Honest Truth By The Funniest Wee Woman On TV
Her Face Is Her Fortune -
In A Roundabout Sort Of Way!
Rita explains why she's devious about her age - "What woman worth her salt is honest about her age? Anyway, whose business is it? I can never understand why some people are so interested in whether a person is 35, 45 or 55. What does it matter as long as you're enjoying life?"
Did you ever despair because you weren't the best looking actress around?
Never, I'd hate to have been beautiful as a young woman then watch my looks fade. I've known women who've had nine facelifts in 15 years - and they go through agonies of despair looking in a mirror as the years start to tell. My Jeffy thinks I'm beautiful, that's all that matters. How, where, did you meet your husband? In Maida Vale, where I was born. One of my first boyfriends - yes, I had a few who fancied me when I had red hair and green eyes - asked if he could bring his pal round. I said yes, and the pal was Jeff.
He didn't say a word, but he played his banjo. I thought he was a soppy twit, but he asked if he could come round again and he did. He's still here.

When did you first realise you could make people laugh?
At school. The other youngsters were always laughing at things I said or did, but I could never understand why. Complete strangers still come up to me in the street and say, "Oh , you do make me laugh."

Are you ever hurt by unkind remarks?
I've never been aware of any. If I was, I'd think the person making the crack was unhappy anyway. If they call me fat, I am fat. And if they say, I'm ugly, I am ugly. So that's not really insulting me is it?

What would surprise the public about Rita Webb at home?
Maybe that I've lived in this house with my husband Jeffy for 40 years. He calls me Podge. We're stuill very much in love, and behave like children sometimes. We don't have a house full of possessions - they tend to possess you in the end. Anyway, there are no pockets in a shroud, are there?
I'm just an ordinary person at home - but I do have a collection of teddy bears on my dresser. I've had two since I was a lass.

What makes you angry?
People who are cruel or unkind to others who can't defend themselves. It's the only thing I lose my temper over.
A local butcher was once sarcastic to a dear old lady in front of me in the queue, when she asked for two chops. We'd a real old slanging match before I sloshed him with a turkey which was handy. The head came off in my hand and the body bowled over half the folk in the queue. I'd do it again tomorrow if the same thing happened.

How close is the real Rita Webb to her TV image?
I have different sides to my character. We all have a side when we're nice to people round about us and we can all have bad days. I'm easy going, I love children, animals and people. But I can be a virago if I come across unfairness or unkindness - that's when I can swear like a bleedin' trooper.

What do you do with your free time between jobs?
What any woman would do, housework, washing, decorating. Sometimes we go walking on Hampstead Heath or take our little van and go fishing. We never catch anything - I think my ugly clock frightens away the fish. We do a lot of shows for old folk in homes. Jeffy plays the banjo and I sing. We do it for nothing - and love it.

How did you start in comedy?
Believe it or not I was a straight actress for seven years - I was good, too. Trouble is nowadays none of the producers are old enough to remember that far back. One day I was asked to do a comedy spot, it might have been the "Army Game" after that the comedy offers came rolling in, I had to choose between being a hungry straight actress or a fat comedy actress, simple choice!

Ever been a time when you were glad you were an actress?
Lots of them, I was once invited to a party to launch a show I was in. There was so much food and drink the guest couldn't get through it all. When we left there was a tramp dosing in an archway nearby. I marched back to the party, got the chef to fill up a carrier bag with legs of chicken, and lots of goodies. The old boy ate well that night.

Are you surprised at how successful you've been?
I'm surprised I haven't been more successful! Seriously, how do you measure success? If it's by money in the bank or big houses - I'm a failure. If it's being known and liked by people and making them laugh - I've had all the success I could hope for.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you on stage?
I will tell about an incident when I was playing the housekeeper in "Pygmalion" - that's My Fair Lady's posh name - and at one point I had to be handed a note. The actor who gave me the note was a real joker. He handed me a picture of a voluptuous bikini - clad beauty with "Rita Webb" written underneath. I went through agonies of self control trying not to laugh.

You must get loads of letters from fans. Any remarkable ones?
I get them from children and pensioners. And from Scandinavia, Denmark and America after a film I'm in has been on TV there.
Jeffy once tried to give me a cuddle when I was busy, so I shoved him away. He said "Podge, we should cuddle while we can," I gave him a big hug because he was right.
A friend later wrote a poem about that story and I read it on the radio. A soldier's wife wrote for a copy. Her husband was leaving for Northern Ireland and she wanted to put it in his pocket. I moved heaven and earth to get it to her in time.

Which women in show business do you admire most?
I admire all good actresses. If I see them playing a difficult scene well I'll say "You did that beautifully ducks." I've been lucky enough to work with Glenda Jackson, Maggie Smith and Elizabeth Taylor. They were all kind to me.

Is there one incident in your career you'd rather forget?
Yes - and I've forgotten about it. I've been lucky. in all the years I've been acting, I've only met three people I didn't like. I'm not going to tell you who they are - but how many can say they've only met three people they dislike in 40 years?

Have you a favourite story about a big name star?
When Gary Cooper was in this country making "The Naked Edge" - his last film - I had a small part in it. One night he asked if I lived near the Savoy. "I live a bleedin' long way from the Savoy" I said. Anyway he gave me a lift home in his hired limousine. That night and every night after filming. I thought to myself "Fancy ugly old Rita getting a lift home from Gary Cooper." He was lovely. I was so sad when he died not long afterwards.

Rita Webb has been called the funniest wee woman on TV.
Just four-foot ten, and 14 stones, she has scores of films, plays and TV series to her credit. Here Rita talks of her 40 remarkable years in show business.

Is it fair to say you've made a fortune through being TV's best known old hag?
Me? A fortune? A bricklayer earns more in a year than I do. But it's true, I've had a lot of work through looking like an old cow. Look at it this way, everywhere you go there are beautiful girls, The acting profession is full of them - all competing for a few jobs. Whereas I cornered the other market, so I've been in work when I might have been on me uppers!


The Sunday Post 15th July 1979