Interview: Annette Crosbie, Hope Springs actress

Share this article

SHE may be the star of one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms, but Annette Crosbie's life is often far from glamorous. In fact, for the last three months, while filming her latest show, Hope Springs , she's been working in a disused whisky warehouse.

Leaky roofs, wet weather and draughty rooms were just some of the challenges – as well as a frenzied 14-hour-a-day filming schedule.

"There was no air conditioning in summer and no heating in winter!" laughs Annette, who is best known as Margaret Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave. "Any time the camera had to move, we had to move the flooring. We had to work through the rain to get it finished.

"TV is never glamorous. It's all pretend whisky we're drinking. You get picked up at 6 or 7am, and you don't get home till 7 or 8pm if you're lucky.

"In a masochistic way I quite enjoy it. You become part of the family. Alex (Kingston] and I and the make-up lady were all into crosswords, so we did a lot while we were waiting around."

The Midlothian-born actor plays the worldly wise, but lazy landlady, Sadie, who becomes caught up in a surreal plot when a group of four female ex-cons turn up at her hotel. Tomorrow's episode will see the story come to a head, as the group battle to save the hotel and prevent the girls' past catching up with them.

Annette says she was attracted to the script by the strong female characters. She describes Sadie as "tough and feisty, and not pathetic at all", and admits she can see some of herself in her.

It is the latest role in a varied career which has ranged from Calendar Girls to the Six Wives of Henry VIII. But she is best known for playing the long suffering wife of Victor Meldrew for almost a decade. She is still delighted when people come up to her in the street, and tell her how much they enjoyed the show.

" It gives them so much pleasure, they come up to me smiling," she says. "I don't see Richard (Wilson] very much now, but we do chat on the phone.

He lives a different kind of life from me – I think he moves in more sophisticated circles! But if we were all to meet tomorrow, it'd be like we've never been apart."

Although she is now 75, when most people would be enjoying their retirement, Annette has no intention of slowing down. "It's more likely acting will give me up!" she says.

"There aren't many parts for women in their 70s, and they're usually very depressing and pathetic. I don't want to die again!

"I enjoyed Calendar Girls a lot – I didn't find it very embarrassing. There was one scene though, when we had set everything up for the camera and I was on stage with no knickers on. Then a man came in behind me to light the fire. I found it very unsettling – I hadn't been introduced to him! I think he was firmly keeping his eyes down.

"I've never enjoyed watching myself on screen, and it gets even less enjoyable at my age. They kept putting me in a rollneck sweater in Hope Springs, which I think can only be worn successfully by a giraffe!

"But I don't really care any more – I feel sorry for any actress whose career is dependent on her looks."

Born up in Gorebridge Midlothian, Annette was the only child of strict Presbyterian parents.

The family moved to Gilmerton, when she was young, and she attended Boroughmuir High School.

Her childhood memories include playing in the nearby fields, and taking their Staffordshire bull terrier for long walks in the woods.

'Acting . . I might as well have said I was going to go on the streets!'

Her mother had been a talented singer, but had never managed to fulfil her potential due to lack of money. She had dreamed of her only daughter becoming a musician, or attending university or teacher training college.

But the family were shocked when Annette told them she wanted to go on the stage. She won a scholarship to attend the Bristol Old Vic drama school aged 17 helped by a bursary from the Edinburgh Corporation.

"I might as well have said I was going to go on the streets!" she says. "In those days, acting was a profession that involved men putting on your make-up. It was a huge bombshell for them."

She started working at the Old Vic theatre in London, and then went on to an apprenticeship at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre.

She says: "There's nothing like the satisfaction you get from theatre. I wouldn't do a play for more than three months – then it becomes automatic and it's soul destroying. I used to avoid the West End.

"Television used to be a much more satisfying medium. One Foot in the Grave was done in front of a live audience. We had five days of rehearsals, then it was all done in 30 minutes. We were working on adrenaline.

"(One Foot in the Grave writer] David Renwick was a very hard task master, and he would give us notes about the words we got wrong!"

But she feels some of the quality has been compromised now due to cost-saving and the battle for ratings.

"It's not the same animal that I used to know 30 years ago. It's fairly frenzied now. There isn't the preparation time or the realistic time to film, bearing in mind the bad weather.

"I'm not too keen on watching. I feel nothing has been done to the best standard. This isn't a criticism of BBC Scotland, this is the way it is now. Everyone is looking for the ratings figures, and standards go out the window.

"My advice to young people now would be forget it! This business is all about rejection."

Despite her warning, her daughter Selina Griffiths has followed in her footsteps and is now a successful TV actress. Her son Owen is a sound engineer at an advertising studio. Both live fairly close to her home in south-west London, and she enjoys spending time with her two granddaughters, aged seven and nine.

The other great loves in her life are her four rescued greyhounds. She adopted her first one 15 years ago, and was horrified to discover the treatment of retired racing animals, who are often put down. She is now a dedicated campaigner for greyhound welfare, as well as president of the League Against Cruel Sports.

She says: "Things have improved to the extent that more people take them on as pets. These dogs are their own best ambassadors. There are charities that re-home as many dogs as they can. But the basic attitude of the industry hasn't changed at all.

"The idea we're made in the image of God and can treat animals how we want just makes me sick. There are any amount of things that make me angry, but there's nobody else who'll do it for the greyhounds."

She admits she often dreams of moving back to Scotland. One of the attractions of Hope Springs was it gave her a chance to spend three months filming on the west coast.

She says: "I think I've left it too late. I don't have family there any more so there's no real reason to go up there. I used to dream of living just outside Edinburgh – it's a much better standard of living there."

Hope Springs BBC One tomorrow (19 July) 8pm.