Her career has spanned over four decades, she has worked with some of the greatest actors, writers, comedians and TV stars of our time yet Ruth Madoc is just as proud of her comic turns in 'Hi-De-Hi' as she is of starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in 'Under Milk Wood'. Returning to the INEC in Killarney as Mrs. Hannigan in 'Annie' from 14 to 18 October, the 65-year-old has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
Taragh Loughrey-Grant: When you were in Ireland last year for your eight-week long run of 'Annie' did you get to do any sight seeing?
Ruth Madoc: We did yes, we did Dingle and the Ring of Kerry and it was just fabulous. I'm really looking forward to reacquainting myself with there. I live in Wales which I thought was God's country but honestly now I think the Ring of Kerry and the coast of Dingle surpasses anything I've seen. It's fantastic.
TLG: Do you think there are many similarities between the Irish and the Welsh?
RM: Oh yes, tremendously. We used to have the Cork and Swansea Ferry and an awful lot of Swansea is inhabited by people that originally came from Cork. Especially after the Second World War so a lot of my friends in South Wales actually have Irish heritage.
TLG: Are there a lot of Irish names around?
RM: Oh yes, Doherty, O'Malley all sorts of names…and the Murphy's. My son-in-law is a Murphy from Cork.
TLG: So you're well surrounded by the Irish.
RM: And what a joy it is. I think the Irish people per say are just lovely and I'm not just saying that because I'm speaking to you, they're just delightful. The children in the cast are lovely. There're so vibrant and up for it. They even kept in touch with me since I was there last August; we've had emails to and fro.
TLG: This is your fourth year playing 'Annie's' Mrs. Hannigan, what's your interpretation of the infamous character?
RM: She's dastardly but like every dastardly character she has a soft underbelly and hers of course is her drink problem and the fact that she wants to meet a man. She's lonely. Remember though the first thing that you see when you see 'Annie' is this little child reading a letter – so who taught this child to read? Mrs. Hannigan isn't all bad. So you don't just look at the words, you look at how everyone else treats her. The kids aren't really frightened of her; they're always stamping on her feet!
TLG: You have your own website (www.ruthmadocofficial.co.uk/). Do you think you'll ever write a blog?
RM: Well maybe, you've got to keep up with the times, don't you! You see my son-in-law Brendan Murphy, my daughter Lowri and my grandson live on Gibraltar, so the internet is invaluable. We use it every day; we talk on email and look at pictures. My grandson is only eighteen months, his name is Rian and I've another one on the way, in fact two on the way. I'll be a grandmum of four by May this coming year. I've two children, they both got married two years ago and within two years my children will have two children. They've decided to have them all together which is fantastic.
TLG: What's your motto as a grandmother?
RM: Oh, I think spoil the grandchildren and then you can give them back!
TLG: Looking back at 'Hi-De-Hi', you starred in 55 episodes of the show from 1980 to 1988, how do you feel about Gladys Pugh now?
RM: Well I'm unlike a lot of people, I love talking about 'Hi-De-Hi', it opened up doors. I'd been in the business twenty years before this. I'd done films like 'Fiddle on the Roof, 'Under Milk Wood', 'The Prince and the Pauper' with all these wonderful people like George C Scott, Ernest Borgnine, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton and Topol but it came at the right time in my career. I was nearly forty; this is a difficult age for a woman so I was very lucky to get Gladys and to develop that character at that period of time. It taught me so much about television.
TLG: She was an iconic character. How did you create her?
RM: Comedy is a team and we couldn't have done it without each other. To create her...well funnily enough I cut my hair from being waist length to very, very short to play a part on stage and it suited me. When Gladys came along, that was still my natural hair colour at the time...it isn't now but I decided that that hair cut and the look was very important. I based her on a woman who was a wonderful dance Zizi Jeanmair in the 50's, that’s how I got the look. Then I knew all these women from when I grew up, who desperately wanted to get out of the valleys, who had these nipped in waists and Rita Hayworth figures. I knew Gladys background, I could tell you where she came from everything. All part of creating a character, you see.
TLG: Of your co-stars who did you bond with at the time?
RM: Well of course the wonderful Su Pollard who is very much with us, who I believe is going into a West End in a musical called 'Shout' which again is about a 1960's thing. One of my favourites, well two favourites, unfortunately have passed away. They were firstly Simon Cadell - Gladys was the feed, the catalyst in the situation and Simon Cadell's character of Jeffrey Fairbrother was just brilliant. My other favourite was the veteran actor Leslie Dwyer who played the Punch and Judy man who hated children [Mr. Partridge]. Unfortunately they've passed away.
TLG: How did you get the perfectly cast part of Mrs. Thomas in 'Little Britain'?
RM: I'm glad you say its perfect casting. You know if my mum and dad had been alive I wouldn't have done it. However much you think that you're just playing a character and saying these very rude words, I don't think my mum and dad would have appreciated it. I can just hear my mum saying 'I didn't send you to RADA to talk that kind of rubbish.' They were of the generation who would not have appreciated it.
My husband took it off the fax machine and said: 'You can't say this Ruth, you can't say this.' [Laughing giddily, she added] Because we are of this generation, I mean I'm a 65-year-old; it's not in my remit in life! I said I'll tell you want we'll do John, we'll send it up to Reese, my son first, who was about 39 at the time. So I rang him and I said there's something coming through on the fax, don't let the office see it and he said 'Why?' and I said: 'It’s a script from 'Little Britain''. He started to laugh at the other end and he said: 'Have you ever seen 'Little Britain' mum?' and I said: 'No I haven't' and he said: 'Okay send it up'. About 45 minutes later he rang back and said: 'Go on, mum, do it. You'll get street cred if nothing else!'
TLG: He's so right. It was very funny, very unexpected.
RM: Yes, I think that was the gag. I don't know what Rian and my other grandchild Seren are going to think of it!
TLG: You've worked with Dylan Thomas, what did you think of 'Edge of Love' and the hype surrounding the film?
RM: I haven't seen it actually purely because I haven't had time but I'm not sure that it hasn't been over glamorised. It is an extraordinary story because I knew Caitlin (Dylan Thomas' wife). I know Aeronwy, the daughter and she has kept the sober part of her father's reputation alive. Because he was a craftsman, which people forget about genii, they still have to craft their art. How many times he rewrote and rewrote 'Under Milk Wood' and his poetry, is phenomenal. All artists in a way are the same, they have to hone and re-hone their work.
Aerowny told me that her father wouldn't travel with the kids on a train, he had to be in a different compartment,and he didn't want to be with the kids for that length of time. You have to have a certain amount of a selfish streak in you to want to do it but on the other hand as a woman, obviously, my family has always come first but it's [her career] enabled me to be able to send at least one of my children to university and to public school.
TLG: What was it like working with Richard Burton
RM: I was very privileged to work not only on the film of 'Under Milk Wood' but on the stage version too. We put Dylan Thomas in Poet's Corner and the night before we did a marvellous concert in London of a version of 'Under Milk Wood' and some of his poems. Somewhere there is a recording of the concert, with the great harpist, Osian Ellis and wonderful actors, who unfortunately aren’t with us any more. Burton himself narrated 'Milk Wood' that night and there was a great actor Calvin Thomas who was a definitive Mr. Pugh. This particular night Calvin brought the house down and Burton had left the stage, we were all sitting then and came back on after Siân Philips and Calvin had finished that particular scene and he said to the audience: "Follow that." Its one of my great theatrical memories, he was a very generous man.
TLG: How did you juggle your career with family life?
RM: I was very lucky I could take the kids with me then, backstage. You can't get away with that today because of what we can 'ELF' – elf and safety! I think it's much more difficult now for mum's to have careers, I was lucky I stayed in light entertainment specifically so I could take the children with me. There was no use running off to the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] or the National [Theatre in London] because I wouldn't have been allowed take the children in with me.
I also used to feed comics, all the great comments. I worked with Hal Roach once and the great Percy French too. I was doing a great tour of Ireland too with Brendan O'Dowd in 1968 and my son was about nine months and I was able to bring him in a carrycot!
TLG: What are your future plans?
RM: I'm looking at 75 to semi-retire. I mean you never really retire from our business, if you can remember the lines and jump onto the furniture you can keep going! I have to give back what I have received from my business as well. I came in at 16 and it's educated me, I have to give back to my peers, the younger actors coming into the business. Maybe I might teach.
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