|Subject: 'I'm not a dreary cow' - Sheila Hancock
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Date Posted: Saturday, November 29, 09:55:38am
I have just found this aritcle on the The Guardian, website, basicly the took Sheila into a room filled with clippings of her life and asked her to write an article. there is a film on the website for people who can access it.
'I'm not a dreary cow'
How does it feel to look back at your life through the eyes of others? We invited the actor Sheila Hancock - who never reads her own press - to look through the newspaper cuttings of her life and gave her the chance to set the record straight
I always made it my business not to look at my newspaper cuttings, so it's a bit of a shock walking into a room full of them. On the whole, I think journalists have been kind about me, but they do make me sound a bit of a dreary cow. There seems to be so much suffering in my life. Right from the start, the focus is all death.
In 1971, my mother died of cancer and within a year my first husband Alec Ross died, also from cancer. Of course, it was a terrible time for me, and it did change me. I lost my religion, for one thing. As a child, I was deeply religious and went to church every Sunday. But after mum and Alec died, I got really bored with talking about the love of God and I thought, I can't be bothered. I was no longer interested in who caused it and why did it happen, I just thought, if somebody's suffering, let's do something about it, and if I'm suffering I should pull myself together rather than thinking somebody up there is going to help me. So I became a humanist and later on I became a Quaker.
In 2002, my second husband John Thaw died of cancer of the oesophagus, just as Alec had done, and there I was on the suffering treadmill again. Poor Old Sheila, Tragic Widow, that kind of thing. Some of the headlines right from the start are so sober and pious.
And yes, I felt awful, and I felt sorry for myself and I missed John terribly, but that is certainly not all of me. All the time, I've been working and doing shows - and having fun a lot of the time. I suppose I have always had a sense of duty, and wanted to help people, but I'm much larkier in real life than my cuts suggest. There's a dreadful headline from one interview - "She tells the desolate that all things are possible; that things might become better." I sound like Mother Teresa. I've never been as nice or as selfless as that.
In lot of ways, I've been selfish. There's a Relative Values I did with my daughter Ellie-Jane in the Sunday Times, and she gets it just about right. She says, "Because she's such an old cow she wants to interfere with everything; if there's something going on she wants to do it. Like writing. So now she's writing and she hasn't just stopped with writing a book; now she's decided she wants to write for television so she goes on a course for television writers." It's true, and my children suffered for that. I was always going off on something, and they were neglected. It's not that I actually left them, but I did do my own thing a lot. Then again, I had to make a living. John started to make money eventually, but at the beginning of The Sweeney I was still earning a great deal more than him through musicals such as Annie, but the children were battered around a lot by our relationship and careers - metaphorically, that is. There's another headline from Ellie-Jane saying, "I despised my mum when I was a teenager." And we certainly did have our problems. I remember telling her that I loved her but didn't like her. But that's the past. These days I get on great with all three girls.
When John and I married, it was before The Sweeney and he wasn't very well known. We got a copy of Who's Who and John looked up Sheila Hancock and there was a bit about me and then he looked himself up and it said: "John Thaw, see Sheila Hancock." He was so furious. But I always knew he would be successful, and that was important to me. My first husband Alec was a very good-looking man, but by the time he came out of the war, his sort of acting was no longer in demand - although he was a working-class boy, he was actually very good at suave handsome-men parts. I began to get successful when he was out of fashion; it was agony to watch him. He never said anything about it, and he wasn't jealous, but I couldn't really enjoy my success because I would say, "No, I'm sorry, I've got to go and see my husband," because I didn't want to be out drinking champagne when he was at home.
There's a quote from John that I had never seen until today. "The best thing I ever bought for five quid." He's talking about me. Well, the marriage certificate. Cheeky sod. He could be fierce, but on the whole he was a gentle soul.
So much has been written about our relationship. A fair bit of it by me. The only reason I wrote the book The Two of Us was because I received a letter from somebody saying they were going to write a warts-and-all biography exposing him as an alcoholic. I thought if I wrote an honest book about him and me, nobody would want to publish a hatchet job from an outsider. And it turned out that way.
In the late 1980s I got cancer, and thankfully recovered. We were in the news again. The thing is, I can't keep my trap shut. If somebody interviews me I tell the truth. I'm not very good at dissembling. There was a tabloid headline from 1995, "John and I split up when I had cancer - now we know we could never live apart ..." At that period, John was drinking quite heavily and our marriage was very dodgy and we were constantly splitting up and then coming back together again. I tried to pretend that things were fine, but didn't make much of a job of it. We gave interviews pretending that we were together and the minute the journalists left I probably said: "I'm off, I'm off, I'm leaving you and I'm not coming back." It was a very tempestuous relationship. And I really miss that.
My career started off in revues and theatre, and on the whole the critics were kind. Funnily enough, the nastiest review I ever received was when I was in a play with John before we got together called So What About love? It was the worst he received, too. There was a famous critic called Harold Hobson and he came to see it and the review for me was, "She is unbearable to the eye and unendurable to the ear," and John's review was, "I dreaded his every entrance." We used to quote it to one another if ever we got a bit uppity; I'd say, I dread your every entrance.
Looking through my cuts, one thing is pretty obvious - journalists are more interested in my life than in my work. Maybe that's a bit sad, but then again it does get boring when actors go on and on about their method and motives.
What amazes me is that, at 75, I'm still working regularly. Last year I was in Cabaret, and I recently played the batty seaside landlady in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party. Early in my career I did a lot of comedy, and that was great. Then the roles became a bit serious. Perhaps that is to do with how I was perceived - tragic, serious Sheila again. I loved being the sister of Catherine Tate's foul-mouthed Gran in her TV sketch show.
These days, I rarely survive a play. I always play old ladies, most of them on their last legs. It pisses me off a bit. On stage, I could get away with playing quite a bit younger with makeup and good lighting.
But there's always been one rule for men and another for women in the acting world. In sitcoms particularly, wives are always much younger than the actors who play the husbands. At one point I was told I was too old to play John's wife in A Year In Provence. True, I was 10 years older than him, but I didn't look it.
Looking back through the decades, I find the old pictures of me interesting. I never watch myself in things because I always think I look so hideous - I've never ever seen myself on TV or in movies. But now I think, what a shame because I wasn't that bad looking, I was quite nice, and yet like all women I was hung up about my appearance. I really did have quite a good figure.
I think I was always a great appreciator of female beauty - if not my own. In one of the newspaper cuttings, I said, "Apart from John, I would rather spend time with another woman than a man. Apart from the fact that I need men for sex, I could easily have been a lesbian." I think that's true, I do very much like women. But it is a rather unfortunate way of saying it - as if men were walking dildos. Maybe I didn't say it quite like that at the time, but I probably did. It comes across as rather ruthless.
Personality wise, I don't think I'm much changed over the years. I'm still as curious and willing to change my mind as ever. That's why I find all the old interviews with me a bit disturbing, because I read an article where I've said something and think, "What? I don't think that! What the hell did I say that for?"
Women of my mother's generation grew old quietly and uncomplainingly. But I do think this is changing. The generation that are going to be old now are going to remain narky and campaigning. They're not going to be prepared to sit around a television in a nasty chair and be drugged and behave themselves.
That's become something of a recurring theme in my more recent interviews - that we can be old and lively and good fun. Women are still expected to behave in a certain way as they get older - you're allowed to be maverick and different when you're young, but when you're older you're expected to be wise, to be a granny, to be a widow. That's all bollocks. We still have our appetites, our humour, our ambitions. The other day I was on Paul O'Grady's television show and some of the Olympic team were there and there were two gorgeous guys on and there was Paul and I both drooling. There was a picture of one in the nude - a very carefully taken picture - and he was beautiful. What a piece of work is man!
The thing that has always surprised people most about me is that I love fast cars - and I still do. Why should things change just because I'm getting old? Of course, there's plenty to be sad about in life, but there's still all the good stuff - fast cars, lust and laughter.
Article from http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2008/nov/26/sheila-hancock-television
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