The lady from the Elephant House
MAKING 'EM LAUGH
FACE, the figure are widely known. The hair is rust-red, worn in two sausage
coils over the brow, and she has been providing laughs on the screen with nearly
every comedian - you can mention.
The lady describes herself as "a fat old bag, with a soppy face, a load
of cheek and the language of a billingsgate fishwife" she laughs with the
tones of a croaking frog, and is one of the most lovable characters I've ever
When she appeared in Blackpool recently for a season of the Arthur Haynes show,
she was overwhelmed by affectionate women fans of 50-plus who came up to her,
hugged her and said she was "proper grand."
Rita Webb character actress lives in a small terraced house in London's Notting
"It's a rum area, but they know me here, and I feel at home."
She piloted photographer Peter Abbey and I through the front door and plonked
us down in the kitchen, before a huge plate of sandwiches, cups of tea and two
The Rita Webb show took the air.
She's twice as colourful offstage as any comedian she acts with; Cockney honour
rolls out of her.
The interview in one sense fell down flat. She just talked, I just laughed,
And Peter was under strict orders to "stop that bloomin' camera and get
some food down yer."
The only interval came with a phone call from a TV wardrobe girl asking for
Rita's measurements. Out came the tape and yours truly was enlisted to navigate
slowly round a 48-40-49 packed comfily on to a frame of just 4ft. 10in, currently
weighing nearly 14 stone.
I read the taped results to be greeted by hoots of laughter:
"I once tried a slimming diet, but the doctor I went
to chucked me out after only a week, as a lost cause!"
"Do you know, people in this neighbourhood used to call this the elephant
house." She continued . . . apropos of something completely different
. . ."Jeffy - my hubby - and I used to have a large China elephant in
the window and the children simply adored it. But then my cat jumped at it,
knocked it over and it broke.
"soon we'll be putting up our Christmas tree with lights on. We leave
the curtains open so that everyone can see.
"There are two old ladies living opposite who wait for it every-one of
em's nearly 90-and it would break their hearts if one year, the tree wasn't
"I'm not a religious person myself you know, but I believe in doing to
others as you would be done by, each Christmas I give a bit of something to
a Jewish charity-and the C of E - in memory of my father-then I think I can't
leave the Catholics out in the cold and give 'em something too.
"My entire earnings for Christmas week go to charity, and if I'm ever
not working them, then it's the week's after.
"I've a lot to be thankful
for you see. Half of my life revolves round my work, which
I love, and of which thank goodness, I always have plenty.
"The other half is centred on my hubby, Jeff, he used to be a banjo player
in the Black and White Minstrel show. And was also in variety music hall.
But now he teaches music at a school.
"He's a sweet, unselfish man and we're still very much in love, mind
you he's got more talent than I have.
, if only he pushed himself.
"He invented and patented the first organ-guitar in this country.
"But I'm the one with all the cheek. After the war when I decided to
take up acting again, I wrote to the head of the BBC telly and said they could
do with one or two REAL actresses, instead of the stuff I'd been seeing lately.
"I was given an audition for Ally Pally and signed on for a fee of seven
guineas with one guinea rehersal fee. But this part led to others, people
started to recommend me for character parts, and I've never lacked work since
"I ran away from home at the age of 14 and because I looked 18 I managed
to get a job as a chorus girl for 35 bob a week. In those days my family thought
the theatre was quiet shocking, nearly as bad as being on the streets, and
they set out to haul me back home.
"After two months they found me and brought me back, But I was still
dreadfully restless, so at 15 I got married to a young chemist, seven years
older than me, and left home that way instead, Later we were divorced. When
I met Jeffy I was much older and much wiser, and we've been happy ever after."
Post Saturday 12th November 1966