Since Summer Winos has been on one of its little breaks for a few weeks, we thought it might be nice to release the second part of this interview ahead of schedule. If you need to catch up, part one can be found HERE. Don’t forget, you can get your fix of all things Kaplan at www.juliettekaplan.com.
How did your one-woman show come about?
I actually had the temerity once when I was out of work to phone Roy Clarke and say ‘How would you like to write me a one-woman show?’. There was a long pause, and a sharp intake of breath, and he said ‘…why not?’. So he wrote a script, called Just Pearl, and it toured all over the country, in about fifty venues.
When was this, in about 2003?
Yes, that’s right.
Do you ever revive it?
I was supposed to recently, for charity, but ended up twisting my back and had to have an operation. But Just Pearl will be resurrected at some stage. Absolutely.
For those of us who haven’t seen it, what’s the show about?
About Pearl’s life with Howard, and what happened before Howard. She’d met somebody else, but he was killed in the war. And in the show, she’s on the phone to Howard, keeping one step ahead of him. Funnily enough, I sell them on my website – I’ve just been out this morning to post some.
Did you have a great deal of input into the script?
Roy wrote the script, and sent it to me, and then I worked on it and wondered how it could best be staged. I asked if he minded if we transposed various things, because I’d been to the Edinburgh Festival and seen a show about Abraham Lincoln. The actor walked onstage to dead silence, put the make-up on, then just turned into Abraham Lincoln. And I thought… I’m going to do that. So my show starts with me turning into Pearl in front of the audience. I put the make-up on, put the coat on, and say ‘There you are… there’s Pearl’. And the audience likes that sort of thing.
I’d like to talk about Roy Clarke’s writing, actually… one of his techniques is the repetition of situations, so – for example – we see Howard and Marina nearly getting caught in the act virtually every week, and the audience embraces that. From an actors standpoint, do you need try to keep those scenarios fresh?
No, because the scripts were always fresh. When you think of the disguises that Howard and Marina would get into… they were so funny, and how Roy thought them up, I have no idea. One thing I think that I’ve never done is get stuck into a rut, just churning out Stock Character Number 14. Every script, to me, has something in it that I can analyse and turn into a real person.
So when it comes to a character like Pearl, do you have her background in mind? Where she comes from and what her history is? Do you carry that around with you?
I don’t carry it around with me, but when I realised that I’d got the part and was going to be a regular, I evolved a scenario. I think she worked in a Building Society, because she’s very neat and organised. And I remember once having a scene with – I think – Thora Hird, and she said ‘You’ve never had children’. And Pearl replied ‘We were waiting for the spare room to be done’. And it never got done.
What brought Howard and Pearl together, do you think?
In my mind – which might be far from the truth – Pearl was in the Building Society, and Howard came in, with all his papers in a mess. And Pearl liked organisation so said ‘Right, I’ll have to sort you out… meet me afterwards, buy me a cup of tea, and we’ll get all your papers in order’. I don’t think he had much choice! She was not an attractive woman, so I think she probably thought ‘I’d better snap this one up…’. She wasn’t attractive on the outside, anyway. Inside, she was a beautiful woman.
I like that! Howard as an ongoing project.
Absolutely. I can’t think of what Howard used to do, though… actually, I suppose he might have been working in the Building Society as well…
Being the onscreen partner of Robert Fyfe for so long, what kind of relationship does that bring about? Are there times when it feels like you’re a real married couple?
Just good mates. I never wanted to shag him! (laughs)
There’s the quote to sell the interview!
I’ve met his wife, and she’s a darling, but I can’t say that – as a partner – Bob has never really turned me on! (laughs) Added to which, I don’t believe in relationships in the theatre. I was married to someone who ran a gift shop, and I always said that he kept me grounded. We were driving along one day, and saw a film set, and I said ‘Look over there… it looks like chaos, but it’s organised chaos, and everyone knows what they’re doing’. And he said something to the effect of ‘Crazy people doing crazy professions…’ So there you go.
I noticed on your IMDB entry that, for the episode ‘Elegy For Fallen Wellies’, you’re listed as choreographer! Was that for the cabaret routine? How did that come about?
Yes! Well, I’d been a dancer. We were getting ready to shoot, and Alan Bell wanted shots where we were tight together, but Jane Freeman wasn’t happy about dancing. So I suggested we do the ‘train step’, pushed myself in, and Alan very kindly gave me a credit as choreographer. It was fun doing it, and can you think of a better way for Compo to have died than in shock at seeing Nora Batty’s stockings?
Those are superb episodes.
Those three episodes, I think, are the best Roy Clarke has ever written. I’d never contacted him before, but I wrote to him to say how brilliant they were. And to thank him. Actually, I’d never actually met Roy until I asked him to write the show for me! But yes… I loved dancing. I did ballet for eight years at drama school, but you’ve got to grow up the right shape, and I didn’t! I grow up with big hips and a small waist, and they don’t want that in a ballerina.
So you look for your chances to dance…
Oh yes. When I was doing panto, there’d always be a dance routine. I remember Bob Fyfe and I doing Cinderella in Leamington Spa, and we had a number to ourselves… the Sand Dance! And Chu-Chi Face… Bob’s a very good dancer! Great fun.
In 2009, when it was first suggested that Summer Wine was about to end, you were once of the most vocal of the cast. Why did you feel the need to step up? What was your reaction?
Absolute horror. We’d been told to do that series, find out what the ratings were, and then the decision would be made about whether to carry on. But Jay Hunt (BBC1 controller) axed the show without ever seeing those episodes. I went up to her at a dinner and asked her why, and she said ‘We want new, young, fresh blood’. I pointed out that the new, young, fresh blood are all out in the pubs and clubs on a Sunday evening! What about the people who want to stay in and watch something good on TV instead? She said ‘I knew I’d get something like this…’, turned away… and tripped over her orange high heels! (laughs) If it’s something good, that the audience likes, that constantly gets high ratings, then why pull it? I was furious.
The young people that she’s talking about are the generation who don’t watch scheduled TV anyway… they watch it using iPlayer, and downloading, freeing up the schedules for people who don’t watch TV in that way.
We also got a lot of children watching the show. The kids loved it. When Barry’s hanging off the edge of a kite, when the boys are rolling downhill in a barrel because they’re three little boys… (pause) Roy once said that when he was first given permission to write the show, he didn’t know how to write it until it struck him… they’re three little boys, unencumbered by wives, sweethearts, anything. I once said to Bill Owen, ‘You’re like Just William, but with a pension book’. We got a lot of our audiences from young kids.
That’s the case with Bob Fischer and myself. He started watching around 1980, as a kid, and I was the same in the early 1990s. And now that we’re older, we’ve come back to the show with a whole new level of appreciation. That’s one of the reasons the show could keep going… it works for different generations. It’s like Sesame Street, or Doctor Who… it gathers as it goes along.
It’s quite amazing. Especially as Roy Clarke has written every single word. And they’re spot on, he has such a philosophical outlook on life. That comes through Peter Sallis, as Clegg… he’s the character that will espouse the philosophy behind the jokes, and that’s what gives the show its depth.
It’s a unique brand of philosophy of well, rooted in Yorkshire.
I’m not sure I agree actually…
No, it’s fun! When Fiddler On The Roof was first produced, it was suggested it would only work for Jewish people, but it didn’t… it worked all over the world. The Chinese, Africans, Americans all related to it, because it had universal themes of family. And I like to think that Summer Wine was a universal family, too. Every family has got one of ‘those’.
So, the offbeat eccentric, the grumpy old man…
Yes. In my eyes.
What was the feeling going into production on that final series? Knowing it was coming to an end?
We didn’t know. We had no idea. We got the scripts, but had no idea we wouldn’t we doing another one. There was one episode where Pearl took Howard back, and it went through my mind then… if all these knots are being tied up…? But no, we had no idea, really. It was an arbitrary decision to kill it. And the BBC gave us a lunch! I remember at a previous lunch to celebrate the 30th anniversary, they were heaping praise on us, and I got up – and I told you I’d been a bigmouth since I went to New York – and said ‘If you think the show’s so marvellous, why don’t you increase our budget?’ (laughs). I like to say the things that other people think, but haven’t got the guts to say.
It was interesting you picking up on Howard and Pearl’s story coming to a conclusion in that final series, as they seemed to be the only characters that really did get that kind of closure.
We always said that if Howard and Marina ever actually got it going, that would be the end of the show! But in those six episodes, Pearl throws him out… and then, in the final show, takes him back. And there was a scene with us walking together, with Howard trying to explain himself, and I got caught up in the emotion of it. And Alan Bell said ‘No… don’t play it like that, play it absolutely straight’. And I realised how right he was. We finished the shot, and I called him over, and said ‘You know what? You’re a bloody good director’. If I’d got all emotional, it wouldn’t have had any effect on the audience. Because I didn’t, they felt more for him… rather than me, taking him back. Damn good.
How did you eventually find out that the show was ending?
Alan sent us all a letter. It was a total, complete shock, and it affected us all the same way. Gobsmacked isn’t the word. But… as I say, there is a possibility that Roy might write some more.
That’s great news. To round things off… two questions. First one might be more difficult… can you pick out a single moment from filming Summer Wine that stands out as a highlight?
I don’t know if I can… oh, I remember once having a line that I delivered in a certain way, and somebody made a comment about trying it differently. And Alan Bell said ‘No – Juliette knows how to play this part, leaver he alone’. He always let me try something different. He may have wanted it a certain way, but he’d always give the chance to try it my way. There was a professional respect there that I really appreciated.
Second question… what does the future hold for you?
Well I might be doing a tour next February. I’ve been asked, and we’ve almost agreed, depending on what the pay’s like! (laughs). And, as I’ve said, Roy is coming out of retirement, he is doing something else, so I might yet have another script to learn. And then I’m going to South Africa! I’ve just done a couple of cruises, and I went paragliding. Paragliding and snorkelling! My two big hobbies.
What?! Where do you go snorkelling?
I started in Hawaii… then I’ve in snorkelled in Israel… and Sharm El Sheikh, several times… then in Marmaris, in Turkey. It’s a different world. I always carry my gear around with me!