as Peggy the maid from Hi-de-Hi

Oh, go on, you know what you really want to know about the English comic actress, Su Pollard, is what she was wearing. I know I did. My favourite Su Pollard headline (from the Daily Mail, of course) is this: Shy and retiring as ever - Su Pollard continues to wear wacky outfits as she approaches 60.

She is now 64 and, on Wednesday, she was wearing: teeny, tiny, floaty blue shorts with white polka dots; a sequinned top; black patent leather Doc Martens brogues; "over-the-knee sparkly socks for Christmas"; at least 20 bracelets; at least four necklaces including one which involved fake pearls the size of gobstoppers encased in a sort of ruff made of black mesh - which gave her the peculiar appearance of being strangled by a boa constrictor that had dressed up for a cocktail party.

Her mother called her style "gregarious", and you can see why. She was carrying a bag in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head and a faux fur jacket, which had a hole in it. You've got the moth! I said. "I've got the moth!" she said, lowering her voice to a scream. I pinched that line. It's my second favourite Su Pollard line. A director once said, without any hope of it ever happening, I'll bet: "Pollard, lower your voice to a scream."

She was also wearing her "power ring", which is a ruddy great piece of clear plastic and which, when twisted, lights up and flashes on and off. She let me try it on. "It looks great on you! It looks fabulous." It looks like a door knob, if you were given to having door knobs which lit up and flashed on and off. "Well, you see," she said, "it's quirky. I love it. That's been made for someone to wear, [hasn't] it, Michele? And they'd say: 'Nobody'd wear that in a million years!'." Su Pollard would. "Exactly!" Her friend Popper John - "You know, there are things that you can sniff, poppers. I haven't" - gave her the ring. "He buys in bulk, he's of gypsy stock. So he buys 1000 of these and he's the type that will buy 56 pounds of sugar in case he runs out."

I was still contemplating the poppers. Is he a drug dealer? "No! Nothing like that. He's a very reliable friend. He's kind. He buys me things. I'm like his girlfriend although he hasn't got one because he's gay. He loves the idea of buying me beautiful things. Maybe a fur stole, or he buys me alarm clocks because he knows I like alarm clocks." She has about 12 alarm clocks - she told me she is trying to de-clutter, which made me laugh my head off - but only three of them go off in the morning. "One's got a hammer that comes down! Ha, ha. F***ing hell! It's ridiculous. He is a real nice friend. He'd do anything for you. He hasn't had much luck with men."

I was having a bit of trouble keeping up. She's like her ring - give her a twist and she lights up and flashes on and off, on and off, but mostly on. She does talk rather a lot. She has never seen a therapist because she doesn't need to. "No, I talk to meself. I'm me own therapist." Does she ever let herself get a word in edgeways? "Well, yes, that's true! I'd have to say, wouldn't I: 'Now shut up for a minute, Su! Just reflect!'."

In what might be the silliest question ever to have been asked in an interview, I said: "Do you talk a lot?" She said: "I like to think I talk quickly and I try to get as much as I can out. But I sound as though I talk a lot!" I reminded her of the "lower your voice to a scream" quote and she honked away, loudly, like a goose and said: "I've always had a terribly loud voice but I quite like that because it means you can be heard once and someone doesn't have to go: 'Pardon me? Pardon me?' There's nothing more exhausting than having to repeat yourself because somebody's not 'eard it."

When I came to transcribe the interview I had to put the recorder on slow playback which made me sound like a slow-witted robot; she just sounded like a person speaking at, almost, the normal speed.

I went to order drinks and when I got back she was chatting to a couple of gents. I assumed she knew them, but she had only met them minutes before. She introduced them as "me new best friends". She is recognised wherever she goes and of course gets Hi-de-Hied wherever she goes. I thought Hi-de-Hi and her character, Peggy, the maid, which made her famous and the idea about her that she is always sunny funny Su, might get a bit wearying - but not a bit. Or just a bit, just once. She played Juliet's nurse in a production of Romeo and Juliet and some clown thought it would be funny to sing out "Hi-de-hi". "Honest to God. This is where I mustn't sound like a snob because I'm very grateful to have been in something that millions of people have loved but, darling, don't show your roots. You're watching a bloody Shakespearean play. Well! Where have you been dragged up?"

Sometimes she thinks she'd have liked to do more serious roles but then she says people who do Chekhov all the time hanker to do comedy. She would like to be made a dame. "Flipping 'eck. Wouldn't it be nice?" But mostly she really is sunny and funny and loves being famous. "I think it's marvellous." She loves having strangers talk to her and can't understand why celebrities grump about fame. "You see, my personality suits it because I embrace it."

She has never taken her good fortune for granted. She is from a working class family and worked as a secretary before getting her start. She wasn't really cut out to be a secretary. She was a hippie at the time and wore a bell as a necklace and it kept getting caught in the typewriter keys.

So she's been lucky in her career, but she hasn't had much luck with men. She has only been married once, for about five years, to Peter Keogh, an Australian who was gay, and then married her and so was presumably not gay, and then was gay again and so they split up. "Ha, ha. I don't think he ever went straight to be honest."

Perhaps she had to believe that he was. "Yes, I think so. He was very definitely in love with me and it was a total shock to actually fall for a woman. I don't think he expected that in a million years and I really felt for him. He was trying desperately to wrestle with his sexuality and do you know what, darling? I was never the first to marry a gay bloke and I'm certainly not going to be the last ... and he used to make me laugh because people would say to him: 'Are you alarmed?' And he said: 'Well, I do get a bit nervous.' But they didn't mean that! They meant: 'Is your house alarmed?'"

He was also very handsome. "Yes, I thought so and, in fact, he looked out of a window once and said: 'He's nice looking, that joker', and it was 'im! He'd looked at himself through the train window! Talk about vain! Ha, ha!"

Then there was Herman the German. He made her laugh too. She once asked him what, if he could, he'd most like to have happen to him in England and he said: "'I'd like to be knifed by the Queen!' He meant knighted! Ha, ha! Hilarious!"

She really has had some rum ones. "Oh, I've definitely had some rum ones! And the other one I lived with for ages, well, about six years, before I got married, he was allergic to work. His mum got him a job with British Telecom, because she was a sort of supervisor, and he went for a week and he went: 'Look at me! The stress! It's brought me out in spots! I can't go back there again. I'm obviously allergic to work!' Anyway, he died as well." As well! How many has she killed off? "Two. The German died. Poor bugger."

Anyway, she's over men now, she says (although she's said that before) because: "You know what, darling? I think if you're not meant to be with somebody really happily, I don't think you should compromise. Unless somebody is actually just fantastic, I'm not going to bother with anybody."

Oh, sod the blokes, we had more interesting things to talk about: Her legs. She is not vain (unlike somebody we won't mention again) but she is quite proud of her pins. She once said, when she was 60, that she had the legs of a 25-year-old. How were they holding up? "Yeah, not bad. Me pins are quite good." We had a good look at them and they're holding up very nicely. "I try to keep them toned, Michele." She likes to walk past building sites and get whistled at. Of course she always gets Hi-de-Hied first and then she says: "Give us a whistle!"

She said, on an unrelated matter: "I've always had trouble with dogs." Yes, we had better do dogs which is just as well because there is one in Annie - The Musical - which was supposed to be the reason for the interview. I wondered how she was getting on with the dog, given her trouble with them. She came second to a singing jack russell in Opportunity Knocks in 1974. "I've not had a very good time with dogs."

She was once invited to afternoon tea with the late actress, Irene Handl. She sat down on the couch and: "Suddenly you hear this 'yip, yip, yip'. She said: 'You're squashing Quetzel!' The dog was underneath the cushion and I was squashing it!" She was actually squashing two dogs, Quetzel and Pretzel. "Well, they were only chihuahuas, you see." The dog in Annie gets a huge clap when it comes on. "I said to the director: 'I might as well phone my part in!'" She plays Miss Hannigan, the terrible matron who runs the orphanage and who hates children and likes a drink and flirts with every man she sees. Is she at all like Miss Hannigan? "Let me see! I wouldn't go as far as saying I hate children. But I do enjoy a vino!"

She lowered her voice to a scream again and said I wasn't to write: "Su hates kids! Ooh, don't put that in!" She has never wanted children. "Oh! No! Oh, darling, can you imagine?" No. Well. Yes. "Yes! That's exactly why I didn't want any." They make a terrible mess. "Oh God! Can you imagine? On your skirting boards. Don't scuff the house! I couldn't stand it." She is very tidy and claims she has a big couch with cushions placed just so that she won't let anyone sit on. "I say: 'Don't sit on there! That's just for show'."

I thought she might be just all show - you can get distracted by all that gregarious gear - but she isn't. She's an absolutely genuine gem and she should be knifed by the Queen immediately.

Annie - The Musical is at The Civic until July 6

- NZ Herald

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