Veteran actress Ruth Madoc was among the special guests at Watford Colosseum yesterday to drum up support for its September run of Calendar Girls. She appeared at a lunchtime press conference alongside Only Fools and Horses star Sue Holderness and Emmerdale's Deena Payne, along with Camilla Dallerup from Strictly Come Dancing and her former-Hollyoaks star, husband Kevin Dacre.
Based on the unique and inspired fundraising campaign of a group of women from Cracoe in Yorkshire, Calendar Girls has proved a hit with audiences nationwide. It marks The Colosseum's first fully fledged foray into the dramatic arts.
Ruth, who used to live in St Albans, was first to take the stage to tell us all about the forthcoming production.
"The show as you know is about the Women's Institute group who in 2000 raised money for a sofa, which as we know would cost about £600. From the sales of the first edition of this quasi-nude calendar they managed to raise £58,000 in one go. There were 12 women and they did it as one of their numbers' husband had passed away and they were all very touched by it.
"To date, they have raised more than £1.5 million for Leukemia Research. Their story is poignant and extremely funny and that's why people come back and see it time and time again."
Ruth has been performing in the show for the past two years. "I'm the protagonist who says 'no, you shouldn't be doing it. I get booed sometimes and laughed at but I'm not a Calendar Girl, I'm the buffer. Especially on the stage the story follows the conflict and animosity between members of the WI. It was a rural community where everybody knew one another and when the event happened it split a lot of the people involved."
Nearly 70, Ruth says she has done very, very well and has no plans for retirement. She's no stranger to Watford and regards the area with affection.
"I was in Watford rep with Jimmy and Gilda Perry at The Palace in 1964 appearing in pantos, musicals and plays of a great standard. They used to do bingo on a Sunday to keep it going. Then years later Jimmy cast me as Gladys Pugh in Hi-De-Hi. I owe a lot to Watford and those rep days - who knows what would have happened otherwise, I wouldn't be talking to you now."
Ruth paid a heartfelt tribute to her former husband, the late Philip Madoc, who lived in London Colney and passed away in March after a short illness. He had been diagnosed with cancer in January and had been well cared for by staff at Michael Sobell Hospice in Northwood.
The 77-year-old was well known for his appearances in Doctor Who as Solon, as the German submarine commander in Dad's Army and for his role in a BBC Wales drama, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.
Ruth's son Rhys lives in St Albans and it was him she turned to when she was asked to appear as the mother of Daffyd in Little Britain.
"David and Matt sent the script through the ether and my husband John was horrified (her second husband and manager John Jackson). He said: 'you can't do this Ruth because it's rude'. I didn't know what half the words meant. So I passed it by my son and told him there'd be something coming through the fax and don't show it to the office. My part was playing the mother of the only gay in the village and my son said 'do you know what these words mean mum?' and when I said no, he said: 'well, I'm sure you'll find out'."
Highlights of her career include working with Richard Burton on the film of Under Milk Wood.
"I was always playing character roles so I was no threat to the leading lady and they were always very kind to me.
"The greatest highlight has to be working with Jimmy on Hi-De-Hi. Jimmy conceived it and wrote it at Watford rep as well as Dad's Army. He's a great writer with a fund of knowledge about how to put a comedic script together and of course they all ended up on screen. It was wonderful for us as an audience. It was the heyday of British comedy.
"Theatre-wise I'm enjoying Calendar Girls as it packs them in and is a great piece of theatre. When I look back on the next five years I'll probably see it as my halcyon period.
"Do I envisage giving up? I don't imagine I will. I might be able to come back to Watford Palace Theatre, who knows."
Calendar Girls comes to Watford Colosseum, Rickmansworth Road from September 14-22. Details: 0845 075 3993.