Documentary in which actress Alison Steadman talks about her career, from her earliest appearances on screen. Featuring archive footage and testimony from friends and colleagues.
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She is one of our most respected actors,
equally at home in serious drama or comedy.
I said to Mick, if we'd have had another son,
I'd have loved him to be a homosexual.
I honestly think there's nothing she can't do.
She has created some of the most memorable characters in British television.
We don't want to listen to classical music at the present moment.
-Well, what do we want to listen to, then, Beverly?
She'll always give you something that's spot on. Spot on.
Throughout, she's conquered every role she's played
and she's never backed away from making bold choices.
'For the time, it was quite a big thing.'
I remember being quite nervous about it.
Her faultless performances continue to command praise
from her every colleague.
# Black smoke, crisp bags
# Detergent in the river
# Cigarette smoke It makes me choke
# Litter makes me shiver. #
Generous and a good laugh off-camera as well.
You can't ask for more than that.
Her credits read like a roll call of Britain's finest productions,
but she has never made any grand career plan.
I've never been one of those actors that have gone,
"I've want to play this, if only I could play this role."
I've never done that.
Girls, girls, is he not a good father?
And never to tell us, what a good joke! Ah-ha-ha!
Oh, and now you shall all dance with Mr Bingley.
But could her incompatible gift for comedy have overshadowed her qualities as a serious actor?
There are other faces of Alison Steadman,
and they are neglected, through ignorance and loss of memory.
These are The Many Faces Of Alison Steadman.
While I remember, will you sort your washing out, ASAP?
I've got a white wash ready but it's got to go on tonight,
-because your dad's run out of pants. You've had to go commando today, isn't that right, Mick?
-You've got no drawers on.
-She's right, I'm flapping around like an elephant's trunk down here.
-Elephant's truck, I should be so lucky!
In 2007, the BBC launched a new sitcom -
a long distance love affair, it brought two families together
from the world of Barry, in Wales, and Billericay, in Essex.
In its simplest form,
a show like Gavin And Stacey is the most ordinary story in the world -
a boy meets girl and they fall in love,
and it's how their families and friends deal with that.
Like most successful actors,
Alison Steadman receives many scripts from hopeful writers.
But after reading episode one of Gavin And Stacey,
she was well up for the part.
I knew I was playing Pamela, this was the character they wanted me to do.
It just said, "Pamela is lying on the couch in her house in Billericay,
"with cucumbers on her eyes, and Gavin comes home from work."
-All right, Mum?
-No, not really. I'm absolutely shattered.
-I've been crying all afternoon.
That Pet Rescue, there was this badger and all its litter died,
and you could actually see the mother badger crying.
I don't think badgers can cry, Mum.
Nor did I, my little prince, but I know what I saw,
and it's knocked me for six.
I thought, "Yeah, I know this woman
"and I know the writers know this woman."
This isn't just a lady from Essex. There's a character there.
The one thing I remember her saying when she called me was that
she could hear the character's voice, and that's one of the most important things
on whether she decides to do a job.
Can she hear it? Can she hear who they are?
When we was in school, Smithy thought Spain was in China,
and he's been there twice.
-You're lush, you are.
KNOCK ON DOOR
Just to say, your dad's out for the count
and I'll put my ear plugs in, so let yourselves go.
Don't worry about a thing. Night.
I genuinely believe she is one of the best actresses we've ever had.
Nothing is out of her limits. If someone called me and said,
"She's going to play a serial killer," I'd think, "She'll be brilliant."
If someone called me and said,
"She's going to play a children's entertainer," I'd think, "She'll be brilliant."
This fine acting, with an exquisite feel for comedy and character,
has been honed and refined over a near faultless 40-year career.
Long before her acting career began, a young Alison Steadman was captivated
by what she and her family were watching on the box in the corner.
When we were seven we got television,
which, of course, then opened up a whole world of comediennes.
Girls, take my advice.
# If you find you're getting stout
# You must cut rice pudding out. #
Comediennes like Hilda Baker, Joan Turner, Beryl Reid.
# The whole world smiles with you
# When you're...
# When you're...
# The whole world
# With you... #
All these wonderful women that were funny, that we all used to find funny,
and I thought, "That's good, I'd like to do that."
Hilda Baker, in particular, was my heroine.
Where've you been, eh? I told you to be soon, didn't I?
Be soon, I said! Be soon!
I can see her now, you know, in her big coat with this big fur collar, and Cynthia would come on.
"Be soon, I said, didn't I?" and all this.
I just used to love her.
And my mum would often say, "There's nothing on this telly, turn it off.
"Come on, Alison, do Hilda Baker."
This gift for mimicry, and an unerring ability to make her family laugh,
led Alison to grab every opportunity to perform with particular gusto.
When I was 12, when we read Romeo And Juliet, I acted out...
I was playing Romeo and we had the books
and we were acting it out in front of the class.
"And with a kiss I die," and I threw myself on the floor, and all the class fell about.
The teacher said, "No, no, Alison's playing the part."
I thought, "Why would you not do that?" It says, "He dies." So, I died.
It was while attending drama classes after school that
one of Alison's teachers took her to meet some professional actors.
It was there that Alison made up her mind to follow a life on the stage.
One of the actors had been to East 15 Acting School,
told me all about it, and it sounded just my place.
East 15 Drama School was a bohemian enclave in east London,
a drama school inspired by the pioneering work of Joan Littlewood, a giant of British theatre.
It attracted students from across the full class divide.
If I remember, there was a girl in my year who was a debutante
and she was called... I forget, Caroline or something.
She talked terribly well.
And suddenly, there was this world opened up.
It wasn't just my little suburbs of Liverpool, it was the world.
We were at East 15 Acting School together, back in the late '60s.
Its style of training was quite different to RADA -
we did a lot of improvisation in our training.
I think it was quite a left-wing based company,
and in those days, you didn't get a lot of working class actors.
It was all sort of RADA, and rather middle-class.
But there, they started getting ordinary people.
I remember my dear parents coming to my final show.
Obviously, they hadn't been to the school and hadn't been to London.
My mum was really dressed up in a beautiful suit and she had a hat on.
The principal of the school, Margaret Berry, was quite, sort of, wild,
she had long hair and an Afghan coat on, and she came kind of...
My mum was sort of, "Is that the principal of the school?"
My mum was really dressed up, you know?
When Alison was in her second year,
she encountered a young director at East 15 called Mike Leigh,
whose very individual approach to acting would have a big effect on Alison.
We used to do a lot of improvisation as an exercise,
but we certainly didn't perform it as a finished piece of work,
which is what he did with the year above me, and I love that.
I got chatting to him there, and I realised that here was someone who talked the same language.
On leaving East 15, Alison quickly found work in rep theatre.
After rewarding spells in Lincoln and Bolton, she got an opportunity
to audition for one of the most exciting theatres in Britain.
Central to launching the careers of some of our finest actors,
the Everyman Theatre would play a significant role in Alison's education.
The Liverpool Everyman had a terrific reputation for being a really progressive theatre.
They did new work, work that was associated with the city.
And so, I auditioned for Alan Dossor.
First thing that Alan did, our first morning, was put us on a coach,
took us to the Ford factory and gave us a tour of the factory, with all the workers.
All the workers going, "All right, from the theatre, hey? Oh, great."
He then said, "These are the people, this is Liverpool, this is one of the main industries.
"We are here, performing for this city, for these people, and we're doing plays for them, about them."
And suddenly, it was a different way of thinking.
It was an attempt to contact the same audiences
as were going to music concerts, to films.
They didn't want to see old music or old concerts,
they wanted to see what was new.
Alison was acting alongside Jonathan Pryce in the play, The Foursome, directed by Alan Dossor.
In the audience was a face from the past, Mike Leigh,
and he happened to be casting for his next film.
Mike came over and saw that, and from that,
gave myself and Polly Hemingway a job on telly. We were, "Yes!"
-Do you like the kitchen, June?
-Oh, yes, it's lovely.
-Do you like this estate?
-Yes, it seems very nice.
I like it because every house is that bit individual,
do you know what I mean?
They're all a little bit different. Makes it more select.
See that wall, not all the houses have got those,
some are just the through room, but I like the two rooms myself,
and if anyone should break in the back, they can't get upstairs.
-Edward, don't chew your fingers, please.
It was exciting to be on telly, and particularly to work with Mike,
improvising and looking at the background of the character,
you know, and their environment, and what has made the person the person that they are.
Working with Mike, I think it was detailed
so that by the time you came in front of camera,
you virtually knew the breakfast cereal that your character liked.
With almost no break in her work since leaving drama school,
Alison Steadman was now about to enter a uniquely creative period in her career.
After Hard Labour, her subsequent work would showcase her formidable range,
that included a very notable comic touch.
We know our readers are interested in other people's past times.
-I'm sure they'd like to learn something about your unusual hobby.
-Shy of men.
Always have been.
Both spinster ladies.
I see. When you first started...
Never married, because men get full of desires.
Desires and lust.
-Full of lust, men are.
Now if we could...
To get your first job as an actor is the best feeling ever, and...
from then on, you're just grateful every time another job comes up, you know?
They've got hot breath, and all, and they pant with it.
Grips you hard and fast, and you can't fight free.
-And they'd be panting away in a frenzy.
Huge thighs, men have got. Great, huge thighs.
Ooh-hoo-hoo! Thighs, men have got!
Could you please show us some of your musical boxes?
What flaming musical boxes?
They whip themselves into a frenzy of passion!
The panting and the hot breath.
It's too much for us spinster ladies.
-Shy of men.
-Always have been.
-Get his shirt off!
Beyond comedy, Alison was also capable of excelling in serious drama.
Her next two roles would demonstrate that she was not afraid to tackle difficult subjects.
In 1974, she appeared in a play that called for British TV's first lesbian kiss.
I feel all lovely and safe and warm.
Turn the light out in a minute.
I'm shattered, all of a sudden. God, I hate duty, it's so boring.
I hate being bored.
For the time, it was quite a big thing,
and I remember being quite nervous about it.
But the director we had, Peter Gill, handled it very well and didn't make a big thing of it.
And he said to us, I remember, on our very first day,
"Don't think of this as a play about two lesbian women,
"think of it as a love story between two people, that's what it is.
"It's a love story that's gone wrong."
Will you miss me?
Alison's next role confronted another subject
that was uncomfortable territory for television.
It also demonstrated her continuing development as an actor
of significant power and truth.
Through The Night was a television play by Trevor Griffiths,
about a woman who has a mastectomy.
It was a very serious and profound dramatic piece,
and Alison played the central character.
At that time, Alison must have been about 26, 27.
What you crying for, love?
They've taken it off, Joe.
I thought you were just in for tests, love.
I mean, you weren't even ill!
It was a hugely important piece of television.
It caused quite a controversy,
and Alison's profound performance was taken very seriously,
and I think...
what I feel about it is that it's a side of Alison Steadman,
one of Alison Steadman's faces that has kind of,
sadly, in a way, got lost.
Nobody says anything.
They treat you as if you're already dead.
Specialist, he never even looked at me, let alone spoke.
I know it was serious. I'm not a child.
You don't cut a thing like that off for nothing.
It sounds strange now, but breast cancer was then something
that women didn't want to admit to, or didn't want to...
if they found a lump in their breast,
they would try and ignore it and hope it would go away.
Dame Flora Robson wrote to her
and congratulated her on her performance.
You know, that's the level of it.
Is this the Alison Steadman everybody knows?
By 1976, Alison and Mike Leigh were together
in a marriage that would last 28 years.
On screen, their next two collaborations
would result in two high points in British television.
Still a young actor at 30, Alison Steadman's place
among the finest of character actors would soon be assured.
With a number of significant productions already to her name,
Alison was about to realise the full breadth of her substantial range.
# "I wonder where we'll go," she said
# I wonder where we'll go
# "I'll look around the world," he said
# "I'll search both high and low"
# The prettiest is Dorset
# It has so many charms
# We'll walk across the hills and dales
# And look at all the farms. #
-Can't sing that, Keith.
It doesn't sound right.
How better to sing...
# We'll walk across the hills and dales
# Linking each other's arms. #
That doesn't scan.
Nuts In May was originally a stage play, upstairs at the Royal Court.
It was called Wholesome Glory,
and there were three characters in it -
Keith and Candice Marie, and his brother,
played by the late, great Geoff Hutchings.
And that's when Keith and Candice Marie
first saw the light of day, really.
-Important thing, of course, is to maintain a dietary balance.
We're having our protein in the beans, aren't we?
That's right. Body-building proteins.
We had cheese at lunchtime,
-and we're having haricot beans for our evening meal.
It was very successful.
People kind of laughed and hid behind their hands watching it,
you know, because they were by turns amused and appalled.
They used to squirm.
-Are we having salad for lunch?
-What's the treat?
Mmm, my favourite. And onion and nut roast for supper?
Boiled jacket potatoes.
BOTH: Vitamin C in their skins.
Yoghurt to follow and cocoa at bedtime.
I think I was much more relaxed on that film.
We had a long, long preparation period, and we were down in Dorset.
I was more experienced by then
and perhaps more sure of that character.
Perhaps I liked the character more, it was more fun.
-Isn't it lovely?
-Can you imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago?
All the sort of kings and queens walking about in all their fineries.
And eating great bowls of fruit and luscious grapes.
And drinking wine out of golden goblets. Must have been lovely.
You don't have a script when you start, you know,
so you trust Mike to a great extent in terms of the process,
and it's by turns slightly scary -
and it's not for everybody -
it's slightly scary, but also wonderfully creative,
because you get to do more as an actor,
in a way, than you do normally.
MUSIC PLAYS ON RADIO
We'll have to tell him, Keith.
Dear Candice Marie, you know,
she's so sweet and sort of floaty and everything,
but in their relationship,
she really kind of tweaks him.
ANNOUNCER ON RADIO
It's not fair, is it?
"Keith, did you see that? Did you see what he did?"
I don't know how you can sit there and read books, Keith,
with all this row going on.
MUSIC CONTINUES ON RADIO
Well, if you don't tell him, Keith, I'm going to have to go over myself.
'For him, it's a bit like Lady Macbeth, really,'
because he's put in a position where he's got nowhere to turn.
He's got to do that confrontation,
because, you know,
there's nothing else he can do.
-Put the stick down.
-You want a fight, I'll...
-Look, be told!
-You touch me, I'll bleeding kill you.
Now, look, I don't want to fight you,
I just want to tell you that you shouldn't...
-Look, keep away from me!
I just want you to stop making the fire and breaking those branches.
Come on, Finger, leave it alone.
-Come on, hit me! Come on!
No, I'm not going to.
Get away from me! I'll knock your head off!
-Get back, I'm warning you!
-You touch me, I'll kill you!
I'll knock your head off! I'll knock your head off!
When you leave those characters behind,
it's hard to imagine that they're over.
I kind of think they're still living somewhere,
Keith and Candice Marie are still pottering around somewhere,
you know, in their nutty kind of way.
# Black smoke, crisp bags
# Detergent in the river
# Cigarette smoke, it makes me choke
# Litter makes me shiver... #
'We got on very well.'
'She's a wonderfully warm and joyful person, really,'
and I think audiences respond to that.
I think they can sense that.
Nuts In May achieved classic status
for featuring the comic eco-frenzy of Keith and Candice Marie.
But it's the beautifully drawn characters
and faultless performances that have seen it endure.
# Oh, love to love you, baby... #
Alison's next appearance on television
would see her create a monster.
# Oh, love to love you, baby... #
The role of Beverly in Abigail's Party
proved that Alison was the complete character actor.
# When you're laying so close to me
# There's no place I'd rather you be than with me... #
This woman was always trying
to break out of the world that she was in,
move somewhere else, move further forward,
and for her, moving further forward would be to be a catwalk model,
'so even when she was on her own,'
'in order to mix herself a drink she puts some music on,'
'and kind of enjoys that role-play, so that when her guests arrived,'
'all the thing of,
'"Would you like a little drink, "a little top-up?" and all that'
'was all kind of...her presentation of herself, you know.'
# Oh, love to love you, baby... #
The play was centred around an awkward suburban soiree
with an underlying tension brought about
by the overbearing Beverly.
Who'd like some olives?
-Not for me. Ange?
No? Tony, do you like olives?
-No, I don't.
-No, they're horrible, aren't they?
Told you nobody'd like olives, Laurence.
No, not nobody, no, Beverly.
I like olives,
and that's 25% of the assembled company.
The choice of people who were going to be at his little soiree
wasn't his choice.
That was all down to Beverly.
So if they were mismatched, it was nothing to do with Laurence.
It was all Beverly's fault.
'He would have invited the lady next door, the more middle class lady.'
-Sue, do you like olives?
Fine! I'll get you some.
-You've got a friend for life there, Sue.
-None of us like olives, you see.
-Oh, I see.
No, I can't stand them. It's those stuffed olives, Sue.
You know the little red bit that sticks out?
Well, it reminds me of a little...
Well, I'm not going to say what it reminds me of! But it puts me off.
I can't eat them.
She is a completely truthful actor.
She has the ability to live in the moment,
and she acts as only an intelligent actor can,
in a way that really gets to grips
with the meaning of the moment as well as its resident truth.
Why don't you dance with Sue?
I really don't think Sue wants to dance,
-thanks very much,
Then why don't you ask her, Laurence?
-Sue, would you like to dance?
-No, thank you.
-There you are.
Sue doesn't want to dance.
Of course she wants to dance!
Now, go on, Sue, have a little dance with Laurence.
Go on, enjoy yourself,
have a little dance, go on.
Would you like to, Sue?
'Her performance in that...'
there was such fun.
It's such comedy,
such amazing skill,
and such bravery in that.
Because the thing about being an actor,
when you're playing a part who's unpopular or irritating,
'and be so vile and sensitive
'and so vulnerable and despicably irritating in the same vein,
'it's quite an achievement.'
With 16 million people watching,
Abigail's Party was an enormous success.
Alison became synonymous with her character,
and this became her defining role.
Want to sit down?
Along with the accolades,
there were plenty of offers to cash in on the success.
'I did get...a lot of parts came in,'
and people wanted me to do adverts as Beverly,
advertise this, advertise that,
and I did resist all that,
because I didn't want to cheapen that role,
I didn't want to then exploit it in a wrong way,
and I'm not criticising anyone else
for exploiting roles that they've played.
They can do what they want, it's entirely up to them.
But for me, it was so special,
I wanted to keep it there.
'Beverly did her a huge number of favours.'
I'm so proud of Beverly, and working with her on it,
on Abigail's Party all those years ago, was a fantastic experience.
And we knew we were on to something.
I mean, no-one could have anticipated that Abigail's Party
would become the kind of cult classic it apparently is,
but nevertheless, we knew we were striking some kind of gold.
As the '70s drew to a close,
Alison Steadman had built up an enviable body of work,
with enough critical praise
to satisfy even the most ambitious of actors.
But Alison was only beginning.
The next decade would see her reputation
continue to grow on stage and screen.
At the dawn of a new broadcasting era,
Alison appeared in one of Channel 4's first films.
What the hell are you doing?
Out! All of you.
Please, Miss, I was just getting my homework.
All of you!
Beasts of the field!
-Not you, beast of the field.
And she excelled on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company
in a prestigious staging of Moliere's Tartuffe.
What are you doing?
I'm feeling your dress.
Isn't it silky?
Oh, please don't.
I am very ticklish.
It's wonderful, the things they do these days.
I've never seen anything like that.
But can we get back to the point?
'It was a terrific piece.'
To be on the Barbican stage, it was scary,
but oh, God, it was a great experience.
Great actors get the great parts,
and 1985 would mark yet another career high.
Dennis Potter's distinctive and often surreal dramas
were in marked contrast to the gritty realism of Mike Leigh,
but Alison could excel in both,
and again played a significant part
in creating another milestone in British TV drama.
'I was lucky enough to be in Singing Detective,'
which I think is an absolutely stunning piece of work.
I'm not talking about my performance,
but as a whole,
I think it's a real kind of radical...
'step into the unknown.'
# ..That all the other fellows cannot steal... #
The Singing Detective garnered huge critical acclaim
and won countless awards.
It was Dennis Potter's masterpiece and boasted a stellar cast,
who delivered extraordinary performances.
It featured many of Dennis Potter's favourite motifs,
as he weaved a complex web of fantasy, reality and flashbacks.
I can remember reading it, first of all, and thinking,
"I don't understand a word of this!"
I was really confused, cos I was thinking it was this, or it was that.
It wasn't till we got to the read-through
and we heard the whole thing and all the actors playing
the different characters that it began to bed itself in, and then,
of course, when you shoot it,
you are completely just locked into your own thing.
As well as the difficulty of playing two characters,
Alison Steadman would also find herself in an unfamiliar
and uncomfortable position
as the object of attack for one controversial scene in the series.
My character, Sun, who was portrayed, I think, as 11. 10 or 11.
He was watching his mother having sex with this stranger, in the tree.
That was the main thing of it.
Of course, the boy wasn't there on the day of filming
and anyway I think he was 14 anyway, though he looked quite young.
He wasn't there, of course, but it looked as though he was because
you see the shot of him in the tree
and then he looks down and there's the shot of his mum.
And a lot of people got upset about that - particularly
Norman Tebbit, Mary Whitehouse and various people, and that's their
prerogative but it did overshadow the piece a little bit, for a time.
We've received over 200 letters about The Singing Detective,
mostly like this from Valerie Siggins of Cleckheaton.
Mrs EM Johnstone of Darlington says:
But Paul Thompson of Shrovesbury asks:
About a year later, I was at some do and this journalist said,
"Well, Singing Detective was very popular, wasn't it, Miss Steadman?"
I said, "Oh, yes it was." I was just walking in.
He said, "I bet you thought,
'Cor, that's one in the eye for Mary Whitehouse, then'? "
I just said, "Yeah, whatever." Walked in.
Next day in the paper,
"Alison Steadman says 'One In The Eye for Mary Whitehouse' ".
Of course it sounded like I had said that and I hadn't. So, you learn.
Building characters through improvisation had been a key
feature of Alison's work with Mike Lee.
It was this talent that made Alison so desirable for directors
and she never disappointed.
In 1990, she was uncanny in her accuracy
when asked to play a tough-as-teak Fleet Street hack.
So, where are you going out with this mystery man, then?
Just out, darling.
-I'm going out for a curry.
-Yeah, I'm going down Brick Lane
with a few of the lads. Have a bit of a laugh. You should come!
Curry down Brick Lane, darling,
with your farting friends isn't exactly a turn-on.
It was all going to be improvised...
and so I said, "OK. Right."
There's nothing like being terrified to make you work really hard.
So I sort of gritted my teeth and I said, "Right.
"I want all the research" you know.
"I want all the help I can get.
"I want contacts with all these newspapers,
"I want to visit the newspapers,
"talk to journalists" and I just sort of...
really went in at the deep end and had a whale of a time
chatting to journalists, erm, about their job.
Interviewing them, if you like, about their work.
Going to newspapers, being on the floor, watching them,
how their lives work, you know?
And building up a picture, and then gradually building up a character
of this columnist on this newspaper.
There's something I've got to ask you,
cos everybody wants to know.
I want to know because I've never been to one,
and that's what is an acid house party like and have you been to one?
Oh, I've been invited a couple of times,
but I've never taken up the offer to actually go.
So you've actually been invited to an acid house party,
-but you've actually said, "No, I'm not going to go."
-What do your mates say? Are they full of drugs and cocaine...?
-There's a lot of that.
-Crack and all that? Yeah. Right.
I think she certainly goes for it in the characters that she does.
I mean, as a worker, as an artist, she's certainly bold
and courageous in the actual work she does.
'She really can turn herself inside out
'and upside down and be different people.'
Alison's meticulous research paid off
and she could pass as a seasoned journalist.
But she was on edge when the director insisted
on blurring the line between fact and fiction.
Up until then, in my fictitious job,
I'd been interviewing actors who were in the film
and he said, I want you to interview
"someone for real." And he said, "we've got Edwina Currie for you."
And I thought, "Oh, no. Not a politician! Please!
How do you actually get on with Margaret Thatcher these days?
You has a good relationship in the past, but since
your resignation, do you actually have a good relationship with her?
Well, as I think I've explained in the book,
junior ministers don't see the Prime Minister all that much.
That was quite scary because here was a real person
and she was a politician, so she's pretty canny.
Do you see yourself as a future prime minister?
Perhaps before I answer that, I should say I've got a car waiting.
We've got two or three minutes, so if you want...
Maybe I could have these last two or three minutes?
What I want to do is move this...
I've got two more questions to ask Mrs Currie
and then you can have all the time you want.
You've been sitting here drinking tea and I haven't had any decent chances
I'm telling you I've got two more questions.
I want to get some decent shots now and I want to move this table.
Just edge it out the way, like that.
When I've seen Alison do, er, straighter stuff,
it's just still been lovely.
I think because you're either a good actor or you're not, I think,
and because you've either got the eye on the truth or not,
and putting the story above you and not the other way, you know,
and not your cheekbones above everything else, you know,
and I think she's really got that.
Alison's impeccable work continued, whatever the role.
In 1992, when she worked again with Mike Leigh in the film Life Is Sweet,
she played Wendy, a character every bit as memorable
as Candice Marie and Beverly.
A working mum struggling to make ends meet as well as nursing
family and friends through their individual crises,
Alison delivered another brilliantly drawn performance.
-What you get now?
-Can I have a look?
If you want to.
-Oh, it's nice.
-Yeah, it's all right, innit?
-Why do you always get a man's?
-Cos I like 'em.
-Suits me, thanks a lot.
-It's not for me?
-No, it's not for you.
Thought me luck had changed.
You should get a nice blouse. Short sleeves. Show yourself off a bit.
Don't listen to her.
That character of Wendy, like a lot of women,
she is the kind of rock of the family.
She's had these twin little girls and she's brought them up,
little frilly dresses and, you know, little angels,
and ended up with one kind of quite butch daughter
who's a plumber and one who's, um, you know,
got real sort of serious health problems
and bulimic and has lost their way.
-Hey, Andy, guess what?
Woke up this morning, I felt a little bit wotsit, you know,
and I thought to myself, "Ooh, blimey. "Don't tell me I'm in the family way!"
What's the 'family way' supposed to mean?
-You know what it means.
-No, I know what pregnant means.
-You don't half talk some rubbish.
-Well, silly little sayings.
-Oh, shut up.
-You shut up.
I was lying there, Andy, and I thought to myself,
"Oh, I'd love another little a baby."
You're too old to have a baby.
-Of course not!
-You may not be, I am.
You wouldn't see me for dust, I tell you.
Oh, don't, Andy. Don't be rotten.
Typical. Typical man.
-Oh, shut up. What do you know about men?
Wendy and Andy were such giving people,
um, and, um...
they...they were triers in life.
They worked hard in life to get somewhere
and sometimes it wasn't successful, but they really gave it a go
and were incredibly optimistic people.
Er, and I think that both Alison and Jim
played those characters superbly.
You totally believed in their marriage and that they made each other laugh
and they were really a proper little unit.
Me and Jim got really close filming that
and even now when we see each other,
there's an unwritten thing that we've got that closeness between us.
Come on, you bastards! I'm open!
The scene in the restaurant, oh, I remember filming that.
That was just hilarious.
I mean it was quite hard not to laugh sometimes, you know.
That is enough.
Because you're being a naughty boy.
-Marry me, Wendy.
I want to marry you.
Now, stop it!
Aubrey, stop it! Get off!
I love you!
(SHE LAUGHS) He's going, "Wendy, I love you."
"Yeah, I know you do. I know you do.
"Get up! Get up!" You know, and all this!
It was just hilarious!
-What are you doing?
-I'm going to give him the suit.
Leave your trousers on, Aubrey!
-Aubrey, leave your trousers on.
Behave yourself. Leave your trousers on!
'I had to strip off and say, "Aw...I love you, I love you, I love you!"'
"Give my trousers to your husband.
"He's a poor man! He's a poor man!"
Life Is Sweet does, you know,
give Alison the opportunity to be light, comic, engaging.
But when it comes to it, as you were saying,
real, moving, grounded.
Blimey days, Nicola. Look at the state of you.
You're sitting there like there's a grey cloud over you.
It's like the sun's gone in.
You've got no energy cos you don't eat your dinners.
-You've got no joy in your soul.
-How do you know?
I know, because you've given up.
Because you're not happy. That's how I know.
'Mike will set up a situation'
in order to facilitate those sort of moments.
And he's not sitting there saying,
"Now I want you to do this touching scene,
"where she breaks down and says, 'You don't love me,'
"and she does this," you know?
It's not like that at all.
He sets up improvisations in order to allow those moments to happen.
I don't know what I want to do yet!
Oh, don't you? Well, you had your chance, Nicola, when you were 17.
When you were at the college doing your three A-levels.
You were going great, and then suddenly, you stopped.
You stopped eating, you stopped everything.
You ended up in the hospital.
Well, you put me there. I didn't want to go!
Oh, for God's sake, Nicola! You were at death's door!
You were trying to control my life!
-You were dying!
-No, I wasn't!
-Yes, you were!
-I'd know if I was dying!
Dr Harris told us you had two weeks to live!
You didn't know that, did you?
'It was a difficult scene.
'I mean, we'd improvised it'
in various different forms.
And, you know, they were a hard improvisations because,
like I say, Nicola was in such a tunnel
that she really couldn't see out of that.
And so to be told the truth
was really not something that was easy for her
as a character, as a person, to take on.
-Come and have a little cup of tea.
-No. I don't want one.
Come on, do it for your dad. He's been asking for you.
Sitting there with his tongue hanging out.
You know what he's like. He wants a bit of tea and sympathy.
I just want to talk to you.
Along with the plaudits, Alison won awards for Life Is Sweet.
Although one of Britain's most established performers,
she was aware that her career was approaching a significant,
and often unwelcome, benchmark.
'When you get in your 40s, if you're a woman,'
it's quite hard to get through that.
Most jobs seem to be for 20 to 30 year-olds on telly, you know.
Once you get to 40, will you get through it?
It's a difficult profession, and you can never be sure.
You can never sit back and say, "Oh, yes, I'm established now."
To a degree, you are.
But, you know, you've always got to sort of think, " Hmmm..."
But Alison would prevail,
and there would be no scarcity of parts for her to play.
If anything, her next role took her further into the national bosom,
when she was cast as Mrs Bennett
in the unforgettable 1995 adaptation
of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Even at the rehearsal stage,
Alison approached her role with her familiar gusto.
My dear! Mr Bennett!
-Netherfield Park is let at last!
Yes, it is! For I have just had it from Mrs Long!
I do remember Alison's first reading,
because she absolutely pounced on the part.
And it was there from the word go.
His name is Bingley, and he will be in possession by Nickelmas.
And he has 5,000 a year!
What a fine thing for our girls!
How so? How can it affect them?
Oh, Mr Bennett! How can you be so tiresome?
You must know that I'm thinking of his marrying one of them?
I just thought, this woman is...she is over the top.
This is what Jane Austen has written.
A woman who...and we know people in life like that.
Who are a pain, you know?
They're loud, they're over the top, they talk too much.
The kind of people who when they walk in you go,
"Oh, God. She's here."
I mean, there are people like that in life.
We are never to know Mr Bingley, and it pains me to hear of him.
But, Mama! >
I am sick of Mr Bingley!
I'm sorry to hear that.
If I'd known as much this morning, I should never have called on him.
You have called on him?!
I'm afraid we cannot escape the acquaintance now.
My dear Mr Bennett!
How good you are to us!
'The woman is desperate.'
She is desperate, because she's got all these daughters.
And if her husband dies, they're all on the street.
And there's no two ways about it.
Girls! girls! Is he not a good father?
And never to tell us? What a good joke!
Oh, and now you shall all dance with Mr Bingley!
'She obviously realised that,'
that energy was required.
And that intent that she wanted
to get the best for her daughters, you know.
But she's a great comedian.
And although she played it, you know,
absolutely straight down the middle, she's terribly funny in it.
She knows how to get the laughs.
You must tell him what a dreadful state I'm in!
How I have such tremblings and flutterings all over me!
Such spasms in my side and pains in my head
and beatings at my heart,
that I get no rest neither night or day.
Sister, calm yourself!
And tell Lydia not to give any directions about wedding clothes
till she has seen me.
For she does not know which are the best warehouses!
I know she found the dialogue difficult to begin with.
We all did.
But, you know, she's a brilliant performer.
She knows how to conquer and get on top of it.
Pride And Prejudice was immediately heralded as a British TV classic.
Once again, Alison was a central player
in a multi-award-winning production.
She was in demand.
And when the project felt right,
she got to work again.
And the results were never less than impressive.
In 2000, she brought presence to a character in an ensemble piece
dealing with the emotional turmoil of losing weight.
What? Oh, it's only a sandwich!
It's a bloody great chip buttie!
-Spit it out!
-I am not spitting it out!
That character of Betty was...erm...was interesting.
You know, this woman, she'd lost five stone and, you know,
she was battling with her weight
and trying to cope with her daughter who was overweight.
It was a serious subject to be tackled.
I don't know why everybody's obsessed with being thin!
You married me, Douglas, because you knew no one else would want me!
Is that what you really think?
Yes, I do. I've seen the way you look at other women. Thin women.
I watched the end of Betty's story
in episode one of Fat Friends,
when her and Donald having the big showdown,
and I was...there were tears falling off the end of my chin.
'And I wrote it!'
I don't believe you.
All this dieting's thinned your brain!
Yes, I might occasionally look at other women.
Show me a man who doesn't!
But I've no bloody idea whether they're thin or fat.
'So if she can make me forget that I've written those lines,'
and I'm the writer, and make ME sob,
what was she doing to other people out there?
Fat Friends won awards and ran for four series.
But it also sparked the creation of a smash sitcom
when two of the younger cast members decided to start writing together.
I think James was only 19 when he started.
He was always very funny.
Very cheeky, very creative.
And Ruth, again, very talented lady.
And they just got together.
But before Gavin And Stacey charmed millions,
there was more to come from Alison.
Her prodigious vocal talents had audiences in hoots
when she worked in the innuendo-fuelled radio comedy.
KNOCK AT DOOR
-Hello, let me in!
-Er, hold on a minute, Mrs Naughtie.
Hamish and I are just in the lavatory together.
Oh! Shall I come back later?
-Oh, no. Stay away!
-It's not what you think.
You mean it's NOT a perfectly innocent misunderstanding?
'I was quite surprised that'
the big TV, movie star, would deign to do a radio series.
And was actually quite flattered
when she said yes immediately to Hamish and Dougal.
Mrs Naughtie, where have you been?
I've been getting ready for my dance.
-Do you like the fishnets?
-But you might have taken the herring out first.
There was no safety net when Alison worked again
on a film with no script.
A mockumentary about a wedding competition.
There was more than enough talent in the cast to ensure
Confetti had some unforgettable moments.
5, 6, 7, 8!
1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8...
I'm sorry, but...
-Keep going! Keep going!
-5, 6, 7, 8!
-That is too close to me!
-2, 3, 4!
For God's sake, Dave! Do me a favour!
I'm trying my best! I'm trying my best!
How could anyone be so insensitive? I'm standing here next to you.
Bash you in the back of the head? Pushing me like that?
-Oi, come on, guys!
-And if you're not pushing me,
I can feel that you're making me lose me balance.
Chris, there's only a little bit of room we've all got, darling.
All right, what I'm saying is, he's standing right next to me,
Bish, bash, bosh, bish!
-I'm doing me best!
-It's very hard for all of us.
If you were a bit more sensitive to what was happening.
I think we shot many, many, many hours.
Then out of that, you know, was distilled the film.
And I thought the film worked very well,
but obviously there was a lot of stuff
ended up on the cutting room floor.
But that's the way it worked.
-'That's what it's about.'
-'She's got nothing to prove.'
She's so well thought of in that way,
and she's proved herself time and time again
with being able to come up with characterisations just like that.
But it's kind of having a big bit of ballast there.
That doesn't sound complimentary, but it is! Honestly!
"Big bit of ballast! I love 'er!"
That's the best review she's got in the last ten years!
Even though Alison had played the ultimate comedy grotesque,
and had been gifted with a comic touch,
she had never appeared in a hit sitcom.
She had given it a go,
but there was one aspect of sitcom she would never warm to.
'I've done things with studio audiences and I get really nervous'
and I don't know whether I'm playing to the camera or to the audience.
And there's never enough rehearsals, and oh, I just hate it!
But in 2007, and two writers wrote a script with Alison in mind,
her sitcom credentials would soon be complete.
'Ruth and I sat down and said,'
"Let's write a brilliant part for Alison Steadman."
What's going on?
I don't know, Pam. All I know is, if I don't eat this now,
-I'm going to faint.
-Me too. I can barely breathe.
Smithy, what have I told you about eating late at night?
All that cholesterol!
-It's only a six-piece.
-And we got coleslaw.
Oh, well done, darlings.
You can rejoice in marvellous acting, but you go,
"Oh, I know that woman! I used to know that woman! Who is that woman?
"Is it right?"
She'll always give you something that's spot-on.
Now, I've got fresh strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, and melon.
Croissants, pain-au-chocolats, and brioches.
Where's all this come from?
I was down at Tesco's at five this morning.
Mum, you didn't need to do all this.
With all due respect,
we're talking about Gavin's girlfriend. Not Princess Di.
You do NOT mention that hussy's name in this house,
and you know that, Michael! NOISE UPSTAIRS
She's coming! Put your paper down!
You're working with somebody who's kind of done it all.
She's really, really a top-rate actress,
and she is an absolutely real person.
And that combination is pretty much foolproof.
Will your boy be coming to the wedding? What's his name again?
Jason? Yes, he's coming over. Lives in Spain, he does.
-Is he married?
-No, he's gay.
Do you know, I said to Mick,
if we'd have had another son,
I'd have loved him to be a homosexual.
You know, for fashion advice and emotional support.
Jason's good as gold, like that.
I miss him terribly, I do.
Lights up a room.
Aw! Like a little Will Young!
There was a time we rehearsed...
It was the first series, so it's going back a bit.
I was in the hotel room before my wedding,
'and she comes in to give me a little pep talk,
'and it's a really, really tender moment.'
You look lovely, Mum.
House of Fraser.
Hat cost more than the suit.
Oh, come here, sweetheart. Let me do that.
Only seems like yesterday I was putting your school tie straight.
It's really rewarding, because it's rare to really, really hit it.
And you both can feel it, and, you know,
'something is happening. Some emotion is being created.'
I'll be getting through these today.
There's a line where she talks about her maiden name.
I mean, it is weird.
-Getting used to being Stacey Shipman.
And she says, "I was very upset when I lost my maiden name."
What was it?
Griggell-Eschefska. Pamela Andrea Griggell-Eschefska.
I don't even know why it's funny!
I felt quite flat, if I'm honest with you, the day after we got married.
I felt like I'd lost my identity.
You know, like Anne Frank, after they found her?
I think it got better and better
as they really got into the stride of writing.
And we also got into the stride of playing the characters.
I love Stacey.
It's just, ooh, I don't know,
I just feel I've got you back all to myself, just for tonight.
There's my little prince, my handsome king,
and me in the middle, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Gavin And Stacey introduced Alison to a whole new audience,
who experienced for the first time
her consummate work as a comedienne.
Comedy or drama,
on stage or screen,
she has won awards and entertained millions.
And as to the future, who knows?
'All my career, I've never been'
one of those actors that have gone, "I want to play this.
"Oh, if only I could play this role." I've honestly never done that,
and I don't know why I haven't. But I haven't.
But there may be another challenging role waiting for Alison.
This time, behind the camera.
'I did a little bit of directing'
at my old drama school, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
But what I would really like to do is make a film.
I'd like to direct a film.
And I've got an idea in mind.
Perhaps I should push myself a bit more to take a chance and do that.
And have a go.
Take a little bit of time out from acting, and make a movie.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media
A documentary in which Alison Steadman talks about her impressive career, featuring archive clips, both treasured and rarely seen, weaved together with sincere testimony from friends and colleagues.
The programme contains footage and stills from programmes such as Gavin and Stacey, Abigail's Party, Newshounds, Nuts in May and her early appearances in Frost's Weekly. It progresses from her earliest appearances on screen to what drove her choices, for good or ill, and their consequences.