Behind The Wacky Specs
Su Pollard is the Nottingham girl
who put ditzy into British sitcom. She was the
slightly simple maid in holiday camp romp
Hi-De-Hi, the downstairs skivvy in You Rang,
M'Lord and latterly a trackside character in Oh,
You won't have known this,
but had her TV career been less successful she
would be better known as a star of the musical
stage. "Elaine Paige and I always seemed to
be at the same auditions," says Su of the
Rice-Lloyd Webber team's favourite chanteuse of
the 1970s and 1980s.
said she would love to have done some sitcom
work!" As it happened, the daughter of John
Player employees didn't do badly in musicals -
she was in Godspell, played Sally in the West End
production of three-hit wonder Me and My Girl,
which Robert Lindsay had helped forge into the
unlikeliest West End hit of the 1980s, and
warbled her way through national tours of Grease
and of Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms, playing
Bunny Byron opposite Matthew Kelly.
the trouper behind the wacky specs remains
best-known for her oddball TV roles, and barely a
day goes by when she is not reminded of the part
that made her a household name - cleaner Peggy
Ollerenshaw in Hi-De-Hi.
amazing that it is still popular a few
generations on," she said of Jimmy Perry and
David Croft's hit sitcom.
get students aged 18 and 19 coming up to me and
saying 'Loved you in Hi-De-Hi.' "Whatever
success you have there is always going to be the
thing that people remember the most, so of course
I don't mind."
Pollard worked in data processing at Player's and
his wife Hilda in the packaging department. They
were not surprised when their elder daughter
(born 1949) expressed an interest in the stage.
six, Su had played the angel in her school
nativity play. The story goes that while standing
on a box announcing the arrival of the angel
Gabriel she fell through the lid - the audience
wept with laughter and she discovered her comedic
was in all the school plays, and was encouraged
by the music department and the drama club,"
she recalls between performances of Snow White at
Mansfield's Palace Theatre, where she tops the
bill as the Wicked Queen.
liked English. I even liked grammar and still
make sure I put all my commas and full stops in
the right places. "I quite liked RE and
history, but was not terribly committed to maths
Peveril School in Robins Wood Road, a kindly head
teacher was keen to encourage the talented
youngster from Prospect Terrace, off Alfreton
said, 'Why don't you go to the Arts Theatre? It's
run by the Co-op'."
Co-op Arts in George Street - now the Nottingham
Arts Theatre - was a training ground for talented
amateurs. John Bird and Peter Bowles acted there.
So did soap star Sherrie Hewson, "Dr
Who" Tom Baker and classical actors Philip
Voss and Michael Jayston. Film director Ken Loach
and playwright Stephen Lowe also have an Arts
was nothing to suggest that young Su Pollard was
of that calibre before she made her debut in a
show called Speeches and Cream.
then I graduated to plays and musicals, and I had
a marvellous grounding," she recalls.
you weren't in part you worked in props, making
swords and that sort of thing, or you lent a hand
in the coffee bar or did a shift in the box
she left school she went to work as a secretary
("I still have the shorthand and
typing") and went moonlighting as a singer
in working men's clubs. "I'd do numbers like
Ave Maria and Aquarius from Hair.
went to Basford Hall Miners' Welfare, which was
considered a very prestigious booking. I had a
three-piece ... piano, bass and drums ... and did
three 25-minute sets.
two o'clock I'd finished and it was time to enjoy
myself. I had a pint of lager, and an official
came out and said, 'What do you think you're
doing drinking PINTS? It's unseemly. You're
sacked'. Thirty years ago you could do that sort
of thing. You couldn't get away with it today.
was fortunate, because I had a reasonable
repertoire and I could do requests. Mind you,
they told you if they didn't like you. At another
miners' welfare one of the members said, 'At
least you can sing ... not like that idiot we had
last week.' "You also had to show respect.
Bobby Ball once told me that he went to a working
men's club and the members were all there with
armfuls of leeks and potatoes and all manner of
said, 'What's this? Harvest festival?' They
didn't take kindly to that. They were ordinary
working men and all had allotments and were
taking their vegetables home for the Sunday
her early 20s, Su was at a career crossroads.
had a steady job, extra money from singing, and
opportunities on the Arts Theatre Stage. It
parents had been to see me in amateur shows and I
think they were positive about what I was doing.
They felt that at least I had some sort of
dad learned what I really wanted to do, he said,
'Go for it!' "One day I bought The Stage and
there was an advertisement at the back, auditions
for the Desert Song. I thought, 'I've done this
as an amateur ... I'll give it a go.' I got the
was a bit naive and thought I would get three or
four months to get my house in order. Actually, I
had three or four days, so it was a bit of a
panic. My boss at the Co-op education service, Mr
Pike, gave me a hug and said, Just go! We'll get
florid dune opera The Desert Song, popular in its
day and latterly a vehicle for matinee idol John
Hanson, was the start 23- year-old Su needed.
stayed with an aunt in Chelsea and found her feet
in professional showbiz. Then came the role of
Lady Jane in Rose Marie, also with John Hanson,
and a turn in a very young Cameron Mackintosh's
West End production of the rock opera Godspell.
got my first agent, and he got me into three or
four plays. David Croft and Jimmy Perry were also
on the books ..." A lucky connection.
was already a TV face, having appeared in 1974 on
Opportunity Knocks with her rendition of I'm Just
A Girl Who Can't Say No from Oklahoma - no doubt
irritatingly, she came second to a singing Jack
Russell terrier - and alongside Paul Nicholas as
squatters in the BBC sitcom Two Up, Two Down.
of a sudden, she was in one of the most
successful sitcoms in TV history, for Hi-De-Hi
ran to 58 episodes and helped make the careers
not only of the actress who played the chalet
cleaner, but also of Ruth Madoc, Paul Shane and
the late Simon Cadell. After the brilliant pilot
programme in 1979, Hi-De-Hi lasted for nine years
and regularly attracted audiences of 15
million-plus. That's England in the World Cup
quarter of a century on, not even soap weddings
get that sort of viewing figure.
is currently touring as Miss Hannigan in the
musical Annie, a role she has made her own over
recent years. She says: "I think I've got
the balance of my career right now: sitcoms,
musicals, pantomime. However I don't think
sitcoms are of a very good standard today,
although it must be difficult for the writers to
come up with new ideas.
loved Birds of a Feather and Absolutely Fabulous
- as soon as that started I knew it was going to
be a big hit."
even five-series of Ab Fab, however, can match
Hi-De-Hi for audience or longevity.
show made a star of Su Pollard and she's
19th February 2011