Maureen Lipman: dame of the highest order


Doing a one-off show in front of a live audience and being interviewed for the first time by an unfamiliar presenter sounds like the stuff of nightmares. But not for Dame Maureen Lipman whose career as an actress, comedian and writer spanning more than 50 years should lead to a fascinating evening at Derby Theatre.

Maureen will be joined on stage by radio and television presenter Matthew Stadlen. He’s spoken to her about the format of the show and, as the sparky, sprightly, self-deprecating star told me, she’ll respond accordingly to whatever he asks.

“I’ve done things like this hundreds of times with other people. It’s the equivalent of a chat show. Mostly one does it for charity or it’s a question-and-answer session after a show or it’s sitting on Alan Titchmarsh’s sofa to plug a play that they’re not going to come and see. I don’t want to sound cynical but it’s more of the same except in Derby.”

Maureen has rarely been away from theatres or the small screen over the past 50 years. Since 2018 she has played Evelyn Plummer, the long-lost grandmother of Tyrone Dobbs, in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

Maureen Lipman at The Oldie Literary Lunch [image: Neil Spence]

Her chequered career and forthright views have meant she is a sought-after guest for chat shows, so she knows what to expect when being questioned.

“There’s the Michael Parkinson interview which I’ve done whereby you have enough time to actually talk, there’s the Terry Wogan one where you have less time and there’s the Graham Norton one where you play a silly game and fall off a chair.

“I did say to Matthew if I sometimes go off on one, just let me go because it’s the spontaneity that people want. I said don’t ask me too much about my childhood 70 years ago because I’m bored with it, so I imagine other people will be too. And let’s not hit too much on the political side because that will get me into trouble.”

When I suggest the show might contain a lot of observational storytelling, she agrees.

“It’s my angle on everything that’s happened. I suppose people will want to know what it’s like working on Coronation Street, they might want to know what it was like when the dear Queen came to Coronation Street and they might be interested in my one-woman show. The only stories worth telling are ones that have got a punch line, so hopefully I’ll get a few of those in because otherwise it’s just shameless name-dropping and I’d rather not do that.”

So what was it like when the late Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to Weatherfield in July 2021 to celebrate 60 years of the soap?

“We were all dazzled really, even the people who were republicans. She was very well. She walked about for two hours. She bounced around and she looked beautiful.

“We were all moved when she walked through the arch along the cobbles to the tune of Coronation Street. We were all choked up. It was a great day. The idea of the Queen sitting down and watching an episode of Corrie is just hilarious.”

All Coronation Street fans will be delighted to know that Maureen is contracted to appear on the show for the whole of 2023. She really enjoys playing Evelyn.

“She’s a good character. I think she’s an old-fashioned Coronation Street person. She’s the sort of person who my late husband Jack (Rosenthal, the playwright who wrote early episodes of Corrie) would have written.

“Any attempt to make her nice and soft would be wrong because she’s a tough old battleaxe and The Street needs one.”

It seems strange that despite being in show business for so long Maureen won the accolade for best newcomer at the Inside Soap awards in 2019.

“The world of soap is quite new to me,” says Maureen. “I’m doing my best to pick up tips along the way. You have to be grateful for these things later in life. You have to think it’s great that I’m making a splash somewhere.”

Maureen Diane Lipman was born on 10th May 1946 in Hull. Her mother encouraged Maureen to go into acting.

She trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and after graduating worked extensively in theatre. She was a member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic for two years from 1971 and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1973.

She gained prominence on television in the sitcom Agony in which she played an agony aunt with a troubled private life. Another of her successes was as the character Beattie in the TV commercials for British Telecom.

She wrote a monthly column for Good Housekeeping magazine for more than ten years which formed the basis of several autobiographical books.

“It was quite an innovation then to have a small-time actress writing a book about being a mother and a wife. And they did very well. I’m trying to write another book but I’m finding it quite hard. I must get on and do it.”

Her first taste of Coronation Street came in 2002 when she played snooty Rovers Return landlady Lillian Spencer in six episodes.

Since then she has appeared in Doctor Who, Casualty, Holby City and the ITV3 comedy series Ladies of Letters with Anne Reid.

Maureen likes the variety of being able to work in television and theatre.

“TV has got a new lease of life through Netflix and now Hollywood stars are all doing TV. I feel I’ve done my apprenticeship there and I’d like to think I’ve got a series of some kind left in me which is not just a sitcom but something Jack Rosenthal-like.”

Maureen says she will continue to work as long as she has her health and can remember her lines.

“I had coffee this week with Sheila Hancock who’s going to be 90 (towards the end of February) and she’s as busy as she’s ever been. We’re living longer and we do have a good, long career span.

“When you think about it, in the ‘40s and ‘50s people like Derek Nimmo, Joyce Grenfell and Alastair Sim were filming all the time at Ealing Studios and then going on to do a play in the evening. We’re made of pretty strong stuff, on the whole.”

In the Queen’s 2020 Birthday Honours Maureen made was a dame which came as a real surprise.

“I was already a CBE and I didn’t expect to have anything else. Since Barbara Windsor they’ve allowed a few people to have that award who are not ‘classic’ actors and that’s great.”

Maureen is Jewish, so how important is her faith?

“My race is important to me. It’s important to me that we’re not defined by the holocaust but by the good things that we do. I’d like us not to always be singled out when something goes wrong in the world.

“I still consider a small part of me is an immigrant and for me this is a wonderful country to have been born in. When I went back to Poland with Rula Lenska (for the ITV programme DNA Journey) it struck me hard that it was three generations from a cobbler in Kazimierz Dolny to a Dame of the British Empire. It just shows how useful immigration is to the make-up of a country.”

Maureen Lipman with daughter Amy and son Adam

Maureen’s husband Jack died in 2004 and her partner Guido Castro who she was with for 13 years passed away in 2021. She has two children, Amy who’s a playwright and Adam, a speechwriter.

“I’ve got a couple of grandchildren who I adore and they fascinate me. I had a lovely, very social Christmas full of new people and parties and places. I’m in a good place apart from the fact that the world is a frightening place to live in at the moment.”

As well as her stint on Coronation Street, Maureen will this year reprise her one-woman show Rose, written by Martin Sherman, which she performed in 2022 over eight weeks in Manchester and London. She will take to the stage of the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End in May and is grateful to Corrie producers for giving her the time off.

“It’s a very important play. It tells the history of the Jewish people in the 20th century in a very clever way. It’s hard work – I’m sitting on a bench for two hours. I got shingles when I finished (in 2022) which was not pleasant. But I’m hoping to be fitter when I do it this time. It’s only four weeks so I should be okay.”

Before then she will come to Derby for a show that you won’t be able to see anywhere else in the country. It’s an unmissable opportunity to see one of our finest actresses giving an unparalleled insight into her long and varied career.

* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine


Sign up for my regular newsletter

* indicates required

We value your privacy and will never send irrelevant information.