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Maureen Lipman tells Louise Flind about her hatred of packing, the sexual horrors of Gogglebox and the joy of the wheelie suitcase

Blog | By Louise Flind | Apr 11, 2024

Dame Maureen Lipman Pictured here with Gyles Brandreth at An Oldie Magazine Luncheon

Is there anything you can’t leave home without?

My Rosa Mosqueta skin oil, a heated appliance for my hair and Nytol.

Do you travel light?

I travel heavy. I’ve never mastered packing. I hate packing. That’s why I don’t travel that much. My PA is a very good packer and she will occasionally say, ‘Go away. I’ll do it.’ And the case is always the last one to come off the turntable. Or, in Israel once, my case came off first. I was overwhelmed with the joy. Later the phone rang and a man said, ‘Is that Mrs Rosenthal?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I think you have my suitcase.’

What’s your favourite destination?

I’m excited by cities – New York, Tel Aviv. They’re cosmopolitan, everything is there and the food is fantastic. I felt something sinister about Venice. Barcelona is wonderful, and I do like flamenco. And Vancouver and those little islands around it.

What are your earliest childhood holiday memories?

They’re of being in the car and somewhere in Yorkshire, like Scarborough or Skegness. Another is of Scheveningen in Holland, where my father refused to have suntan oil on because it wasn’t manly and got first-degree burns.

Did you always want to be on the stage?

Apparently, yes. I couldn’t wait to get on stage in the pantomime. They’d ask, ‘Are there any little children?’ I was up there. I’ve got an essay somewhere that says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be (a) a dress designer [I can’t sew], (b) an air hostess [I hate flying] and (c) an actor.

Did you grow up in an artistic household?

No. We had the telly for the Coronation and once a year for the pantomime.

What was your first big break?

Agony [the TV series]. I don’t think it made fantastic ratings, but it was very much loved by those who loved it. Up the Junction in 1969 I suppose gave me a bit of a profile – and working in theatre at Watford.

What was it like touring in the ’70s? What sort of places did you stay in?

When I was at the RSC in 1973, I was playing Celia in As You Like It with Eileen Atkins. My landlady, Mrs MacDonald, had a boxer dog, two armchairs and a telly. Instead of being in the Dirty Duck like everybody else, I sat with Mrs MacDonald and Suki, watching the telly.

Do you prefer theatre to television?

It’s essential to keep being in the theatre. Otherwise you lose your nerve. I like proper filming when you perfect something small in a day. I enjoy Corrie enormously, but we’re doing six shows a week. There’s no time to perfect anything.

What’s been your favourite TV experience?

Oklahoma at the National in 1998, which was filmed for television.

How was it doing Gogglebox with Gyles Brandreth?

Gyles and I got on really well and I loved going to his house every Saturday, but I didn’t like the show. They just kept showing us willies, basically, to see our reaction.

What do you think about the situation in Gaza?

When the Chinese torture and brainwash the Uyghurs, which we all know they’re doing in concentration camps, I don’t think you get Chinese restaurants being bombarded. So why is it that Jews are suffering all over the world for what someone is doing in the only Jewish state?

How did you get the BT ads?

I was only 41. So I wasn’t perfect casting – but I did give them a lot of comic input and that’s what swung it for me.

Did the Queen give you your damehood?

She gave me my CBE, but Charles gave me my damehood.

Are you brave with different food?

I don’t eat anything from pigs, or some cheese or chocolate, or drink red wine because I had migraines. I’m greedy and I struggle slightly with my English pear shape.

Do you have a go at the local language?

My French teacher despaired of me, and the only German I ever did was when I sat under a friend’s desk. I did speak Hebrew and I can say obrigado in Portuguese.

What’s the strangest place you’ve ever slept in?

When I was about 16, I went with a group of friends to Israel by train. When we came back, Arthur the organiser had forgotten to book us tickets. So we had to stand from Marseille to Paris.

Do you like coming home?

We had a house in Muswell Hill. The first time I went back to the house without Jack [her late husband, Jack Rosenthal], there were two passion flowers in bloom and those tall hollyhock things had grown either side of the step – very welcoming.

What are your travelling tips?

What did we do before cases on wheels? Invented in Israel, incidentally. My daughter says, ‘Don’t let Ma go to the airport on her own because she’ll start talking to people and she’ll get on their plane.’

Maureen Lipman plays Evelyn Plummer in Coronation Street