How Nottingham’s Su Pollard fell into acting
At the mention of the name Su Pollard, you might immediately think of scatter-brained chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw from Hi-de-Hi or a wacky actress with big glasses and outrageous clothes.
But the Nottingham-born entertainer is far more than that, as her 40 years as an actor, singer, writer and cabaret artist attest.
While many people who have reached the age of 64 are thinking about retirement, Su is looking forward to being in panto at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham over Christmas before touring to New Zealand in the musical Annie and hitting the road with a new show next autumn.
In fact only days after I spoke to her she was heading off to New Zealand on a promotional tour for Annie – not that the Kiwis don’t know who she is.
“It doesn’t matter how much experience you’ve had and how known you are for whatever field – you always have to have a publicity push.”
“I have a cousin in New Zealand,” says Su, “and she wrote to me to say there’s a channel on NZ television similar to Dave – they’ve got all the golden oldies showing at the moment like ‘Allo ‘Allo, Hi-de-Hi and Are You Being Served?”
When I ask whether she’s big in New Zealand, she replies: “Oh yes, I’m big in Whanganui which is in the outback somewhere, and big in Rotorua which smells of eggs. It’s a city full of geysers where all the water comes up.
“There are a lot of expats in New Zealand and they love all the UK humour. Hopefully we should get a lot of people coming to see us.”
Before long it’s evident that with Su Pollard what you see is what you get. She’s funny, genuine and there’s no way you could describe her as a “luvvie” – even though she often addresses you as “darling”.
Born Susan Georgina Pollard in 1949, the eldest daughter of Don and Hilda Pollard, Su first took to the stage aged six when she played an angel in the school nativity play.
Standing on a box announcing the arrival of the Angel Gabriel, she fell through the lid, everyone roared with laughter and Su loved it.
Since then she’s become a regular on stage, radio and television as well as a recording artist. Her first single, Starting Together, the theme to a BBC TV documentary, reached number two in the UK charts and her first album went silver.
She has performed in 36 pantos – but only one in Nottingham and that was three decades ago.
“I don’t know why that is – it’s just one of those amazing things that although I come from Nottingham I’ve only done one panto there before and that was 30 years ago. Isn’t it weird that I’ve never been back since?”
Su will be playing Mimi the Magical Mermaid in Peter Pan which also stars American superstar David Hasselhoff. He may not realise what he’s let himself in for.
“I’m looking forward to it because he’ll definitely be eye candy for the girls and probably for some of the blokes as well!
“It’s a lovely feeling backstage to think I’m going on in four minutes. It’s great.”
“He seems very nice. I haven’t met him in the flesh yet because when we did the publicity launch a few months ago he was still in California. He sent a video. I thought he’s not going to understand a word when people say ‘eh up m’duck’.”
It’s clear that Su really enjoys pantomime and throws herself wholeheartedly into the genre.
“You’ve really got to take on board what it’s all about. You’ve got to believe every single thing you’re doing because of the children. They want to believe what you’re doing in that story.
“You have to have stamina. It’s all very well having energy but it’s keeping that energy up on a regular basis. A lot of people can’t cut it. Some people have actually said to me ‘I want to get back to telly – I can’t do this, I’m tired out!’
“The greatest thing of all is when you’re backstage and can hear the overture being played. When it’s finished the audience all go ‘hurray’ because they know the show’s started and it’s a lovely feeling backstage to think I’m going on in four minutes. It’s great.”
It’s seven years since Su starred in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Mansfield Palace Theatre, another experience she remembers with affection.
“I really enjoyed the Wicked Queen. You’ve got to be mean but I always tried to have a bit of fun with the Prince because she captures him and puts him in her dungeon.
“I used to sing to him Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me, trying to flirt with him. Of course the audience killed themselves laughing.
“I do like Mansfield. And of course they have my favourite shop there, Wilko’s. People in London have never heard of it.”
Su is hoping to get to Mansfield to meet her old friend Ruth Madoc who is appearing at the Palace Theatre as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. Both are still fondly remembered for their roles in Hi-De-Hi and Su has a whole new host of young fans who have been given DVDs of the programme by their grandparents.
“They find out where you live, knock on the door and say ‘Is Peggy in please?’ And I say ‘not today, but if you come back tomorrow she’ll be finished doing the chalets’. Sometimes I put the old Peggy costume on to surprise them!”
After Peter Pan, Su will be off to New Zealand to play Miss Hannigan, the drunken spinster in charge of the orphanage, in Annie. She has performed the role on and off for the past ten years. Then next autumn she is hoping to go on the road with her one-woman, cabaret-style show, which is having an update after first being staged 20 years ago.
Like many celebrities I have spoken to in the past year, Su admits a lot of her success has been down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. An agent, Richard Stone, saw her in Godspell, offered to take her on and sent her to meet two writers he represented, David Croft and Jimmy Perry. They wrote Hi-De-Hi and Croft was also responsible for two other series in which Su appeared, You Rang, M’Lord? and Oh, Doctor Beeching!
Su admits that Hi-de-Hi and You Rang M’Lord? are among her favourites but one of the greatest shows she was in was a farce called Don’t Dress For Dinner which played for a whole year in the West End.
“I was in it with Simon Cadell, you know, Jeffrey Fairbrother in Hi-de-Hi. That was superb, darling. It taught me such a lot. It was absolutely great to hear waves of laughter coming from the auditorium, and you thought to yourself ‘if you thought that was funny, wait till you hear what’s coming next!’ That was a fabulous show to do and you just couldn’t wait to be on stage.
“Basically I’ve just been very fortunate in whatever I’ve done. I’ve tried to give it my best shot, 100%, because people deserve value for money and I hope I’ve given that and will continue to do so.”
• This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Country Images magazine