The new BBC 1 TV series Talking Heads brings back a personal memory of Dame Thora Hird, DBE, to Barbara Michaels
If any of you were fortunate enough to have seen Thora Hird in Cream Cracker Under the Settee, one of Alan Bennet’s witty and often heart-breaking monologues in the series, Talking Heads, premiered back in 1988, you will fully understand why I rank meeting and interviewing Thora Hird as one of the high spots of my career. I interviewed Thora at home in her London flat, with her husband Jimmy Scott pottering around making us coffee in the kitchen.
Forward to 1994. The next time I met her was when I sat next to her at a long prearranged gala performance hosted by Melvyn Bragg, at which she was the guest of honour. Sadly, it was not long after Jimmy, to whom she was married for 57 years, had died. In the darkened auditorium she wept silently, with tears coursing down her cheeks. Widowed myself just over two years previously, I understood only too well what she was feeling.
But wonderful trouper that she was, when the spotlight shone on her (at least she was spared having to walk on stage) she stood up, all traces of the tears gone, and made a speech without a wobble in her voice.
It was her audience who choked back their tears then.
Since that day, there has been a hugely prestigious list of actresses including Dame Eileen Atkins, Stephanie Cole and Dame Penelope Wilton who have performed in the monologues. This time around, the list includes Imelda Staunton (did you see her in Finding Your Feet on Channel 4 recently?) and Dame Harriet Walter.
Great actresses, all of them. But it is Thora I will always remember. Perhaps it is just as well that Cream Cracker Under the Settee has not been included in the remake. The reason why? It calls for an actress over 70 years of age (as Thora was) and, under the lockdown rules, the BBC felt unable to include anyone of that ilk!