I hear some hearty chuckles from the actress at the other end of the telephone. Michele Dotrice is remembering her time working on the iconic 1970s’ sitcom,
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, and recalling the difficulty she had keeping a straight face whenever confronted by the antics of Michael Crawford as the bumbling Frank Spencer.
Several decades on and Michele may still be best remembered as the long-suffering Betty, but she has many strings to her bow.
She is now taking part in a UK tour, playing the eccentric old lady, Mrs Wilberforce, in a stage adaptation of the classic 1955 Ealing comedy, The Ladykillers,soon to arrive at Milton Keynes Theatre.
With Michele’s comedic talent, and with writing by Graham Linehan, of Father Ted and The IT Crowd fame, the show looks set to prompt more than a few laughs.
The Ladykillers tells the story of Mrs Wilberforce, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of Professor Marcus and his four friends, an unlikely group of criminals.
Michele said: “It was such a wonderful script and the character of Mrs Wilberforce was like none other and it is great fun to play. For me a character starts with a walk and I found her walk and went from there.
“It is a brilliant adaptation by Graham, he has taken the Ealing version everyone remembers, but has adapted it for a modern day audience.”
Born into an acting family (her father is actor Roy Dotrice), Michele started her career early, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company aged 16.
Her career credits are impressive, including appearances in TV shows such as Bramwell and Marple, stage plays such as Richard III, The Assassin and Private Lives (alongside her late husband, Edward Woodward) and films like Captain Jack.
But she shot to fame in the much-loved sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
Michele said: “After the second episode it took off and we were getting viewing figures like 26 million, which was phenomenal. Everyone was impersonating Michael and for a period he couldn’t go out. But he never actually said those words ‘oooh, Betty’.
“The programme is still being shown and still finding new generations of audiences. Every night when I come out of the theatre there are people with Frank and Betty photos and DVDs for me to sign. I think the programme appealed to the whole family.”
But the show’s dramatic stunts, performed by Michael and Michele themselves, did not always appeal to the actress’s mother.
“You couldn’t do those things now as health and safety wouldn’t allow it. In one scene I remember we were on top of a car hanging on the edge of a cliff. All I had was a thread on my ankle which I was hoping someone had hold of, which was all that was between me and death, 350 feet below in the sea. I look back and think how the heck did I do that and why did I do that? I remember watching that at home with my family and mum came over and slapped me and said ‘you stupid girl, what did you do that for?’ I didn’t think about the disasters that could happen, I just did it.”
The Ladykillers runs from January 23 until 26. For booking info log on to www.atgtickets.com/ miltonkeynes