Belfast Telegraph

Queen honours Keith and Crawford

Penelope Keith may be best know for playing posh characters but she has now officially become a titled woman - a Dame Commander.

Dame Penelope received the honour from the Queen for an acting career spanning more than 50 years that has featured memorable roles in classic sitcoms like To The Manor Born and The Good Life.

The award also recognised her work with good causes, she is president of the Actor's Benevolent Fund and played a significant role in helping to establish and then develop the National Memorial Arboretum.

The actress played down her achievements over the decades after the Windsor Castle investiture ceremony and joked: "It is amazing, it's marvellous recognition for keeping at it for as long as I have, but also for the charities.

"I'm so proud of the fact it's not only for my work it's for the charities of which I'm associated. They're so pleased because it's recognition of their work too."

Penelope developed an interest in acting while at boarding school and went on to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, before moving into repertory theatre.

She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in her early 20s and went on to have minor TV roles in shows such as The Avengers and Dixon of Dock Green.

However, it was in the 1970s that she became a familiar face on TV starring as the snobby but well-meaning Margot Leadbetter in The Good Life, a suburban Surbiton neighbour of a couple who had opted for a back-to-basics existence.

Penelope capitalised with another upper crust character in To The Manor Born, playing Lady Audrey fforbes-Hamilton who is forced to sell the family pile after falling on hard times.

The actress praised her fellow actors from The Good Life, the late Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington.

Speaking about the show, she added: "It was extraordinary, it was one of those magic things when everything came together - the writing, the actors, directing.

"All four of us came from the same background and Richard, darling Richard, had already been a star on television. But he, as had Paul, Felicity and I, had worked in the theatre a lot and we'd done our rep, so we were all from the same background we were all actors as opposed to comedians - and we all liked each other hugely."

Questioned about who Margo was based on, she replied: "Someone asked me that the other day and I said 'no one at all' and I don't think I would have been wildly pleased to have her as my friend, I like to laugh slightly more than she did."

Asked about her conversation with the Queen, Dame Penelope said: "She asked me about the National Memorial Arboretum of which I'm also involved - it's wonderful. I was there at the very, very beginning. A friend of mine was partly responsible for organising it all. I haven't been up there for a year or two, I must go again because trees deserve revisits every so often.

"The actress joked that there was one place the word Dame would appear: "Oh yes, I think on the cheque book that will be good."

Veteran performer Michael Crawford, a versatile actor at home in films, TV comedy and musicals, was made a CBE in recognition of his efforts supporting a range of good causes and charities.

When he met Penelope inside Windsor Castle the two actors shared a laugh and he kissed her hand before the new Dame asked him "did you do it right? I curtseyed," and she performed the move.

It was his role as the hapless Frank Spencer in 1970s sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em that made Crawford a household name, but he has continued to appear in a string of successful musical productions.

The actor is president of The Sick Children's Trust and is patron of the Lighthouse Foundation, an Australian organisation that supports homeless young people by giving them a home, a family and therapeutic care.

Speaking after receiving the honour from the Queen the actor joked: "My mother always told me to do things modestly - so I'm not really a good advertisement for any charity."

Speaking about his organisation, which gives grants to worthy causes, he said: "I have my own, which is the Michael Crawford Children's Charity, which I have always put in a certain amount of my earnings to build it up as a legacy for when I've gone so that my grandchild will carry on with it.

"I'm also president of The Sick Children's Trust, which I've been for 25 years, which supplies homes for parents of children being treated for life-threatening diseases in a major city hospital, it gives them free accommodation. It also keeps the siblings with them, the whole family can stay together - I think that's quite healing."

Speaking about an Australian organisation he is also involved with, he said: "And in Australia, the Lighthouse Foundation is run by a wonderful lady, Susan Barton, who looks after youngsters. She started out by fostering children. She's the most wonderful mother to these children and youngsters. If a child has some kind of stability and there's love coming in their direction, they're going to achieve and do better in life than if they're neglected."


From Belfast Telegraph