'Ere Y'ar-Cop of this lot' says Rita
Rita in a hilarious TV scene with th late Arthur Haynes
The Jolly 'old Bag'
Who likes Everyone
By Mira Harmer
She's the woman in the queue, the aggressive
landlady, the "old girl" of films and television.
She's Rita Webb-"not so much of the 'old' and thanks for the 'girl' bit,"
she jokes. Rita in private life is a live wire, a character
well-known in Chepstow road, north Kensington Where she lives, and a familiar
figure in the Portobello road street market nearby. "Everyone knows me,"
she says "I get on with everyone-I like everybody and everybody likes
me. "In real life I'm not a bit aggressive-'go to Rita' they say, if
anyone has a problem." "Podge," as her husband Jeff calls her,
has a warm hearted kindly attitude that refuses to let you stand on ceremony
and has you in a comfortable armchair and with a cup of teas in your hand
before you can say show business.
From the sitting-room window you can look out on cosmopolitan
Chepstow road. "I like standing looking out," says Rita. "From
here, you can see all nationalities, people of all kinds, shapes and sizes-saris,
show-people, and the world goes by outside." Rita has managed to see
quiet abit of the world too, during her career-she's been everywhere, including
Poland, Austria,Germany, Denmark, CzechosloVakia, Belgium, dozens of trips
to France, and to America on the Ed Sullivan Show. "I took the opportunity
of popping over to Canada." Rita told me. "I have some cousins living
there-first chance I had to visit them-show business made that possible for
me." What has show business meant over the years to people like Rita
Webb, who play the supporting roles, never become the big names nor get into
really Big money? "I've loved every minute of it," Rita explains,
Arthur Haynes for instance- Such a dear, so sorry to lose him Like that
there were the five Ken Dodd shows-"they helped me, I learnt a lot-it's
wonderful working ith the real professionals," (Rita,.. surprisingly,doesn't
seem to think of herself as a 'real professional') "But if it's glamour,"
aribald laugh from Rita, "well big names then-I've worked with Elizabeth
Taylor, in "Suddenly Last Summer; and with the late Gary Cooper in his
last film 'The Naked Edge;" "He was marvellous," Rita sighs,
"he used to bring me home to my door in the car every night. after that
all the kids in the Street wanted my autograph."
Rita has a record of all the work she has ever done-the list
Seemed to be endless. "The Army Game," "Bootsie and Snudge"
and, more recently, "Three Clear Sundays," "Up the Junction"
and the "Four seasons of Rosie Carr." She can talk to you about
Harry Corbett, Tommy Cooper, Terry Scott, Dick Henderson, Frankie Howerd.
The lot "A smashing, friendly lot-I've worked with all those and many
more-they're all my friends why can't everyone be friendly instead of fighting
wars all the time?"
"While you are here,"
Rita said, "You must look at my pictures, here I am with all the stars."She
threw over a selection with Sidney Poitier in "To Sir With Love"
and James mason in "Stranger in the House" and in another film,
"The Idol" with Jennifer Jones. Then we heard the strumming of a
banjo in the next room."That's Jeff," said Rita, "He'll be
able to tidy up my pictures for me- he's wonderful keeps
everything in order.I don't know how I'd manage without him." During
27 years of married Life, Rita has been very happy With her "Mr Banjo,"
as his Friends call him. Her husband Jeff, al Jeffery to you, is hardly ever
seen without his banjo.You may remember him strumming it in "Till Closing
Time Do Us Part." Husband and wife Played in that together, but since
appearing in the "Black and White Minstrels" Jeff has taken a back
seat in show business. "one in the business is quiet enough for our family,"
he laughs. He teaches the banjo and guitar Several nights a week at evening
Classes. Proudly "But he's the premier banjo Player in Britain,"says
Rita. Properly," (in a surprisingly Pleasant voice, considering her Tv
image). "I like to do justice to Jeff's songs, this one was written for
the November celebrations in Moscow-don't you think it's Good?" All over
London, in pubs, clubs, drill halls, church halls, supporting players and
the stars too, are rehearsing. "Hundreds of supporting players feel like
I do," Rita explains,"Quite happy in the job we do, we don't all
wish to be stars.""Show business is a bit precarious, really,"
is Rita's view, "One week you feel rich-you've just got paid a packet-then
that job's finished and you're back again on the end of the phone waiting."
I don't think Rita has done Much waiting on the end of a Phone
recently, she's evidently too good a trouper, and quite a few"packets"
must have come her way. "I hope you didn't really come here looking for
glamour," is Rita's parting shot, "it's a lot of hard work, really,
that's the real show business." Oh yes, Rita? But what about that log
list in your "work book" and all those pictures of you with the
stars in the business, and the signed photographs, and the kids asking for
autographs on the doorstep-that's Glamour-that is.