How We Met: Maureen Lipman & Lesley Joseph

Author: By Rhiannon Harries

It was 1965, my first day at Lamda [the London Academy of Music and Dramatic
Art], and we were all sitting in a circle in a studio. I remember seeing
this little round person, because Lesley was much bigger than she would
become, wearing a kilt and a black polo neck, which she would continue to
wear for some time despite the appearance of several holes. She had masses
of black curly hair and a sensual-looking face.

I don’t remember thinking, "Hey, kindred spirit!”; just that she
looked different and arty. We shared similar backgrounds, being Jewish and
coming from outside London, but we were quite different. Lesley was
tempestuous and fiery and our principal loved her, whereas he said I
wouldn’t come into my own until I was about 40. Our taste in men wasn’t the
same, either ? she always seemed to have someone around, whereas I just
yearned for people I couldn’t have.

Lesley and I ended up sharing a series of flats, the first of which belonged
to an eye doctor with an alarming habit of taking out one of his eyes and
putting it on his cheek. He had made an extra bedroom by slicing off a piece
of the kitchen, creating a wedge-shaped room so tiny that our twin beds met
at the head. It was a dump.

We all lived near Lamda in Earls Court, so there were lots of late nights
picking wax off wine bottles in low-down dives, eating snails and talking
about life and art. Generally it would end up with Lesley in a heap in tears
on somebody’s floor with Leonard Cohen on in the background.

Not long after graduating, Lesley went off to the Northcott Theatre in Exeter
and I went to the Stables in Manchester where I met Jack, my husband, and
that was it: I was settled. Our lives went in different directions and we
drifted apart slightly, even though she was there for things like my son’s
barmitzvah and birthdays.

I always kept an eye on what she was doing ? she’s a very good actress, is
Lesley. Whenever we spoke, she would have great stories about what she had
been up to.

There is a point as an actor when success hits, and whatever plan you had to
remain the same goes awry. It is quite frightening to be known; you lose
your grip on reality slightly. I think it happened to me during the BT years
and to Lesley during Birds of a Feather, but we both came through it.

As the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate Lesley more, as she has
suffered more hardships than I have. We look at each other now and both
still think we’re 21. But it doesn’t matter ? 63 is the new 59.

Lesley Joseph, 63, is an actress and broadcaster best known for her role as
Dorien Green in the BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather. Her recent stage work
includes Thoroughly Modern Millie and Humble Boy. She lives in south London

I wouldn’t say Maureen scared me when I met her, but she was so confident, I
was sometimes phased by her. Even then she seemed sure of the path she
wanted to be on. We often say we looked like a cruet set in our drama-school
days. I have a funny photograph of us in a Restoration comedy with her tall
and thin, me short and round. There was a review that said something like, “Maureen
Lipman appeared to be standing next to a wigged truck.”

I think it was partly because we were both Jewish that there was a bond. We
became friends and shared flats together for years. It felt like the world
was ours and we did all those terrible things you do when you’re young and
think you are so fascinating and exciting, like getting on the Tube and
staging a fight. You get to the top of drama school and you are kingpin;
then you leave and go to the bottom again.

We were still living together when she got Up the Junction, which was a movie,
and in those days, people just didn’t get movies, not straight out of drama
school. She had convinced them she was a Cockney and didn’t know whether to
carry on pretending on set or just admit she was from Hull.

Maureen’s career was, until I did Birds of a Feather, much more successful
than mine. She did amazing things like go to the National, which I have
never done, and hit her mark much sooner than I did. But throughout, Mo has
always been there.

If she believes in something, she will say it. She is very clear-cut about how
she feels, so while she has said in the past that she is pro-Israel, I never
think I know enough about the subject to say what I feel. I don’t feel brave
enough to do what people like Maureen or Joanna Lumley do.

Maureen is one of the most loyal friends in the world. She can have quite a
sharp exterior, but inside she is marshmallow with a heart of gold. If she
is on your side, she is there for life. I have lost so many friends in the
business through illness that I sometimes wonder who am I going to be
sitting with, talking about the business, when I am in my nineties, and I
think, “Please God, let it be Maureen.”

Lesley Joseph is in ‘Home’, part of the Peter Hall season, until 1 August
at Theatre Royal Bath (01225 448 844, www.theatreroyal.org.uk).
Maureen Lipman is in ‘A Little Night Music’ until 5 September at the Garrick
Theatre, London WC2 (0844 412 4662, www.nightmusiclondon.com)

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