I've recently had the great pleasure of interviewing the actress Judy Buxton. Judy has enjoyed a successful career on stage and screen, including three years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and television roles in the likes of Rising Damp and On The Up with the wonderful Joan Sims. Read on for more on Judy's rich and varied career and some fascinating insights into the great people she has worked with.
First of all, I'd love to know why and how you became an actor in the first place.
It was really my mum who got me started. When I was very young, about 2 and a half, I went to a nursery school and the lady who ran the school had a strong German accent. We all had to have elocution lessons, reciting poetry and things like that, to make sure we didn’t pick it up. At the age of 3, I made my first appearance at a local festival, reading a poem called “The Dustman”. I went through junior and senior school and started going to drama classes, sat exams and performed at local festivals in places like Purley and Wimbledon.
I then applied to various drama schools but chose to go to the Rose Bruford because they allowed you to do a teaching course. My parents were very supportive but wanted me to have something to fall back on. I do have a diploma in teaching but I’ve never had to use it, I’ve always been acting. My mum liked amateur dramatics so understood and both my parents were supportive.
When you left drama school you spent time in rep. How important an experience was that for you and do you think young actors today lose out because it's no longer around.
I did rep at Chesterfield. It was really important because you learned your craft. We did different shows every two weeks, so we were performing one and rehearsing another. Younger actors today don’t get the chance as the rep system has gone and they have to go straight into television. I started out at Chesterfield as an ASM (Assistant Stage Manager). I played small parts and did jobs liking making the tea and helping with props. In those days you had to work for 42 weeks so you could get your Equity Card so that’s what I did. The first play I did there was “The Dance of Death” and I only had a small part. I went on to play bigger parts and some leading parts. There was huge scope to learn your craft, learn from the other actors and it was really a team as it was the same company. It was a great experience. In 2008 I was contacted by a group of people who had seen my work at Chesterfield and they now come to see me when I’m touring in shows. It’s lovely.
I saw on your website that you worked on stage with the late Lewis Collins. What was he like to work with?
Yes I worked with Lewis at Chesterfield. We were both ASMs together. He was a very good looking young man, very suave and definitely had something about him. He was a bit naughty though – if the stage manager gave him something to do, he’d suddenly disappear and he’d be in the loo getting out of whatever it was. He was a good actor though and went on to be very successful in The Professionals. His dad was around while we were at Chesterfield and he was a character too, it was obvious they were close. It’s such a shame Lewis is no longer with us.
Your big break on television came with General Hospital. What was that series like to be a part of?
My first part on television was actually in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green, I think it was the final series. It was great to have been in it. I then went on to do General Hospital, playing Nurse Katy Shaw. There was a lot of publicity around it because it went out in the afternoon, twice a week. Until then there hadn’t really been television in the afternoon, apart from children’s programmes. We came on at the same time as programmes like Emmerdale Farm, Crown Court and The Cedar Tree. It attracted big audiences and was very successful.
I had to audition for the part and I remember the producer telling me afterwards that originally they wanted a buxom blonde like Barbara Windsor for the role but they changed their minds after meeting me. That was also where I first met and worked with the lovely Lynda Bellingham – she was terrific and really talented. Amazing actors would come in and guest on General Hospital too, I remember we had June Brown at one point, years before she did EastEnders.
You worked with one of my favourite actresses, Dinah Sheridan, in the play A Murder is Announced. What was she like to work with?
Oh Dinah Sheridan was a gorgeous lady, very elegant and great to work with. I took over the part I played from Patricia Brake who had been playing it for a year. Dulcie Gray was also in the cast – it was at the Vaudeville Theatre. I remember Dinah’s husband was not well at the time but she was very professional and great in the play. I saw her several times after we’d worked together and she always remembered me.
What was it like being a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company?
I did three years with the RSC and it came completely out of the blue. I was asked to go and audition at very short notice so I went to the library and learned some text for the Greek plays they were doing. John Barton was the director and when I did my speech he asked if I’d just learned it for the audition. When I said I had he asked me to perform something I knew well, off by heart. I’d recently done a Wodehouse Playhouse on television with John Alderton so I did a bit from that. He asked me to do more and more, act drunk, dance, the audition took ages. He then asked me to go away and learn a speech and then come back and perform it. This went on and on until I finally got the job.
We did 21 weeks of rehearsal as there were ten plays to perform. I was also asked to go to Stratford and play Juliet with Anton Lesser as my Romeo and the lovely actress Brenda Bruce as the Nurse. I was then asked to play Kit the Glovemaker in a pantomime written by Bille Brown. It was called The Swandown Glove. I went on to play in this at the Barbican and the Queen was in attendance. The pantomime told the story of a young Shakespeare going to London to seek his fortune and meeting various characters along the way. People like Alan Howard, Barbara Leigh-Hunt and her husband Richard Pasco were in it. I then played Lady Teazle in School for Scandal at the Haymarket Theatre with Sir Donald Sinden.
You have appeared in some iconic and fondly remembered television shows during your career. Two of my favourites were The Sweeney and Rising Damp. What are your memories of working on those shows?
I only had a small part in The Sweeney, playing a shop assistant. I remember filming early one morning near Notting Hill Gate. I knew Dennis Waterman by that stage as he’d married Patricia Maynard who I’d worked with in General Hospital.
The first Rising Damp episode I did was called “Clunk Click”. I went for an interview and got the part. We rehearsed close to where I was living in London and then went up to Yorkshire Television in Leeds to record the episode. I remember Leonard Rossiter coming over and saying that rather than bring in another actress to play another of Richard Beckinsale’s girlfriends later in the series, why didn’t they just have me back again. So he went and talked to the director and I ended up going back for another episode, “Cocktail Hour”. My mother in that episode was played by a lovely actress called Diana King.
Leonard had a reputation for being a perfectionist and I think if people didn’t fit, they wouldn’t be back so I was pleased he’d actually asked for me again. He was such a good actor. I also loved working with Richard Beckinsale, he was a gorgeous actor and great in the series. He obviously got on very well with Leonard. Richard was great to work with. I remember vividly us all going out for a Chinese meal after the recordings. It was wonderful. Frances De La Tour was in it too and she’s an amazing actress. I remember hearing that Richard had died and I was in complete shock.
I remember you best from the BBC sitcom On The Up from the early 1990s. What are your memories of that show?
On The Up came about because I went to a reunion at Rose Bruford with a friend. The director Gareth Gwenlan was there and it turned out he had studied there ten years before I did. At the time he asked me what I was working on and I told him I was going off to do an episode of Lovejoy. The next Monday I received scripts for five episodes of a new television comedy series from my agent. Gareth was the director and he’d put me forward for the part. I went to see him and the casting director but I was told it was up to Dennis Waterman to approve the decision to cast me. Fortunately he knew me through Patricia Maynard and The Sweeney so he said yes.
I had been doing lots of theatre so I was a bit terrified of going back into television, in a series written by the great Bob Larbey. Of the cast I only knew Dennis, both Sam Kelly and Joan Sims were new to me.
My comedy heroine is Joan Sims. What was she like to work with in On The Up?Joan was so lovely and we had so many laughs together making the series. She would laugh so much in rehearsals that she’d actually cry with laughter. It was so infectious. She always had a joke and a story. I think she was quite a shy person and I know they had tried to get her to go on the Parkinson Show but she said no. She was such fun though and we all adored her.
I remember being quite scared as it had been a while since I’d done a television series in front of an audience but she was very reassuring. She could have done anything, she was so talented. I think she was nervous about playing to the audience as it was recorded with a live audience present. I remember that if she ever forgot her lines she seemed upset about it so she was a perfectionist and wanted to do the best she could. The audience always loved it when an actor forgot a line but she took it seriously. She was wonderful in the part and great to have in the show.
I remember her having quite a serious scene in the On The Up, it was almost a monologue which she delivered beautifully.
Yes I remember the scene – she was just a brilliant actress. I also remember working with Bernard Bresslaw – he was a lovely man. We did a production of Twelfth Night in Newfoundland with the London Shakespeare Group. He was Sir Toby Belch and I played Viola. He was another great actor.
You have worked mainly in the theatre in recent years. If you had to pick a favourite medium from stage, television or film, which would it be and why?
I think the theatre because that’s how I started. I love working in front of a live audience, the performance and reaction is different every night and especially good when you’re playing comedy. I also enjoy television but it’s changed a lot. It’s difficult to be seen for parts these days and younger casting directors don’t necessarily know what would suit you. I’d like to do more television but theatre is my favourite.
If you had to choose one role from stage or screen, which would be your favourite and why?
I think probably Juliet at Stratford with the RSC. It was definitely a highlight for me. I’ve enjoyed every role I’ve played in my career so far though. Last summer I got to play Madame Arcati for a short run in Blithe Spirit and I absolutely loved that. I’d love to do that again for a longer run.
Finally, what's up next for you?
I’m starting rehearsals in April for a tour of an Emlyn Williams play called Trespass. It’s a ghost story set in the 1940s and I play the mother of a deceased man.
I’ll also be at the ODP Autograph Show in Stevenage with my husband, Jeffrey Holland. That’s on 20 May.
You can find out more about the show here
I'd like to thank Judy for taking the time to answer my questions, it was an absolute pleasure to find out more about her work as an actress. You can find out more about Judy on her website and follow her on Twitter here
You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook