Earlier this year, Susan Jameson could be seen playing Lillian Calvert in the new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small and also in an episode of Casualty where she played Audrey Rinsler. Over her long-running acting career so far, Susan has enjoyed many regular roles including joining the cast of Coronation Street in 1963 as Myra Dickinson/Myra Booth, When The Boat Comes In as Jessie Seaton/Jessie Ashton, and more recently she will be best-known for playing Esther Lane in New Tricks and Great Aunt Loretta in Grandpa in My Pocket. As well as having an extensive screen career, Susan also works on radio, audiobooks and in theatre. Talking with us recently, Susan tells us about playing Esther Lane in New Tricks, her time as Great Aunt Loretta in Grandpa in My Pocket and working on the new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small.
What is Lillian Calvert like to play in All Creatures Great and Small and what was it like filming for the new adaptation?
I really enjoyed playing a stroppy old Yorkshire farmer in All Creatures – always great to do grumpy people – and the location was incredibly beautiful. But the weather was ridiculously cold!! I had about five layers of thermals on as I stood amongst my calves in the field getting heatstroke! The real farmer and his wife were great and made us welcome by their fire, even giving me three early copies of the original paperbacks, which I’ve loved reading. Super cast – animals to handle – fantastic (chilly!) views, bringing back memories of my early childhood up there – so, what’s not to like? A fabulous job!!
Can you tell us about your character Audrey Rinsler who appeared in Casualty earlier this year?
Audrey in Casualty was also a lovely part to play – it was a great script, and it’s rather nice to be gravely ill and then recover for the teabreak! The regular cast are always great fun and very welcoming – I think it’s the fourth Casualty I’ve done over the years. Last time I died as well – with a dog on my bed – perfect. The connection between Audrey and her friend/gardener was very touching I thought, and her struggle to keep the truth from him was a nice challenge. Michael and I had a jolly few days in Wales, with the sea air and yummy Welsh cakes on Cardiff Bay.
You appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders as Germaine Troughton, how was it working on the storyline?
So many chums had been in eps of Midsomer Murders – and I was very chuffed to get the call at last! It was just fab playing the ghastly Germaine – another favourite sort of part (see Grandpa in my Pocket) poor deluded woman – and as I rather like cricket, it was a perfect role. Jason was fab to work with and the whole nonsense of me trying to hang him up and kill him with a cricket bat was absurdly joyous. A lovely director and brilliant, friendly crew made it a great few days!
How was it playing Christine in the feature film Mum’s List and watching the completed film for the first time?
Mum’s List was a moving piece to be involved with. Some of it was a bit ad lib and in the moment, and I was sorry that some of Christine ended up on the cutting room floor when we saw the prevue. But the story was about the couple and the boys who were excellent, so I understood. And that’s show business! Again, it was a very touching true story and a worthy project – I hope it gets a few more showings.
What was it like on set of Him where you played Rose and was there anything in particular that drew you to the script?
Him was also great. I thought the cast were fab, and dying on screen is always an interesting challenge. The hardest bit is controlling any involuntary eye movements – you have to kind of squint down towards your nose and then freeze! Was quite pleased when I saw it – definitely dead! The writing was so good, never too many words I felt. The spooky feeling about Rose’s thoughts was intriguing And the director knew just what he wanted which always makes it easier – so, again, a very happy satisfying job. PS the casting people were extra nice and accommodating too.
Having played Esther Lane in New Tricks over ten years, what did you enjoy most about the character and show?
Esther Lane in New Tricks was an ongoing pleasure, and became quite a big part of my life, of course. Alan Armstrong is a perfect nightmare to be in bed with! Making me laugh and messing about when I was trying to be serious etc!! And it didn’t stop at the bedroom – he was always making me and the rest of us laugh. But, again, fab to work with – as everybody was. It became such a comfortable role to slip into for a few days on most of the episodes, with the same make-up people and many of the crew with us from year to year, real chums. I suspected I may have got the part when I did a big church eulogy for one of my best friends who died much too young. Someone was there, and when my agent contacted the Beeb about Esther she was told ‘You’re knocking at a very open door’. So, thank you, dearest Edwina – and I still miss you very much. I did wonder if the Lanes might get a bit of a spin-off when Esther turned detective in our final episode, but things moved on without us – and that’s how it goes. Anyway, I was busy with Grandpa in my Pocket!
How was it working as Great Aunt Loretta on the children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket?
For many years I’ve been doing audiobooks – including 66 Catherine Cooksons – and most of the early ones were recorded with another great friend – the brilliant Mellie Buse. Her head was full of stories and plotlines which she shared endlessly with me. So (to shut her up!), I finally persuaded her to start writing them down. She won a playwriting competition at a local theatre, and her career took off… so now I firmly claim credit for all her successes in children’s TV! Grandpa emerged on CBeebies a few years ago!! So, of course, she had to write me in. Hooray! Thus emerged the ghastly Great Aunt Loretta – definitely one of my fun roles on telly – with appallingly bizarre dress sense – bright scarlet hair – hideous food recipes – oodles of her famous green gloop that she forced everyone to drink (grotty warm milk and water and all the green veg that many children hate!). She makes a mess of almost everything she does, interfering all the time and always talking loudly (this was a chance to use my native Brummie accent which I really enjoyed!). So, a nice subtle part to play?? Maybe not – but it was perfect! All filmed in Cardiff at Enfis Studio – it launched my fondness for Welsh cakes. PS I still occasionally produce Aunt L if we meet young fans. A chance to enjoy a bit of bad behaviour!
Can you tell us about the radio projects you’ve been involved with, which includes Great North Run last year?
Thinking about radio – I’ve had several seasons on the BBC Radio Rep at Broadcasting House. Eight or ten regulars, everyone friendly and supportive. You can play almost anything when you can’t be seen. No need to learn any lines. Doesn’t matter what you look like. Old or young, so many different characters to explore with your voice. I loved it! I’ve lived in some good places for accents too! Brummie, of course – Yorkshire, Liverpool, Lancashire from nine months in Corrie, Tyneside from years ago too with When the Boat Comes In, and Wales, of course, all so useful. The Radio Rep is a precious job, with great contributors, and it also brings lots of chances for new younger writers and performers, so I really, really hope the Beeb keeps it going for the future!
As a narrator of a number of audiobooks, what are these like to do?
Audiobooks are also on my list. Quite hard work in a studio, usually long days, and concentration levels need to be good. An hour or so at a time, and then a quick break works well for me, with a constant supply of water (non fizzy!) and a banana to help with tummy rumbles! Modern mikes are super sensitive to any wayward breath or movement so clothes are important – nothing noisy. One day we were having a quick cuppa, and ‘someone quite well-known on TV’ walked in to read his autobiography. He was wearing a starched shirt, a creaky leather jacket, and gold-link bracelets on his wrists. He had to borrow a T-shirt and a quiet jacket and all gold was removed! The friend who was recording him said he’d not actually written the book (or even read it?), so several days later she was looking a bit tired. And the most important thing is preparation! Nobody wants to get to the last chapter and discover that the main character has a bit of an Aussie twang to his voice, when he’s not had it for the last 150 pages! And it has happened!! A recent Cookson book gave me a Swedish sea captain who married the heroine, so he was there for more than half the book! My heart sank when I read it! He then brought over his son and an older brother from Sweden and they all had a big family row!! One Swedish accent is hard enough – never mind three! Probably not my finest hour in audio – but I love doing the books!!
You’ve previously performed in theatre, such as The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at Chichester Festival Theatre, what do you enjoy most about live theatre?
Over the years I’ve done some great theatre all over the country – starting off in weekly rep at the Knightstone theatre on the pier in Weston-super-Mare. I was still at drama school, but the director was looking for someone to play Anne Frank and I had long dark hair, so I guess he thought I’d do. Wouldn’t happen nowadays – nor should it really. But anyway, I ran off to Weston to play her and to do all the Stage Management work too, sourcing the furniture and props, helping build the set etc. It was just me and a local stage manager. It got you your Equity card in those days. We had a makeshift composite set with four rooms, and stairs, and I had to change things between scenes, making and un-making beds etc. Completely mad, but that was weekly rep. I also managed to drop my prop list into the sea, just before we opened, when the wind caught it! Plus, we had a cat which jumped off the stage on the first night and was caught in the foyer as it ran out, thank goodness. His part was promptly cut! There was an interval pianist too, and he told me he’d found the perfect tune for the show – tulips from Amsterdam! He was so pleased with it – what could I say? Still makes me cringe a bit even now. But Anne’s story! What a great part for a raw beginner, I loved it! And that season taught me such a lot about how backstage works, and how much we rely on all the crews etc. Too many funny incidents on that job and others that followed to write here, but it was a great learning curve!
Nicholas Nickleby at Chichester was another joy to do, especially the days when we did the whole show in two halves. It was a marathon for the audience as well as us, with all of us changing clothes, and characters sometimes, within seconds backstage was pretty chaotic! But to tell the whole tale and revel in the audience’s appreciation at the end was a very special thing. Also, some friendships were made that I cherish to this day! I love live theatre as it’s not just us actors – the audience is the extra performer! And it’s different every night, so I believe we must let them in and share it in their own way. Unless, of course, they start answering their phone or shouting abuse. That should really be done outside!
Nowadays I do a few live readings and concerts too, and always enjoy the buzz of it, as you can be much more direct and talk to them face to face – lovely! Especially if we make ‘em laugh!!
Do you have any favourite TV and theatre shows you enjoy watching?
There’s quite a lot of golf and cricket on our telly, also snooker, and I like a few of the satirical comedy shows, political news, and have been following the demise of Trump with interest! My favourite comedy over the years has to be Arrested Development (re-run please). I watch quite a few documentaries and am fascinated by true crime stories. I love most wildlife programmes, apart from some overdramatic commentaries and the music. Please just let us hear the natural sounds of nature – and don’t tell us what’s happening with cute tunes and dramatic chords – we can see for ourselves – OK? Rant over.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
Nature, wildlife and conservation is pretty big in my life now and takes up a fair bit of time. Gentle co-ercion, and keeping them laughing, that’s my tactic for getting us all to try and make things better for the world! No good lecturing or shouting – that just makes people switch off.
We have had a string of rescue dogs and cats, and even a scruffy pony or two, over the years and loved them all to bits. We are so lucky to have green spaces around – and a garden, so I’ve found myself gardening, which was very far down the agenda in the past! Now, as for so many people, it’s becoming a source of encouragement in these weird times, and even a pleasure. Never thought I’d say that – oh oh! Fogeydom beckons…….
I’ve written far too much so I think I’ll stop – god knows who’d want to read all this……
What advice would you give someone starting their acting career?
As for career advice – it’s probably just to give it a go. Take any chance to perform, be it school stuff (I started off playing the boys in my all girls’ grammar school), local amateur stuff or maybe at Uni. You’ll soon get a feel if it might work for you – or maybe writing or directing – even backstage stuff – costume/make-up/props work and design. You can always change to other creative stuff any time an opportunity comes up. Sing in a choir/learn an instrument/go to a dance class – as many strings to your bow as possible will really help!!
Just perform! Maybe give stand-up a whirl – that’ll toughen you up. And you’ll need a tough skin and lots of determination and patience – but good luck – and just go for it. Meanwhile stay safe – go green where you can – and don’t take any bullshit from politicians and the like… We’re all in this together now, so go for it!
Best love and good luck in life from a daft old biddy who’s been pretty lucky so far! XXXXX