You know the face and the voice but what
is the lady's name?
UNSUNG HEROINE OF THE SCREEN
She's called Rita Webb
MISS RITA WEBB is a warm, human, cuddly bundle
of grass roots jokeyness and home-spun philosophies.
Talking to her is more like an early-morning heart to heart with the office
char than a serious interview with a lady who has been in the theatre since
she was 14. She sat in the back of a BBC car being driven to the theatre in
London's East End with a lime-green headscarf over her crimped red hair (she
admits it's from a bottle) She quickly rebuffed any suggestion that she is
not an actressy type.
"The theatre is the obvious thing for an extrovert like me. I know I
don't put on the side that some actresses do, but I haven't got time for all
that slosh." I've been married for 33 years. I've got the loveliest husband
in the whole wide world and that's no slosh, and I haven't got time for all
that nonsense. "It comes from people who deep down inside are not quite
safe. They try to pretend they are related to royalty or they are an illegitimate
son of Edward VII. "If you want to hear all that I can invent a lovely
story, But it would all be a load of codswollop. I'm just a working girl in
the theatre because I love it. If I didn't work I couldn't bloody well eat."
Rita Webb is an amazingly real character. Her comments have to be censored
because of her liberal use of four-letter words. Yet her conversation lacks
something if the earthiness is omitted.
She is one of television's unsung heroines. Constantly on the box with a face
known to millions, yet possibly few people could put a name to her. She has
played with all the topline comedians including the late Arthur Haynes, Frankie
Howerd (whom she adores) and Benny Hill. Most recently she was seen as a coarse
relation of Albert and Harold in BBC's Steptoe and Son.
She likes to do a bit of theatre as well, and is currently rehearsing with
Joan Littlewood for an up-to-date version of Lionel Bart's Sparrers Can't
She says she couldn't do anything else but act-except, perhaps, spend more
time with her beloved music teacher husband, Jeffie. "I haven't much
talent for anything," she mused in the back of the car. "I'd probably
end up as a lavatory attendant, wiping the seats or whatever they do. I can
cook. But I wouldn't want to do it for a living, though I don't mind cooking
for my lovely Jeffie."
In fact Rita Webb never thought of doing anything else but entertaining. she
lied her way into the chorus when she was 15 by saying she was 22 and she
was always a show off "I ran away from school to join the chorus. I used
to make all the kids watch me parading up and down." When they used to
say: 'can we go now Rita?' I used to say, 'No, you can't' as I was bigger
and stronger than any of them I used to clout them if they wouldn't sit still
and listen to me.
A pretty face
"But In those days going on the stage was like going on the
streets. Now all the aristocracy are trying to be actresses and doing the
working girls out of a job. But in the chorus all you had to do then was cock
your leg up, and as long as your face was pretty you got by."
Rita met her beloved Jeffie when he was part of a double-act playing the banjo.
Now he is a music teacher and can devote more time to ferrying Rita around
to theatres and studios.
"When I first met him I thought he was a silly so-and-so. But he played
like a divine god. He's so nice. He thinks of other people. Thirty-three years
of happiness. We've both got a sense of humour, you need that. It doesn't
matter what he looks like.
"When I first got married I said to Jeffie: If you ever want to go darling,
you can. This ring isn't a piece of rope around your neck." "you've
got to be grateful for what you've had. He's never gone, probably because
he could have done so. "We still just fall into each other's arms as
though we were 20. Mind you, he's got a fat tum and I've got a fat everything,
so that's a bit difficult.
One ambition Rita nurtures is to have her own TV show showing working-class
mums how to look after their husbands properly. She thinks the frying pan
is fatal. She'd like to show women that a lot of cuts of meat they could buy
taste like sirloin if they,re cooked properly. "If you love men you've
got to look after them and you'll find out someday, darling, when you meet
someone you love." Needles to say, Rita Webb is no women's lib supporter.
"I wouldn't like to take my bra off-I'd have to get a hammock! But you've
got to look after a man very much between the ages of 45 and 54 which is when
they have the change of life. So many men die at 50 because they're neglected.
They're fed on things fried in dripping which bloody kills 'em." No,
miss Webb would definitely not be popular with Germaine Greer, although she
does believe in equal pay for the sexes.
If you know anything about men you must study them and you can get all your
own way. "They're such darlings, so naïve. In fact, sometimes I
feel quite guilty how easy I run my Jeffie. But we're lucky because we love
each other." In fact she thinks there isn't enough love in the world.
She's half jewish, half protestant and she cannot understand why atrocities
are commited in the name of religion. One day, she and Jeffie walked down
the road smiling at everyone they met. "One or two slowly let their lips
move, a bit of an agony because they weren't used to it. But I wish we could
all love each other. My religion is really just being a human being."
With her heart
She acts with her heart and as she feels,
she says she's a good dramatic actress and gets frustrated at the sort of
parts she's offered. But a thank you letter from a woman who had been bedridden
for 30 years and said that Rita made her laugh, kept her awake all night.
"She was thanking me for doing something I love and get well paid for.
But I am a good dramatic actress though I never get the chance. They've only
got to see an old mop and a bucket and they say, 'send for Rita'" Rita
Webb is adorable and homely, and cares intensely for other people. She worries
about how young couples can afford to get mortgages with the soaring prices
"The worlds bloody mad. I bought my house for £900 and an identical
one has just gone for £24,000! It was probably put up for £100,
but now it's called a regency house, my deah!."