VIVA, 3 June 1977
(Translated from the original Dutch)
Not everyone like the jokes and the roles of the TV series Are You Being Served? Wendy Richard, the snappy Miss Brahms, thinks the series is quite funny. That doesn't mean that she wouldn't like to play a more serious role. But that's probably not in the cards. Wendy seems to be stuck for years in the role of dumb blonde.
The rehearsal room of the series looks like a bare gynmasium. All the actors come in immediately after each other, with a lot of noise. One actress keeps quiet. She stands in the corner. A pretty young woman in a dark brown turtleneck and a tweed skirt. She has long straight tied-back hair and her face is almost completely hidden behind sunglasses that Jackie Onassis would be jealous of. Very haughty, with a long black cigarette-holder in her mouth, she stands in silence as she looks at the others. It is only when she introduces herself that I recognize her. With her well-known loud, shrill voice, she shouts: "I am Wendy Richard. Take a quick picture and then you can leave. Otherwise you will get in the way of the technicians. I'll see you at home this afternoon."
She goes quickly over to her place to play her role as the snappy shop girl Miss Brahms. As the rehearsal begins you can hardly imagine that the bare space represents the overflowing shop of Grace Brothers. The only recognizable sign is a paper shopping bag in the corner, that has the name of the company printed on it. But even if the surroundings don't make sense, it does not take any effort to recognize the actors. Because even when outside their roles, their conduct resembles that of the store clerks of Grace Brothers.
John Inman (Mr. Humphries, the effeminate blonde salesman of the men's department) does dance steps all the time. Molly Sugden (Miss Locum [sic]) reads to Wendy Richard (Miss Brahms) the lesson, the vain Captain Peacock is standing in front of the mirror all the time to twirl his mustache, the young Mr. Grace (according to his own words not yet eighty, but according to the other actors toward the end of his eighties) can not keep his hands away from the secretaries, and the secretary herself carries coffee all around to the others. Mr. Granger sits invariably groggy as all the other actors have already established themselves in a corner of the room for the next scene. Everyone laughs constantly at their own jokes. Only Wendy, in the corner, is silent.
This show is never boring
Later in the afternoon at home, a super flat in the center of London, she defrosts something. "It is incredibly fun to work on this show. It's been running for five years now, but it's never boring. There are only eight episodes per year, so it is only two months' work in the year. One advantage is that we all get along very well. And the script is so clever that even all that time, during the rehearsals we very often burst out laughing as we're doing our roles." When I observe that I haven't seen her laugh, she says: "That's right, I don't dare do that anymore, because I always get the director's wrath. He says I set off the others [because] I can't stop giggling. And because I'm the youngest, I get the blame, just like in the store."
We drink tea from a white service with golden edges. The flat is pretty, but expensive. Cream-colored brocade on the sofas, a silver-like table with curled legs, and all on a dark red carpet. "Rather nice accomodations for a shop girl," I say. Wendy answered shortly: "The previous occupant was the mayor of Westminster. But I worked hard enough for it, and the rent will soon increase too."
The department store environment, outside of the TV series, is not unfamiliar to Wendy. "I have been in stores quite enough. I know exactly what it's like. I spent a long time as an unemployed actress, and in those days I worked in the perfume section of a department store. That snappy aspect of Miss Brahms, I was the same. I have a tendency to criticize other people. I'm not really such a great example myself, but I can not stand a lack of competence in other people. I have no patience. Recently, I was in a department store and a saleswoman was rude to me. I immediately wrote a complaint letter to the manager. They apologized, but it was too late, I will never go there again. Too bad, because it is a very nice store."
Sent by her mother
Wendy has been acting for sixteen years now. After her schooling her mother sent her to modeling classes. She thought it would help Wendy overcome her inferiority complex about her short, fat figure. But the photographer for the course told her mother that Wendy would never become a model. But the child has a sense of humor, he added in consolation. Then her mother decided to send Wendy to drama school. That worked better. After a while she got her first role, a juvenile delinquent. "Since then I have always played saleswomen, and harlots. It's crazy, actually. No, not naked, I will never in my life take off my clothes for the television; I look better dressed. But for playing harlots in BBC TV movies in the Sixties, that was no problem though. They were not exposed at all; they always walked around in black plastic coats and long black boots, with their hair like cotton candy. Yes, I always have to play the stupid blonde, and even though I actually have a very good head for business. I would prefer something else, but they do not ask me to do that. No not classic theater, how could it be possible with such a voice?" She raises her voice in a shrill Cockney accent: "Romeo, where are you?" and says triumphantly: "Do you see?"
Wendy was an only child and she grew up in pubs. "My father was a cafe owner and we lived all over the country. When I was eleven years old, he died and I went to boarding school. During the holidays, I helped my mother with the boarding house that she had started after my father's death. When my mother died in '72, I ran the boarding house by myself for two years, but two jobs at the same time, I couldn't handle that in the long run. All that cooking and cleaning made me averse [to housework], so much so that since then, no matter how poor I sometimes have been, I always had a maid. I never want to clean again. Still, I want to start something again in the hospitality industry, a wine cellar or something -- something well-organized in any case. Because as a woman you can not run a large boarding house on your own."
As a woman on your own ... Wendy sees herself as a self-employed woman. She has a failed marriage and now lives with a friend. "Yeah, that marriage was the most insignificant event of my life. Four days after the death of my mother I married; I was afraid to be alone. But if I had been with my positives [?], I would never have done it. I never had any support from my husband and when I noticed that he was stealing money from me, I put him on the sidewalk with his suitcases. I thought then for a while that all men were scoundrels. Since that marriage, I have not dared to face a relationship for a long time. That is different now, from the time I got to know Wil."
She has been living together with Wil for three years now, and in spite of her unhappy marriage experience, she is venturing with him toward a new wedding party. Wil works in advertising, making cinema films in which beautiful ladies praise the benefits of expensive American drinks. In the flat hangs a certificate on the wall: "Prize for the best advertising film".
"Yes," Wendy exclaims, "He has won many more prizes, but he is so modest, and doesn't want to display them, but leaves them in the office, and I am so proud, I want to show off all those prizes and say, 'Look, how fabulous.' "
Not the pose forever
I ask if she would like to be a big star herself. "No, I prefer playing small roles on a regular basis, rather than playing a big role and then nothing else. To stay working regularly is most important, as well as for financial considerations. I need to know that I can pay the bills. Oh well, sometimes I think that I could play some serious roles, but I will stick to the comedy corner. But in comedies there are also good roles for mature women. Yes, I have to think about that right now, since I can not keep playing the blonde kitty forever!"
"In the future, I will mainly continue to do film and television. Preferrably not the stage. In the theater you have to travel so very much. Last year we had a whole season in Blackpool with the cast of Are You Being Served? I will never do that again. I can not be away from Wil for so long, I'm more fond of him than anyone. We are getting married in June, on my brithday, so that's simple. Then Wil just has to remember a single date. As for marriage, I do not care much about it, I've always been very independent. Wil has insisted, he needs that certainty more than I do. Maybe in the long run I also want a child, but only one, and then immediately with a nanny. I would never be able to spend the whole day at home."
Tine van Houts