This week I thought we’d check in and find out what Josephine Tewson has been up to since she was last featured back in 2011. It seems that the 84-year-old actress, who we know better as Elizabeth in Keeping Up Appearances and Miss Davenport in Last of the Summer Wine, is still spreading the smiles with her one woman show called Still Keeping Up Appearances.
The idea for the show was suggested to Tewson by a friend who had attended a charity lunch at which the actress was appearing in Brighton. It was one of many Tewson had attended over the years. The agenda was usually the same: following lunch, as coffee was being served - for comedic effect - she would stand up and regale guests for 45 minutes or so with stories of her life as an actress and of the people she’s known - including the formidable Patricia Routledge of whom she says she “wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of!” Despite that, according to Tewson, Routledge is “very professional and absolutely marvelous to work with”.
Tewson and Routledge have kept up their friendship which was formed during the making of Keeping Up Appearances, which ran from 1990 to 1995. Tewson is also good friends with Clive Swift, who played Richard in the series, and with whom she regularly goes to watch cricket with at Lord’s in London. Tewson also got along well with the others in the cast and was sad when the series ended. As she told a reporter from the Hertfordshire Mercury “I think we could have gone on for another series but Pat [Patricia Routledge, who played Hyacinth Bucket] thought it was getting repetitive. She'd started a detective series [Hetty Wainthropp Investigates] and I think she thought that would carry on.”
As well as telling anecdotes about Keeping Up Appearances, Tewson also talks in her one-woman show about her first husband Leonard Rossiter (Reginald Perrin), to whom she was married for four years - “he was a wonderful actor and a terrible husband” - and of the man to whom she credits her career, Ronnie Barker (Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours).
Tewson first met Barker in 1968 when they appeared together in The Real Inspector Hound in London’s West End. Richard Briers also starred in the play, where Tewson, who was about 30 at the time, played a 60-year-old. Barker was also appearing in the popular live television show Frost on Sundays with his long-time comedic partner Ronnie Corbett. Some of their skits involved parts for women, but because it was a live show they didn’t have time to change into drag, so they hired Tewson to play the girl roles. She worked on the series every week for almost a year and subsequently joined Barker, playing his wife in his 1969 comedy sketch series, Hark at Barker.
Tewson worked with Barker, who died in 2005 at the age of 76, several times over the years, including the sitcom Clarence, which was the last series Barker made before he retired. In it, Barker played a short-sighted removal man and Tewson his chaste girlfriend, the maid Jane.
“I owe an awful lot to Ronnie Barker,” says Tewson, “he was such a nice man. He did all the right things. He put his family first, he never worked during the school holidays.”
Tewson never had children, instead choosing to focus on her career. Her second marriage was in 1972 to a dentist, Harry Newman and the couple were together for eight years before his death in 1980.
As well as anecdotes from her acting career, Tewson also talks in her one-woman show of her family. Her great-grandfather was one of the founders of Derby County Football Club and her grandfather played cricket for Nottinghamshire. Her father was a foundling at the Founding Hospital, a children’s home opened in 1741 for underprivileged children. Despite his humble beginnings, Tewson’s father would go onto be a member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, for whom he played double bass.
You can see Tewson as the tea-spilling Elizabeth every afternoon on Afternoon Tea at 2:30pm in Keeping Up Appearances. Ronnie Baker’s Open All Hours airs at 1pm on Mondays.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117