WHEN you talk to Polly James, you wouldn’t have a clue that she was from Blackburn, even though she still often reminisces about the town where she grew up.
With her diffused East Lancashire accent, Polly talks about her memories from the ‘happy times’ growing up around Ewood.
She is best known for her role as Beryl Hennessey in the first four series of the British sitcom comedy The Liver Birds which aired on BBC1 from 1969 to 1978, that has just been launched on DVD.
The former actress, who attended the local convent Notre Dame Grammar School, left her Grafton Street home to study for a degree in domestic science at Leeds University. “Acting was something that I never planned to go in to, I was offered the opportunity to go and audition at RADA. I won a scholarship and it was a complete surprise and a big shock,” said Polly, who has had a career in film, television and radio spanning over nearly 50 years.
When she was a teenager Polly’s mum Alice and dad James Gerard moved to Oswaldtwistle and when she was 17, Polly left for university.
At the age of 21 she was living in London training as an actress, she auditioned for The Liver Birds when she was 28 and was ‘perfect for the part’.
The 71-year-old said: “I couldn’t believe I got the part and I had no idea how popular it would go on to be. Starring in the Liver Birds was so much fun. My time in the show was a very very happy time. It was also a busy time too. I look back on old diaries and my day was completely full. For example one day said; dry cleaners; train to Manchester; interview with Jenny Murray; radio story; train back to London; collect dry cleaning; hairdressers; Evening Standard Awards. I don’t know how I did it, I was always up and down doing interviews aswell because the show was such a hit, I was in demand.”
The first series of the hilarious comedy The Liver Birds followed Dawn and Beryl, two women sharing a flat on Liverpool's Huskisson Street. It was at the time when women were beginning to enjoy new freedoms at the start of the 1970s. With a rivalry and friendship that bounces off the screen, the bed and the couch, the two girls grapple with boyfriends, bigger flats, smaller dogs, unaffordable holidays, sister’s weddings, challenging parents and feisty old granddads,all while having the time of their lives.
“I loved playing Beryl, it was at the time when women probably could relate to the character, I had so much fun and we were always laughing, times were good for me then,” said Polly who appeared in 50 episodes of the show.
Polly also played Audrey Hargreaves in Coronation Street in 1967, she appeared in The Bill, Casualty and was Miss Cratchet in children’s programme The Worst Witch.
“It’s funny because The Liver Birds was such a hit, people want to watch the repeats still. I think that a new young audience have been attracted too as it’s all about old fashioned glamour and people upcycling their garments. Alot of retro items are in fashion and there’s a revival of the seventies. People, they seem to want to watch it all over again,” she said.
Polly now specialises in performance coaching and lives in Barnes, London. She works to enable individuals achieve their personal best and in development workshops with the Skyros community.
Polly said: “It is a shame that I don’t really have any family other than my cousins that live in Lancashire, now that my parents are gone. I have lived in London now since 1961, so it’s a very long time ago since I was at home. Lancashire is still a place where my heart is, and I would always say I am coming home to if I am, up that way.”
• The Liver Birds Collection One DVD on sale now.