Sunday 12 March 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Christine Ozanne


I have recently interviewed the actor Christine Ozanne about her lengthy, diverse acting career, her brief but memorable Carry On association and her new memoir, The Tome of the Unknown Actor. 

So please Carry On Reading for more on Christine's experience of making the classic Carry On Nurse, her favourite roles on stage and screen and her memories of working with the likes of Joan Hickson, Joan Sims, John Inman and Ronnie Barker...

First of all, I'd love to know why and how you became an actor in the first place? 

I never really became an actor, I believe I always was one. I possess the entertainment gene which manifested itself in early childhood and developed through amateur dramatics at the Leicester Drama Society. Then, it was suggested that I try for RADA ~ I got in and left two years later with an Honours Diploma and three comedy prizes. 


Back in late 1958 you appeared in a film which would become a classic – Carry On Nurse. What are your memories of that time? 

Within three months of leaving RADA, I was contracted for four days work on Carry On Nurse, with a guaranteed fortune of £15 a day. Imagine a dank early autumnal morning, walking a mile from the nearest bus stop to the entrance of Pinewood Studios, knowing no-one, and being entirely new to film work. Gradually meeting this already well-known group of comedy actors, and delivering my one line “Do you mind?” on the first morning, this was to be a major learning curve. The film was made in three weeks, so there was always an element of ‘let’s get on with it’ in the air. My ‘close-up’ for the line was done in one ‘take’, and I was scrutinized closely by Kenneth Williams, who was actually in the bed behind the camera, and he made an ungracious remark about me as we moved on to the next shot. At lunchtime I went to the canteen with other ‘small part’ players, but discovered the beautiful oak-panelled restaurant when I was invited to dine there on my last day. After lunch I went to watch the previous day’s rushes. This was quite a thrill as I could learn how they filmed the two-handed scene between Irene Handl and Bill Owen, the one with his leg in plaster and she is trying to fill in some forms. This experience made me feel I had arrived, and belonged, in the film making world. 

At the end of the first day, Joan Sims offered me a lift in her chauffer-driven limousine. She was appearing in a West End show in the evenings, and I was in the process of rehearsing a provincial pantomime at the time, so she asked her driver to take me on to wherever I wanted to go. I was tempted to say Northampton, but had to settle for Euston. 

Carry On Nurse featured two of my favourite actors in Joan Hickson and Hattie Jacques. What were they like to work with? 

Joan Hickson as like a mother to me. A real woman of the theatre and understood my situation. We travelled on the tube together and chatted away like old friends. She told me that she was always extremely nervous before each ‘take’, almost to the point of sickness, which astonished me. I had been an admirer of hers from watching all those wonderful black & white movies of the 40s and 50s. Mostly small cameos, but I always hoped I could do exactly those sort of parts one day. How on earth she coped with Miss Marple I will never know. 

Sadly, I saw very little of Hattie Jacques, except in the ‘make-up’ room. I remember someone asking her how John was, (John Le Mesurier, of course), and she said “Oh, he’s lovely”. What a great performance she gave as ‘Matron’ ~ a very interesting woman altogether, I believe. 


You have worked with Ronnie Barker in both The Two Ronnies and his series Six Dates with Barker. What was he like to work with? 
Ronnie was a delight to work with. Not only as a person but, as an actor he was extremely generous. In my first job with him, a sketch called How to Get Married he would often place me in a more favourable position for the camera. This kind of unselfishness was borne out in his casting, where he would use the same group of actors several times. They were like a friendly family. He came from the repertory system of theatre troupes, and loved all the camaraderie. Some years later, we re- made the same sketch, this time in colour, for inclusion in The Two Ronnies. We filmed it at Woodstock, using the grounds of Blenheim Palace, and stayed at The Bear Hotel, a magnificent lodging, I must say ~ a four-poster bed, no less. Ronnie, who wrote many of his scripts as Gerald Wiley, said that all you had to do was write ‘they are seen punting on the river with Magdalen College Tower in the background, and you were guaranteed a week of luxury in Oxford. 

I was chosen by Ronnie again to appear in one of his Six Dates With Barker series, this time in three different roles. The episode was called 1899: The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, written by Spike Milligan. The raspberries were blown (off screen) by David Jason. David, again was one of the ‘team’, before he rose to fame in Only Fools and Horses. This half-hour show was re-written as an episodic feature in The Two Ronnies, without me this time, but Ronnie did ask for me again when casting a ‘Post Mistress’ (girl-friend for Granville) in Open All Hours. My scenes were shot on film in Yorkshire and were shown during the studio recording. Unfortunately, the episode was over-running, so my scenes had to go, being considered not important to the main story-line. Shame ~ I thought I might become a ‘semi-regular’ character. That’s show business! 


In 1981 you worked on the series Take a Letter Mr Jones with John Inman and Rula Lenska. What were they like to work with? 

John Inman was hilarious, and a total joy to work with. He was a personal friend of mine, however, which helped, but he was the same with everyone. Even if he had to put his foot down about something, he would be utterly charming about it, and always produce a pay-off that would make us all raw with laughter. 

I first met John in Rep at Chester in 1962. He was the Stage Manager and small part player. We toured together with Charlie Chester in a dreadful play call Done in Oils, and we did some plays and music hall at Chelmsford, all before he became famous as ‘Mr Humphries’ in Are You Being Served. John could turn his had to almost anything and would go out of his way to make me laugh. He would set up a gag ~ like a trap for me to fall into. I really miss him. 

Rula Lenska was fun, too ~ and was one of those people who could look beautiful in sackcloth, but didn’t involve herself too much with the company; I think there were personal reasons at the time. My chums, Miriam Margoyles and Joan Blackham were in this series, which made it all the more enjoyable, especially with Miriam’s particular brand of humour! 

I understand you have developed and delivered Shakespeare workshops and masterclasses for some years now? Can you tell me a little more about that? 

I learnt much of what I teach about Shakespeare from my partner, Patrick Tucker, but found my own way of developing and promoting this knowledge. 

‘Uncle Bill’ was a genius. He put everything the actor needed to know into their lines. Actors were not able to read the whole play, they had no rehearsals (like we have today), and no director, so the acting guide lines were all in their own ‘cue script’. They were not able to see or hear the other character’s lines until the performance. All I do is point out what these instructions are, how to find them and ways of theatricalising the clues. I go back to the source material ~ The First Folio ~ which holds these ‘messages’ for the actor, because modern editors have removed many of them in the name of ‘literature’. Anyone curious enough can go to the website where all will be revealed. 

You obviously have a passion for Shakespeare, having formed the Original Shakespeare Company in 1991. What was the idea behind the OSC? 

Having trained lots of actors in finding the clues in the text, the idea behind the OSC was to mount a performance of a full length play, recreating the same conditions enjoyed by the ‘original’ Elizabethan actors. This we did, most successfully, at the Globe in London for three years running in the late 1990s, plus twice in Germany, four times in Jordan, twice with local actors in Canada and once in Australia. 

In order to give the productions the spontaneity required ~ that is, the actors not knowing the arc of the play ~ we would change the casts around if more than one performance was requested. In Australia, for example, we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream three nights running, changing almost every actor round. We had enormous support in this from Greta Scacchi who, not only rounded up a goodly group of professionals for us, but volunteered to play ‘Helena’ in the first and third shows, and ‘Titania’ in the second. Greta’s film experience meant that she was no stranger to private study and speedy line learning. 

The Globe experience, of course, was a huge benefit to us because we had a replica of the ‘original’ building to work in. Academics were sceptical since they assumed that “everybody knows the plays these days.” So, after As You Like It, we chose King John and Cymbeline, on the grounds that they were far less well-known. All three plays were amazingly entertaining and gave us much additional knowledge of the building and Shakespeare’s wonderfully helpful text. 

Of all the roles you have played on stage, which has been your favourite and why?

Three parts spring instantly to mind. ‘Miss Prism’ in The Importance of Being Earnest, an eccentric character in a period piece; and ‘Mary Featherstone’ in How the Other Half Loves, an ‘innocent’ in a modern, sophisticated world. Both suit my particular acting talents (and looks) perfectly. Alan Ayckbourn could have written this second part just for me, as he could with ‘Kate’ in Bedroom Farce. In all three I found it extremely difficult not to laugh (or ‘corpse’ myself) during the performance, especially the scene where ‘Kate’ is shown the lop-sided table her husband has cobbled together. The audience laughter went on and on, almost the actor’s nightmare of agony and ecstasy combined, where you have to judge the right moment to top the laughter and move on. It’s called ‘a belter’ and it is bliss! 

I set up my blog as a tribute to the Carry On films and my heroine, the late Joan Sims. Why do you think those films and actors like Joan have remained so popular for so long? 

The popularity of the Carry On films, in a way, replaced the local repertory theatres where the same group of actors appeared regularly in different roles. Both these genres have now run out of time. The Reps theatres died when television took their place, and the Carry On film troupe simply grew old. However, the films can live on and find completely new audiences who weren’t even born when they were originated. These comic films were well made and had a lasting humour which has stood the test of time, as have the regular actors who each attracted their own following. 

Joan Sims was a total original, she had funny bones. A natural comedienne, with a huge talent and a master of screen craft. Her great virtue was that she looked like the girl next door with a warm and friendly touch. This never let her down, and is probably the reason for her eternal popularity. After Carry On Nurse and her kindness to me, we worked together again on a BBC Children’s television play called Fowl Pest. She remembered me, although it was some years later, and lunch-times were a highlight of the day as we exchanged show-biz anecdotes galore. Evidently, Joan’s jovial personality and comic performances were, hiding a more sombre private life.


You have recently written your memoir. What was it like to go through the writing process and relive your life and career to date? 

Extremely therapeutic. Because of one particular job, I was inspired to write dozens of anecdotes, which involved lots of research through records and diaries. I then developed it into an investigation as to how my career began and who else was involved. A book began to emerge and I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process. I loved it, actually, and to reach 85,000 words felt like a mighty achievement. Getting the book published was another matter. Most companies were not willing to risk publishing a book by an unknown actress. Fair enough, although I did point out that being ‘unknown’ was the whole point of the book ~ the clue is in the title. 

Finally, being persuaded to self-publish, I need to rely on social media and ‘word of mouth’ to promote my memoir, but my main wish is that it reaches all those wonderful actors whose careers parallel mine. They are heroes and deserve a gong. 

If you had to choose between theatre, television and film, which would be your favourite medium and why? 

Theatre is the most satisfying by far. Having an effect on a ‘live’ audience is what acting is all about. However, now in my eighties, I would not relish the physical challenge. I love the completely different craft involved in screen acting, and I would welcome more opportunities to exercise those skills. 

Your memoir is called “The Tome of the Unknown Actor”. What should people expect from your book?  

My memoir is an account of a professional acting career, with a broad variety of anecdotes, poignant, hilarious and everything in between ~ many stories involve famous and celebrated actors. There is mention of Shakespeare, in a fresh and novel way, and many extraordinary tales of my world-wide travels. Some of my answers in this questionnaire are chronicled more fully in the Tome. 

What roles would you still like to play and why? 

Anything which has an effect on the audience and, these days, not so many lines to learn. 

Finally, what's next for you? 

My next project is to study My Facebook for Seniors a gift from Patrick, and come to terms with social media in general. I need help. Acting-wise, I was recently being considered for a feature film playing the Mother Superior in a horror movie to be made in Latvia. I didn’t get it, but hope springs eternal. 

I'd like to thank Christine for such a warm, engaging and entertaining interview. It was the greatest of pleasures. I encourage you all to check out Christine's memoir, it's a wonderful read! 


You can buy Christine's fascinating memoir via Amazon  Alternatively you can find it on Christine's website 

You can read more about Christine's memoir, The Tome of the Unknown Actor, in my blog here
You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment