If the Sixties were a golden decade
for dramatic parts, the Seventies would be dominated by comedic
performances. And although she would appear in dramatic parts
every so often, it is this decade that she will be mostly remembered
as a comedy actress.
It was on "The
Benny Hill Show" that most people will remember
Rita Webb. Benny put her to good use in his shows in many diverse
sketches. She adored working with him and the show was a hit all
over the world! And Rita Webb as one of its semi-regulars was
an audience favourite.
Spike Milligan was another Comedienne Rita had the good fortune
of working with. She featured in many of the "Q"
series as well as "Oh in Colour"
and "The Melting Pot".
In a sketch in "Q7"
while Spike is burgling her house, she is given a letter telling
her it was commissioned by the Queen. Rita excitedly cries "Oh
your Majesty! What a great honour to be done by her. Tell me the
whole story so I can flog it to the Daily Mirror"
Another "Til Death Us Do Part"
came her way in 1972. This time she played the part of a hotel
landlady which was quite reminiscent of the character "Kath"
in Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr Sloane". Given the chance
she would have done an excellent job in that play! Donning a blonde
wig and speaking in a posh accent she holds court behind the bar
as Norman Bird (as her silently suffering husband), Dandy Nichols,
and Una Stubbs silently look on, Rita queens it up saying.”He
knows what he wants alright. He told me straight out he did! 'I
want something large' he said. 'Not little' I like you just as
you are, he said. Oh he wouldn't let me slim you know. Oh he wouldn't
let me take a pound off. He'd leave me if I did. Well I suppose
most men are like that really. They like something they can get
hold of. They like a woman to be a woman! Not like that Twiggy.
Oh I do feel sorry for her. Poor girl such a sexless thing (laughs
nervously) Oh he won't leave
me alone you know. And he's ever so jealous of poochie here
(strokes her pet dog on the bar). Poochie
sleeps between us you see. And some nights, when he starts, poochie
naps at him! That dampens his arder. Well I mean to say there
are some nights when you want to be left alone, aren't there?".
Other "Til Deaths" followed. In the "Demon
Drink" episode Rita plays Adrienne Posta's
mum and celebrates her birthday down the local pub. Her daughter
who is a prostitute as bought her a fur coat. Rita proudly says
"She's a good girl. She
bought me this (strokes her new fur coat)
Might be immoral what she
does, I mean some might not approve. But it's only toffs she goes
with. Real Gentlemen some of them and very respectable all of
them! She wouldn't go with them otherwise."
Rita's final "Til Death" was in 1975 playing one of
her now familiar "Old Bags" she calls Warren Mitchell's
Alf Garnett a” Bloody for-eyed
little thief" shouts at Patricia Hayes "What's
it gotta do with you? Yer nosey old cow!".
But by far the funniest lines come between Rita and Felix Bowness's
"Gay" character. After Felix asks Alf about the Christmas
money so he can buy his boyfriend a present, Rita shouts "This
place has gone right bleedin' down innit! Used to be a decent
pub once. Full of 'Bloody Queers!' now. Won't be safe for a woman
to go into soon". Felix shouts back
at her "Anywhere should
be safe for you to go into dear. Blimey if you were the only women
alive, I'd still prefer Mr Garnett!"
he goose’s Alf as everybody in the pub laugh.
Rita as "Potty ada" in "Steptoe and Son"
Another classic performance came in 1972 as she appeared once
more on "Steptoe and Son"
in an episode titled "Oh what
a beautiful mourning" Rita as "Potty
Ada" flounces into the room shouting the odds "Ah
caughtcha! Yer was bleedin' well going off without me wasn't yer?"
a relative replies "No Ada dear we were not going
without you" Rita undeterred "Yes
yer bleedin' well was!" he snaps back
at her "No we were not Ada and this is a funeral
and we don't want any swearing" Rita raises
her voice and shouts "Call
that bleedin' swearing! Wait til I get to the cemetery!".
She shrugs her shoulders as Mollie Sugden shouts "Well
if she's going, see she's got her knickers on".
Rita spits back "I've got me
drawers on don't you worry" (and lifts up
her skirt to prove it!) adding "They
don't come off as often as yours!" Mollie's
shocked reply fires back "What do you mean by
that?" and Rita with venom spits back "What
do I mean? You had a lovely bleedin' war didn't ya, all them Canadians!"
the two get hustled out of the house as they carry on shouting
at each other.
On the dramatic front Rita had a beefy part in an episode of
BBC's series "Churchill's People"
playing alongside her good friend Arthur Mullard as she had done
so many times before.
The part of "Mrs Trundle" showed what Rita Webb 'The
Actress' was capable of. Rita's "Trundle" holds court
as she says "It's a hazard
of the profession as Mr Scrape should know that a lady of the
town sometimes finds herself with child. And I think it only right
that her protectors grant her three months lying in. Diet and
lodging at one pound a week. Twelve pound a nurse for the month
and the use of linen two pounds. A minister for the christening
two pounds, the christening supper three pounds and for the disposal
of the child another five! And one pound, for the serving maid.
Twenty-five pound sir!" among the cast
was Tom Conti in the starring role.
Rita's final performance in the long running BBC drama "Dixon
of Dock Green" came in 1972 playing the part
of "Ada Barnes" in an episode called "Ada".
The actor "Peter Byrne" told me "I
didn't know Rita socially, only through her numerous appearances
on 'Dixon of Dock Green' but she was a fine versatile actress
and much loved in the profession, not just for her undoubted talent.
But for her rich use of Anglo-Saxon expletives! Her usual greeting
was "Allo Darlin', how the F..K are you." She was a
throw back to the days when we were classed as Rogues and Vagabonds-what
Rita also appeared in the hospital drama "Angels"
as the chirpy "Mrs White". In one scene a nurse comes
to give her a bed bath. Rita quips "Oh
no not again, honestly you nurses are fanatics for cleanliness!
I only had one of those bed baths yesterday. Now I ask yer, how
could I have got dirty since then just lying ere?"
the young nurse nervously goes to the trolley as Rita gives her
a kindly word "Listen ducks
I'm a tough old girl, yer can't hurt me"
one of the best scenes comes when she rushes up to "Sister
Young" (Nadia Cattouse) enthusiastically reminiscing she
says "Ere Sister, do you
remember 'make do and mend' during the war? They were great days
wasn't they? Well you know sheets were rationed, and ours were
full of holes! So I pinched my husbands enormous 'Union Jack'
for a top sheet. He was livid, 'it's a sacrilege' he said, you
know him being British Legion an all. 'Never mind about that!
I says, we'll be safe under the flag! And I can't tell yer what
he said in reply! But I went short!!"
she shuffles away in her pink quilted dressing gown cackling with
was another show Rita appeared on several times. She played a
traffic warden in one episode, marching up to Eric Sykes with
pad in hand saying "Who's
a naughty boy then?" Eric cheekily replies
"Is he a naughty boy" Rita quips "Your
a naughty boy, and don't start. I've heard it all before. You're
a doctor; you've run out of petrol, you've fainted. And I’m
the spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor!"
after much banter she comes unstuck when the car she is giving
Eric grief over, isn't even his, as it drives off Rita quips "I
hate this job, I should have carried on with me modelling"
In another episode "Holiday
in Bogsea" Rita is the posh spoken, rule
obsessed hotel owner 'Mrs Butterworth' .When Richard Wattis asks
about the bathroom Rita replies "You
may use it freely, except when the weather is fine, then I prefer
you to go down the yard" Wattis replies
"I mean a bath" and Rita in
true Edith Evan's "Lady Bracknell" style snaps "A
Bath! When do you require one?"
had Rita cast as "Miss Applerod" who owned a drama school.
When Eric makes a visit to her school, she introduces herself
where by he repeats her name and she replies "Ah
you recognise me, ah the penalty of fame. I really must get myself
some dark glasses"
In another scene Hattie Jacques tells Rita she looks familiar
Rita replies. as Hattie trys to remember where she has seen her,
Rita as the theatrical Miss Applerod tries to remind her "The
Inn of the sixth happiness, Gigi, A Tale of Two Cities".
Hattie interrupts her saying "Of course I remember now, the
laundry mat on Link Street" Rita replies "That
must have been my mother!"
Rita as Slatternly Woman in"Space 1999" (1976)
"Space 1999" gave
Rita a rare chance to do sci-fi when The character "Maya"
(Catherine Schell) changes herself into an 'ugly old hag' to free
herself from the hideous looking "Taybor" (Willoughby
Goodard) who has locked his "thing of beauty" behind
glass forever! As Maya changes we first see Rita as "The
Slatternly Woman" as the camera closes in on Catherine Scehell's
eyes, the glass shatters and Catherine has turned into Rita who
starts to cackle. Taybor is horrified at the site before him.
Rita follows him around the space ship telling him in a cackling
voice "I have locked myself
in this form and will stay with you forever!"
Taybor tries not to look at her hideous face as she says "Taybor
you know everything about hyper space, but you know nothing about
inner space. I will be the judge of where I want to be! And I
want to be back on Alpha!" Taybor begs
her to change back and stay. Cunningly she says "Alright
Taybor I will stay with you. It will be your pleasure to look
at me in this form, a female reflection of yourself, forever!"
The thought of living with the "Old Hag" instead of
the beautiful "Maya" destroys him and the scene ends.
Rita and John Inman in a scene from "Odd Man Out"
As the Seventies drew to a close Rita made a fleeting but memorable
appearance in the 1979 adaptation of"Quatermass", starring
John Mills. Rita is seen briefly as a charm seller, With the Skeleton
of 'Gut Sucker' hanging by her side she rants "This
is 'Gut Sucker’; Killed at the battle of Cat wick camp and
his power has never left him. Every one of these envelopes contains
the magic of 'Gut Sucker', never known to fail”.
She may only have had seconds of screen time, but the viewer never
forgot her and this was the power of her performances. Once seen,
however briefly, it was hard to forget Rita Webb!
Rita & "Gut Sucker" in Quatermass-1979
70's TV Listings
The Benny Hill Show-04.02.70,
Going For a Song-03.02.70 (recorded), BBC, Bristol,
As Good Cooks Go:Frying Squad-18.02.70, as Rita
The Norman Wisdom Show-1970
The Jimmy Tarbuck Show-1970, ATV
Oh In Colour-11.10.70,
Oh In Colour-18.10.70,
Oh In Colour-25.10.70,
The Benny Hill Show-27.01.71,
Des O'Connor Show-24.07.71, ATV
Never Mind The Quality Feel The Width: Holiday With
Kosher Strings-17.08.71, Thames
The Dick Emery Show-25.11.71,
The Benny Hill Show-22.12.71,
Steptoe And Son: Oh What A Beautiful
Place In The Sun-1972, LWT
Opportunity Knocks: The Script writers Chart Show-24.04.72
as Mrs Bouquet (News at 25-1)
Til Death Us Do Part: Holiday
In Bournemouth -27.09.72,as Hotel Owner, BBC
Dixon Of Dock Green:Ada-16.12.72, as Ada Barnes
Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game-13.09.73 (recorde),
A Speight Of Marty-05.08.73,
BBC, Marty's Mum
Traffic Warden, BBC
Ready Freddie Starr-16.02.74, LWT
Stars In The West-Bristol-1974
The Last Turkey In The Shop Show-23.12.74,
Til Death Us Do Part: The Demon
Drink- 23.01.74, as Rita, BBC
Sykes: Holiday In Bogsea-24.10.74,
as B&B owner, BBC
The End Of The Pier Show: Not
Quiet Right Upstairs-24.11.74 BBC2, Musical
The End Of The Pier Show: Fanny By Starlight-15.12.74,
Churchill's People: The Fine
Art Of Bubble Blowing-12.05.75, BBC1, as Mrs
Love Thy Neighbour-30/01/75,
as Lady Grizelda. Thames
Keep Britain Slim-05.06.75, as Guest, Thames
Comedy Playhouse: The Melting Pot-17/01/75
The Melting Pot: Episode 1-11.06.75,
The Melting Pot: Episode 4-1975
The Melting Pot: Episode 5-1975
Shades Of Greene: Special Duties-23.09.75, Thames,
as Mrs Appleyard, BBC
as Mrs White, BBC1
as Mrs White, BBC1
Til Death Us Do Part: Christmas
Club Money-1975, as woman in pub, BBC1
Hughie`s Full House-28.04.76, Thames
The Taybor-05.11.76, as Slatternly Women
The Benny Hill Show-26.01.77,
Thames, featuring The Sum Television Awards Sketch
The Benny Hill Show-23.02.77,
The Benny Hill Show-23.03.77,
The Benny Hill Show-02.11.77,
Odd Man Out: Shall We dance?-17.11.77,
Neville's mistaken blind date. Thames
This Is Your Life: Nicholas Parsons-01.03.78, Thames
Mind Your Language: How's Your
Father-17.03.78, as Lil, LWT.
Bruce's Big Night Out: Show 10-09.12.78,
Enid Blyton's Famous Five: Five
Have A Wonderful Time-31.12.78, Mrs alfredo,
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show-15.01.79
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show-29.01.79
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show-05.02.79
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show-12.02.79,
Romantic mood Sketch
Merrie England-24.10.79, YTV, Rita Webb
& Norman Wisdom
Quatermass: EP1: Ring stone Round-31.10.79
as Charm Seller
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