Brian Conley journeys through the world of television. Amanda Abbington reveals which long-running classic sitcom had her howling with laughter.
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TV, the magic box of delights.
As kids, it showed us a million different worlds
all from our living room.
This takes me right back.
That's so embarrassing!
I am genuinely shocked.
Each day, I'm going to journey through the wonderful world of telly
with one of our favourite celebrities.
It's just so silly!
Ah! I love it.
Is it Mr Benn?
As they select the iconic TV moments...
..that tell us the stories of their lives.
-Oh, my gosh!
Some will make you laugh.
Some will surprise.
Many will inspire.
Look at this. Why wouldn't you want to watch this?
And others will move us.
Seeing that there, made a huge impact on me.
You're not having my kid!
Got a handkerchief?
So, come watch with us as we rewind to the classic telly that shaped
those wide-eyed youngsters into the much-loved stars they are today.
Welcome to The TV That Made Me.
My guest today is one of Britain's most gifted actors.
Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome the hugely talented Amanda Abbington.
-How are you?
-All the better for seeing you.
-Welcome to my humble abode.
Star of stage, screen and Sherlock,
Amanda has starred in some of our most iconic shows
over the last few years, including Mr Selfridge and crime drama Cuffs.
The TV that made her includes an old-school classic comedy.
And a terrifying post-apocalyptic series.
-So, are you excited about today?
-Yes, I am!
-Yes, I'm really excited.
-Was telly a big thing in your life growing up?
-Because I'm an only child, so I didn't have anyone to play with.
So they just stuck you in front of the telly, did they?
Yeah, my mum did! She kind of did a bit.
But that's because she had to get on and do her work.
But that was then, that was '70s and '80s.
That was sort of the thing you did. You either went out and played
in the summer holidays with your friends
but you were mainly kind of...
You just sort of stayed at home
and you didn't have the internet or anything, so the telly was...
-And there was four channels.
-I know, blimey. Do you remember that?
My children don't understand that. They can't fathom that at all.
-Yeah, and that we had to get up and change channels.
-Yeah, it was a big thing in those days.
Yeah, you just didn't bother in the end.
-You'd end up with World Of Sport for four hours.
So today is a celebration of some of your favourite TV classic moments.
We're going to look back on that but first up, let's rewind the clock
and have a look at a very young Amanda.
Born in 1974, Amanda was raised by her parents
Patsy and John in Hertfordshire.
Her love for performing was evident from an early age
when Amanda was a promising dancer.
But she decided to pursue a career in acting,
which has seen her star in shows like After You've Gone
with Nicholas Lyndhurst...
..and of course, as Mary Watson in Sherlock,
where she starred with her real-life partner, Martin Freeman.
-So, was it a happy childhood?
-Yes, it was.
My mum and dad were brilliant.
We lived with my nanny and grandad as well when I was growing up,
-so there was five of us in the house.
-So, it was...
And I was very close to all of them.
Because I was the only one, I was really not spoilt
-but there was a lot of love and it was nice.
And then they got a little cottage, my mum and dad, and so we moved out.
-But I remember being very close to my grandparents, growing up.
Which was lovely, it was lovely having them around.
I mean, I don't know whether my dad was too enamoured about living
with his in-laws, I don't know. But, yeah, it was...
I loved it, it was great.
It is great to have you here.
Let's start with your very first TV memory. Here it is.
The Flumps. SHE GASPS
They were the best, I used to watch this all the time.
The 1970s stop-motion series The Flumps
told the adventures of a family of lovable furry creatures.
Look at Grandpa! Look at him garden!
-Look at Pootle and Posie.
-IN A NASAL VOICE:
-Pootle used to talk like Pootle,
because she used to have a cold in her nose.
She used to talk like that, that's why I loved her.
"What is she talking about?" asked Perkin.
"She's got secrets under her hat," said Pootle.
-IN A NASAL VOICE:
-See? She's got
secrets under her hat.
I remember one where she had a cloud or a balloon or something.
-IN A NASAL VOICE:
-And she used to carry it and she got really sad.
I loved it, I loved it.
It was so much fun. Oh, my gosh, this is taking...
That's a really good impression there.
-I can tell what you done as a kid.
-Yes, all I did.
-I told you, only child.
-Yeah, with your Pootle impressions.
-There was just 13 episodes ever made.
-Is that all? Really?
So they must have kept repeating them, yeah.
Mother Flump knew that Pootle and Perkin
were up to something.
"What are you two arguing about?"
-Look at Mum.
-I love Mum's headscarf.
Isn't it brilliant, though? And look, they've got apples.
-A lot of attention to detail.
-Yeah, there really was.
They're doing a little jigsaw puzzle there, aren't they?
You see, I always thought Pootle was a girl.
But maybe I was wrong, maybe he's just a very young boy.
Pootle was indeed a boy and also the youngest of the Flump family.
The focus was often on him, as he got up to all kinds of mischief.
"Oh, Pootle. You're always getting words mixed up.
"You mean bulging and full up."
"That's what I said."
-Bit like me, I was always getting it wrong.
-Really? What, as a child?
Yeah, I always used to get things wrong.
Can't think of anything off...
But you do a great Pootle impression. Any other impressions?
They may well come out during the course of the show.
They may well come out during...? HE CHUCKLES
I used to, I think I used to really annoy my mum and dad
because I used to do lots of different voices
and accents and people.
But you were just learning your craft, wasn't you, really?
-Yeah, looking back, that's probably what it was.
I did used to do a lot of performing in front of them as well.
I'd make a makeshift stage and sort of tell jokes.
It must have driven them nuts. They probably hated it now, looking back.
-So, it was always in you to perform?
-I think so, I think so.
-I loved it from the word go, I think.
And it was always something I enjoyed doing.
I was never frightened of it, you know?
I think, because I was bullied as well, as a kid, I think that
that kind of, the humour became like a defence
and I wanted to make people like me.
So, I'd make people laugh and that's maybe what I...
-That fuelled it as well, I guess.
-So, who would you watch this with? Your grandad?
No, I probably watched it with my mum.
She'd come and watch it with me.
Because it was all...
We didn't have kids' programmes throughout the whole day,
so it would be on, I think there'd be some in the morning.
Maybe, possibly in the summer holidays.
But kids' programmes would start about three
and finish about half five with Blue Peter.
-Or Grange Hill or something like that.
So, and again, when I tell my kids that, they go, "That's ridiculous."
And you say, "No, because there was only a finite
"amount of time for kids' programmes."
So, tell me about your sitting room, growing up. What was that like?
Well, when we moved out of my grandparents' house,
we got a little terraced cottage
and so, you'd walk in the front door and you'd come into the front room
and there'd be like a sofa here and a sofa here and then an open fire.
And then a big sash window and then the telly was in the corner.
And then at Christmas, we'd have the Christmas tree
right in front of the window. But...
-Yeah, it was a really cosy little cottage. It was lovely.
And I used to sit, my dad bought this Chesterfield.
They were the big thing then and I used to sit on it
and just get buried in it and watch all my programmes and it was lovely.
Under a blanket. It was really nice.
Now, we've seen the shows that you love
-but this next one is your grandparents' choice.
Last Of The Summer Wine.
This was the world's
It ran for 37 years.
This gentle comedy followed the adventures of three elderly friends
as they caused havoc in the Yorkshire countryside.
-These three were fantastic.
-Look at Compo. He looks a bit like Pootle from The Flumps.
-You see, there's a link.
-There's a little theme going through.
There's a little link, with his woolly hat on.
-Peril. There's peril now.
She used to really upset me, the way she spoke to those three.
Oh, look at that!
She liked it all, really. She loved the attention, really.
She pretended she didn't, but she did.
SHE LAUGHS No!
It's brilliant. It's brilliant.
Serves you right, you daft lot!
-I love it, I love it. Gorgeous.
-Yeah. It brings back happy memories.
-It really does.
-And who would you watch this with?
-My nanny and grandad.
-And I'd be on the sofa again.
-And my nanny used to eat pomegranates a lot.
So, she cut me half a pomegranate and she picked them out with a pin
-for me and I'd sit and watch...
Yeah, it was a real, that's a real kind of memory I have with her.
You know, because she was quite a big lady as well.
You know, she was cuddly, she was a cuddly woman. She was...
I just loved her and the smell of her and that really reminds me
of her and I was very, very close to my nanna, really close to her.
How old would you have been?
-I can't, I must have been about six or seven.
-Oh, really young?
I mean, you know, and I just...
Yeah, she was just, she was a real role model for me as well.
-Because she went through...
She had a lot of tough times, my nanna.
She went... Terrible... Like a tough upbringing. And...
And she was so strong, she was such a strong woman and loyal
and loving, and her and my grandad had this fantastic relationship.
She used to make me laugh.
Like, my mum and dad bought her once a bottle of Pimm's.
Big bottle of Pimm's.
And she was in the kitchen cooking Sunday dinner and we hadn't
heard from her in a bit and she was getting louder and louder singing.
And then the next thing I know,
we've walked out into the kitchen and the Pimm's bottle is empty.
And she's at the top of the garden with my grandad, doing a waltz,
and she's absolutely hammered.
Because she didn't think you needed to dilute Pimm's.
So she's been drinking it neat, cooking...
And she still made the best roast dinner.
She was a wonderful woman and I do miss her, she's great.
-She was wonderful.
And so, that really does remind me of both my nanny and my grandad.
-It was great. Lovely, yeah.
-Hmm. Just really...
-You're filling up, aren't you?
-I am a bit, yeah, because she's...
-Shall we move on?
-Yeah, because she's just...
She was amazing. And my mum takes after her, so...
There's this line of very strong women in my family
that are so stoic and...
-Well, now it is time for your next choice.
Let's see what your must-see TV was back in the day.
-Oh, my God!
-Sealed With A Loving Kiss.
Broadcast on Channel 4 in the early
'80s, S.W.A.L.K told of the trials
and tribulations of teenager Amanda.
I loved this.
And it was just all about growing up.
-But there was only ever six episodes.
-This is 1982.
-This was brilliant.
And she liked him.
I had a crush on her, she was my first crush.
-I think he turned out to be a bit of a wrong 'un.
-I think so.
This iconic show stood out from other programmes of its time,
thanks to its unusual use of on-screen photo stories
and an agony aunt played perfectly by Prunella Scales.
They're not all creeps, are they?
You've cracked it there, love.
He's made the first move. It's up to you to make the next one, right?
But she had an older sister. And her older sister was quite glamorous.
And got all the boys and she didn't
and they kind of had this real love/hate relationship.
But I don't ever remember it being only six episodes, that's insane.
Because it just seemed to go on and on for me.
Oh, mate, that's so brilliant.
-She pulls off the role of embarrassed teenager?
She was amazing. I used to, I loved, I loved her.
I loved her, I'd just be like that.
And I'd wait every week for the next episode.
That's brilliant because I haven't seen that since I was younger.
-God! Yes, so I was...
-I wasn't that old, I wasn't that old.
-You was a baby.
-But just, I wanted to be her.
-What made that so exciting for you?
-To want to be her.
-I just thought she was really cool.
And I just thought...
I just, I just liked her and I wanted to be like that.
And I was hoping that when I got to her age, that's what I'd be like.
I'd be this kind of...
You know, everything is kind of, "Oh, it's all terrible
"but I'm getting through it," kind of thing. Yeah, that's so weird.
And I'd forgot that Prunella Scales was in it.
Yes, she played, like, the thoughts in her head, her agony aunt.
Yeah. That's fantastic, I'm so pleased I've seen that.
Did you used to read girl magazines?
-You know, with those photo stories in.
-I did. I used to read Girl.
-Which was amazing. And Jackie.
I think I probably wasn't allowed to read that
when I started reading because it was a little bit grown-up.
-Which one would be racy out of that? What, Jackie or both?
Girl wasn't so much.
Girl, there was a cartoon strip in Girl magazine
that I followed every week and it was about these two ballerinas.
And one was good and one was evil
and it was about their fight to get this leading role.
And again, I'd be waiting until it came out,
I think it came out every Tuesday.
And I'd be down the newsagents with my mum and reading it
and stuff, it was great. Yeah.
So, when you was watching S.W.A.L.K, was you...?
Did you have your acting ambition then?
No, I wanted to be a dancer then.
So, I trained, I started doing ballet when I was about five
and that's what I wanted to be. And then it...
It became clear very quickly that I was not going to be a ballet dancer.
Because I just couldn't do it and I didn't have the discipline
and I just, I wasn't, I wasn't very good, you know?
And then a drama teacher, when I went to drama...
Because I did go to dance school for a year and then the drama teacher
said, "You know, I don't think you're going to
"pull it off as a dancer.
"But you show promise as an actress and I think you should pursue that."
And that's what made me become an actress.
-So, at what age would that have been?
-When I was about 16, 17.
I knew then, that it was never going to happen.
And I was quite pleased because it's hard work.
-Acting is a lot easier than dancing.
Yeah, because you don't have to keep training, you know.
You don't have to train every day to be an actor.
That's kind of in there, it's a natural thing.
You know, but dancing, you have to work your muscles and you
have to keep supple and you have to keep it all in there.
-So, are you pleased it went off?
-Because my career would be over now.
You know, as a dancer, I probably wouldn't be...
Unless you're somebody like Darcey Bussell,
who's an incredible ballerina,
-your time is limited as a dancer.
Whereas acting, you know, you can do it till you're 100.
-Well, I'm very pleased that you moved into acting.
Now it's time to move on to your TV fear.
SHE LAUGHS NERVOUSLY
-Let's take a look.
Would you like the paper?
The Day Of The Triffids was an adaptation
of John Wyndham's cult novel.
Telling the terrifying tale of the world's battle to survive
the petrifying man-eating
Any idea of what it is?
No, no, not really. It's blown in from somewhere, I suppose.
Either that or a foreign import of some sort I know not what of.
No, it's none of that. You wait.
Come on, Bill. Have a look inside. Come on.
-Don't look inside it.
-Don't look inside.
-Don't look inside it.
-Come on now, Bill. That's nature.
-It's good, isn't it? That, for the time.
I shall take care of you, old chap.
-It starts shaking.
Mysterious, intelligent and utterly terrifying triffids
could kill a grown man with their sting.
We were beginning to learn about the tri-feds,
or triffids, as they came to be called.
It terrified the bejesus out of me, that did.
-Yeah, because I thought it could happen. I always thought
things like that would actually happen, so I thought...
-A vivid sort of imagination.
my imagination. Yeah, incredibly vivid imagination. Yeah, yeah.
I remember reading something once about a black hole and thinking,
"Well, that's how I'm going to die.
-"I'm going to be hit."
-Fall into a black hole?
Or a meteorite will hit me or...you know?
And so I thought, well, it's perfectly possible
-that triffids could come and destroy the planet.
Yeah, that used to frighten the life out of me
and I remember having dreams about it.
About sort of it bearing down on me, over me.
And then I'd wake up screaming.
But then I think I read the book when I was about 12 or 13
and then that frightened me as well because of just the imagery in that.
I remember there was a chapter of the streets deserted
and there was this triffid walking up the road.
And that stayed in my head for a long time.
But I'm terrible, I am terrible. I can't...
When Martin's away, I can't think about or watch anything to do
with any kind of horror or thriller or Crimewatch or anything.
I just have to watch Friends or The Office, the American Office.
That's all I can do. Because anything else, I'm like,
"Well, no, that's going to happen to me. La, la!"
-I'm awful. So...
-Yeah, that's horrible.
But you don't see it, "Oh, that's a prop,
-"there's a man crouched underneath."
-No, and I'm an actor!
So I know how it works.
But it's the idea that, you know, "Well, you know, it could work.
"Somebody could splice. You could splice two plants together."
I can see it, yeah.
-Stranger things have happened.
-I'm just humouring you now.
I know, I realise as I'm saying it, I sound insane.
But, yeah, that's childhood fear right there.
Your next choice is your biggest influence
and you couldn't have picked a more well-liked and respected actor.
# A fine romance with no kisses... #
Dame Judi Dench is a mega-famous film star.
But back in the '80s, she spent more time on the small screen,
not just acting - but singing beautifully too.
# ..yesterday's mashed potatoes. #
Such a good cast.
It didn't even have a happy ending.
It wasn't meant to have a happy ending,
that's why it was so romantic.
Across four series,
viewers were glued to their screens watching the awkward romance
and insecurities unfold between Laura, played by Judi Dench,
and Mike, portrayed by her real-life husband Michael Williams.
-Jane Fonda stepping out of that spacesuit.
Well, what do you mean "Pfft"?
That's not romance, there wasn't even anybody else there.
There was, when I think about it.
Do you think the fact they were married in real life
-helped them play so well together?
-Yes, yeah, I do. I think it does.
What I loved about it was that it kind of had a lot of pathos
to it and I think that's what makes television great.
If you have comedy and sadness.
Because, you know, you need your ups and downs in anything,
in drama and comedy.
So it's nice when you have those moments of real...
..sort of sadness or just poignant within a comedy.
I think, because it's just nice to watch
because not everything is hilarious.
I mean, she's moved gracefully into film, hasn't she, Dame Judi?
-And that's a big step, isn't it?
It's such a different way of working.
Yeah, and she just does it with such ease and grace and I love it.
Dame Judi Dench has delighted audiences of the stage,
small screen and big screen for over 50 years.
After making her stage debut in 1957,
she went on to join the Royal Shakespeare Company
and has gone on to play every leading female Shakespeare role.
But her talents weren't just reserved for the stage.
She's acted on television throughout her career,
starring in hit series such as As Time Goes By and Cranford.
And of course, Dame Judi is a huge hit in Hollywood too,
starring in many critically acclaimed films,
including M in James Bond.
Her amazing talent has seen her bag herself an Oscar,
two Golden Globes, seven Olivier Awards,
ten BAFTAs and, let's not forget, a damehood.
Dame Judi Dench, we salute you.
I managed to, I got to meet her and not work with her
but I was on the same stage as her at the Donmar.
They did a thing called The Vote
when the General Election was going and she was in it with her daughter.
And I was in the same dressing room as her
and I just managed to talk to her for an hour and she was so...
Oh, God, she was just lovely. She's a wonderful, wonderful woman.
And not only is she a brilliant actress
and one of our very, very best,
but she's a decent, lovely woman as well.
That makes me so happy because I always like it
-when people who are brilliant are nice.
It just makes you go, "Oh, thank God for that. I can still like them."
It makes such a difference. She's very...normal.
She's a normal actress. And it's just lovely. There's...
Because there are some actors that are quite fussy
and quite hysterical and quite chaotic.
-But she's none of those things and she's one of our best.
And the fact that she's one of our best
-and she's still very down-to-earth, just makes me very happy.
And I'm glad she's around and I'm glad she's British
and one of ours, I really am.
She's a joy.
I wanted to bring it now to your career. How did it all come about?
You know, those early days and then sort of going to university.
-Well, no, I went to drama school.
-You went to drama school?
And it was a little one up in Hitchin, that nobody knew about,
and it was called the Hertfordshire Theatre School.
So you were the only one there?
-Pretty much, there were eight people in my year.
Eight or nine people in my year, yeah.
There was one boy, one boy and the rest were girls.
So, while I was there, I got an audition for The Bill.
One of my many, many appearances in The Bill.
And I got the job and then I got an agent from that
and it just sort of went from there, really.
-So, you like comedy?
-Sitcom, could you imagine you and your husband Martin...
-..together in something? Really?
I mean, we never rule out not doing anything...
We'd do something else together.
-But I think because we're doing Sherlock at the moment...
We don't want to be in everybody's
front rooms all the time, the two of us.
People would go, "Oh, it's them again. That's all we need."
Of your future?
Since Amanda and Martin's
characters first met in 2014,
their story has been central to the
BBC's smart, sassy Sherlock reboot.
Together, they provided one of
the third series' most memorable
and emotional scenes as Dr Watson
is reconciled with his wife
after learning about her secret past.
You don't even know my name.
-Is Mary Watson good enough for you?
-Oh, my God, yes.
-Well, it's good enough for me too.
-It is nice working with your other half.
Because also, you do your job and then you go home
and you kind of dissect the day and it's nice.
Because you've both been at work together
-and you've both experienced it.
-Because Sherlock's not the only time
-you've worked with each other.
-I've done quite a lot
of stuff with Martin.
I've played his wife a few times
and we met on a job.
Um, yeah, we've done...
But Sherlock is the biggest thing we've done together.
So, it's the longest thing we've done together.
And what job did you meet on?
It was a Channel 4 drama called Men Only,
which was quite a controversial two-part drama.
Erm, and I met him on that and I met him on a make-up bus
and I'd been moaning to the make-up artist,
saying, "I'm never going to have a boyfriend.
"I'm going to end up single for the rest of my life."
And she was saying, "Well, there's an actor on here
"that's saying the same thing.
"He said he just wants to meet a decent woman."
And she said, "Oh, he's coming onto the make-up bus now."
He came on and I looked at him and he looked at me and we kind of
had this thunderbolt and I'd never experienced that before.
And he was like, "Hello." And I was like, "Hello."
And then the next day, we were still flirting with each other.
And then we went out for a drink that night
and about two months later, I moved in with him.
And we've been together for 16 years this year.
-That's good going.
-Ah! So, yeah.
So, what about the TV that you enjoy watching now?
I love The Apprentice. We're big fans of The Apprentice in our house.
We watch that a lot.
-I love good comedies.
Yeah, I just like...
I like quality stuff with really good actors in
and really good comedians.
Well, we make some good stuff.
Oh, we do, we do. And some good drama and good comedy.
And some great drama.
We should be very proud of what we dish out here,
-especially on the Beeb.
-I think we're really good. Yeah, I think so.
The Beeb's doing some fantastic stuff at the moment. It's great.
Well, we look forward to all the fantastic stuff
you have ahead of you
in the future. You've been a wonderful guest.
-Thank you so much for being here.
-Thanks for having me.
So, at this point, my guest gets to choose a theme tune for us
-to play out on.
-Have you had a little think about this?
-Oh, go on.
-Can I say?
-Do you want a drum roll?
-Go on, then.
We're going out on The Wombles?
THEY HUM THE WOMBLES THEME TUNE
# Wombling free! #
-Brilliant, it's a brilliant tune.
-It just takes you back?
Yeah, and also at the end, I remember the credits,
-he'd just be picking stuff up.
-And I loved them, loved them.
-Well, we loved you.
-Thank you so much for being on the show.
-Thank you, Amanda.
-Oh, go on, two.
-Oh! Make it three. Mwah!
SHE LAUGHS So, my thanks to Amanda
and my thanks to you for watching The TV That Made Me.
We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.
THE WOMBLES THEME TUNE PLAYS
-# Underground, overground wombling free
# The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we
# Making good use of the things that we find
# Things that the everyday folks leave behind
# Uncle Bulgaria...
-# He can remember the days
# When he wasn't behind the times
# With his map of the world
# Pick up the papers and take 'em to Tobermory. #
Comedy legend Brian Conley journeys through the fantastic world of television with some of our favourite celebrities who have chosen the TV moments that have shaped their lives.
Actor Amanda Abbington joins Brian on his sofa to look back at the classic TV that shaped her into the person she is today. We learn about Amanda's multi-generational childhood, and how watching her favourite children's TV with her mum gave her a chance to showcase her talent for accents. We find out which long-running classic sitcom had her howling with laughter, what guilty pleasure kept her glued to her seat, and which inspirational female's talents helped set her on the path to TV fame in Sherlock and Mr Selfridge. We also learn why she still can't watch horror films when husband and fellow actor Martin Freeman is away on location.