Panto star Amanda Barrie looks back to 1960s film set in Great Yarmouth
Archant Norfolk © 2013
When Amanda Barrie laughs and throws her arms in the air it is as if time has stood still. Her large eyes glitter with amusement and the years roll back.
Perhaps her most famous role – well, the one where she hit the cinema screens bathing in milk, was the title role in Carry on Cleo. However, this lady is a jobbing actor, starring in Coronation Street from the mid-1980s until 2001 as Alma Sedgewick, and then in the prison series Bad Girls playing alongside Stephanie Beacham as the “Costa Cons”.
There was also the soap opera Doctors in which she played Margo Phillips for nine episodes.
This winter, she appears on stage – where she learned and crafted her talent in revues; and it’s on a stage near us, pantomime at the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft.
For the last several years she has become a regular panto player, “but only near the seaside,” she explained on a drizzly Friday lunchtime in Great Yarmouth.
The joy of panto is only matched by the delight of spending the festive season near the sea and beach, which brings me to Coco – the small pet dog of Amanda and partner Hilary.
“She loves the beach and runs and runs,” a laughing Amanda explains. “I like doing panto, it’s like my gym but I only do it by the seaside and the whole family comes.”
However, this year it was a bit dicey as to whether or not she would still be able to make it. As luck or not would have it, her and Hilary – and Coco - were driving along the A12 and wondering if it was safe because of the storm tidal surge. And whether their ground floor flat for the season would be flooded.
I couldn’t tell if she joking or not (but I like to think she was!) as she berated Marina chief executive Martin Halliday, for not giving them a straight answer as they motored up on the Thursday evening of the expected surge. In fact he was reassuring them all was well, however the pair decided to stop off at a “very nice hotel” not far off – just to make sure.
Amanda came to Yarmouth to revisit the town where she made the feature film He’s Gotta Horse, starring singing sensation of the 1960s, Billy Fury.
Locations for the film included the seafront, racecourse and the now Hollywood Cinema. And Amanda was the leading lady love interest. Fiction mirroring fact as she and Billy were seeing each other romantically.
Her memories of Yarmouth, she explained, were hazy with the passing of time, but as the chat went on she recalled one scene walking down the seafront with her and Billy holding the hands of a chimpanzee – which twisted and slipped from their grip, running off into a crowd of watching holidaymakers. It headed towards youngsters wearing Wellington boots.
Amanda claps her hands: “A chimp with a rubber fetish,” she says wickedly.
But she also remembered Billy being mobbed by adoring fans wherever he went – “it was very off-putting, we were together!”
She remembers Billy fondly, and his love for all animals – including his own racehorse, two large dogs and a “bag of chihuahuas!”
She also recalls the scenes shot at Yarmouth racecourse during an actual race day with the director and cameraman ordering the actors to get on with the scenes despite disrupting the racegoers, trainers and owners.
During our talk, Amanda munched her way through a bacon butty, a real treat after a summer diet and eating lots of nuts.
She’s always loved bacon, she laughs, explaining during the second world war her dad would make her bacon sandwiches to take to school – and she would take out her gas mask and put the butties in the bottom of the holder. There was no way she was sharing them!
My impression after the interview was of a lovely lady, a down to earth lady with a lot of patience – and a listener as well as a talker.
Both she and Hilary are avid Coronation Street viewers and we chatted about the characters and the actors, and speculated on a future storyline – as you do.
But this piece couldn’t be finished without credit to Amanda’s partner, crime novelist Hilary Bonner, best known for her psychological thrillers. Her latest novel The Cruellest Game, set on Dartmoor, charts the cataclysmic collapse of a woman’s apparently perfect life when she finds that almost everything in it is based upon a lie. Published by Macmillan, it came out in paperback in September.
And check out this video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/VFM-tm0n9z4
It shows scenes from the filming of I’ve Gotta Horse in Great Yarmouth, with Billy and Amanda – including a virtual traffic-free Acle Straight.
Amanda stars as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft until January 4. Tickets start from £7 and are available from the box office on 01502 533 200 or online at www.marinatheatre.co.uk.