I was in a summer show on television called HI SUMMER. There were just 5 of us in the cast, and we performed every Saturday during the summer---LIVE.
There was an American comdian in the cast called Cliff Norton. One week we were to do a duet as mountaineers, singing "WUNDERBAR"' The first line of the verse is "Gazing down on the Jungfrau.." --- where the hell are they supposed to be? We were dressed in climbing gear, with heavy boots. In the heel of each boot was a hole which we slotted into a peg, which permits you to lean way over. "Wunderbar, Wunderbar!!" I never did quite conquer the technique, especially as we were singing half way up the mountain.
At a certain point I fell off the mountain--I can't quite remember how--then I was very quickly hooked onto a wire and, with wings attached, flew onto the set, still in the climbing gear, as an angel! It is the only time I have ever "flown". Then I was to be gently dropped onto the summit next to Cliff, put my arm around him and we were to fly off together!
We had only the day of transmission to rehearse in the studio, then we went out live at 7.00. It was late afternoon before they reached our song, and the crew have to have one and a half hours break before transmission. So we had very little time to rehearse. We got to the bit when they attach the wires, and I was told by Mr Kirby himself, who was famous for his flying equipment: "Just do a little curtsey, and we will do the rest". Up I went into the air, but instead of being dropped gently next to Cliff, I was bashed into the side of the mountain! Apparently they had brought the wrong sort of flying equipment! Through the trousers and the thick socks, my leg was bleeding with a big gash, and I was shaking. They brought me down, took me to the dressing room, bathed my leg....and that was the end of our rehearsal. No chance to do it again before the performance.
Terrified, transmission, "Wonderbar, Wonderbar", wires fastened to my back, curtsey and up. This time they brought me down on the summit next to Cliff as had been planned, I put my arm around him and he held on to a ring, and off again. But instead of flying us offstage and down to the ground, they took us up into the flies, where I was hanging with Cliff like a sack of potatoes, and they left us there!!
In January 2008 I performed my one woman show, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, at the New End Theatre for 3 weeks. I have included the reviews which I was thrilled to receive in the REVIEWS section of the Website. After the performance on the Wednesday of the final week, I walked back to my car which was parked in a dark road with an unmade pavement and tripped. My wrist was terribly painful, but I drove home with my right hand and put frozen peas on the wrist when I got home. Next morning I phoned the doctor, who told me to get straight to the hospital. Where I discovered that I had broken my wrist. They manipulated it and put on a temporary splint. That evening my caretaker, Dave, drove me to the theatre and my PA/carer/friend Yasmin came with to dress me and help with the make up, and I performed! Which they continued to do until the end of the run.
On the following day, they put on a plaster cast at the hospital, which went from the middle of the hand nearly to the elbow. But I performed! The last performance was a Sunday matinee. Many of my theatre friends were in the audience. My opening song is "Gee but it's good to be here", which I sang. Then said: "It's not only good to be here, it's a flaming miracle! I see many theatre friends in the audience--I've worked with some wonderful casts in my career...(lifting my arm)..but never one like this before!"
I was in a musical called JORROCKS, based on the 19th century classic by Surtees. Joss Ackland was Jorrocks and I was Mrs Jorrocks (Captain Doleful was played by Paul Eddington--before "The Good Life" and "Yes, Minister") We opened in Wimbledon, and the designer was excited as he was trying out a new type of scenery--a 3 dimensional backcloth, where scenes could be played on a very high balcony. The whole construction could be lifted and lowered from the flies. To reach the balcony there was a long flight of steps, and as soon as the backdrop lifted the steps disappeared and folded into the side. As it was before the London opening, every night there were changes in the script.
One night in Wimbledon a new scene was put in, for Joss, me and Bernard Lloyd, another actor in the show, to be played on the balcony. As had been set at rehearsal, Joss was the last one down the steps. But as we were climbing up in the performance, Joss whispered "I have to hurry into the next scene, will you let me go down first". The Stage Manager had the cue to take up the backcloth as soon as Joss was down the steps. Which she did. Bernard was half way down and managed to jump, but I was the last. I had my foot on the top step when the scenery started to rise and steps closed into the side. I just managed to clamber back onto the balcony, and I was screaming! The director, Val May, had been watching from the back of the balcony and he came rushing round. They brought the curtain down and rescued me. But if I had taken just one more step down, I probably wouldn't be here to tell the tale!
Another play with an inventive set was THE HERO RISES UP by John Arden and Margaretta Darcy. It is the story of Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and I played Lady Hamilton. We were to rehearse at the Nottingham Repertory, open at the Kings Theatre, Newcastle, then to the Edinburgh Festival and back for a seaon in Nottingham. When the actor Robin Parkinson was asked to play Nelson he replied: "I'd give my right arm to play that part!"
The set was on casters. It revolved to show a ship's cabin, and revolved again to show a street, and also there was a high platform above the sets for other scenes. We rehearsed with the set on the Nottingham Stage. But on the first night in Newcastle, we were playing a scene on the high platform when the whole set started to roll towards the orchestra pit. Nottingham was flat but the Kings had a sharp rake! The stagehands spotted what was happening and rushed onto the stage to stop the set rolling down into the orchestra pit, saving it at just at the last second! They pushed the set back, went off and found door stoppers and pushed them under the set, while all the time we carried on with the scene. Who says the life of an actress is all bouquets and glamour!
After Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle had played in STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF for a year at the Queens Theatre in London, they went to do it in New York and Tony Tanner and I took over. We were dressed as clowns and the set was a semi-circle of steps, as in half a circus ring. A few times we had to go up and down the steps in a blackout. At the sides, the edges of the steps were painted with luminous paint, but not at the back, where I had to go down in a black-out. One night, going down those steps, towards the end of the performance, I twisted my ankle very badly.
I was very proud of the fact that, in my entire career, I had never missed a performance. Next day I took a taxi to a top specialist in Harley Street, and he said he would come to the theatre and inject me just before the show, so that I could perform. Which he did. But by the end I was in such agony, I told the understudy that I couldn't go through that again. And I was off for a week.
In those days it was "No play, no pay". A distant cousin of mine, David Jacobs, was a prominent theatrical solicitor and he got to hear about this, and offered to fight to get me my salary plus compensation. The management was a top management I had always wanted to work for, Bernard Delfont, and I was nervous about taking him to court. Delfont fought it, of course, so David appointed a QC to represent me in court. The QC was over the moon---he had prepared a brilliant case saying that for Thelma Ruby "the world had stopped and she didn't get off, she fell off" or words to that effect! He was disappointed when Delfont decided to settle. I told myself that I hadn't broken my record of never being off, as I had been paid!