She’s currently playing Coronation Street battleaxe Evelyn Plummer, but it seems as if legendary actress – and new Dame – Maureen Lipman shares more than a little of her character’s no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip attitude.
Over the years she’s turned down several invitations to appear in a variety of reality television shows, including the nation’s favourite, Strictly Come Dancing.
And her reason? She just couldn’t trust herself to be civil if the judges were less than complimentary about her efforts.
Maureen explained: “I don’t like being criticised, especially when I’ve tried. I would love to do the dancing and it’s very watchable, but I know I’d lose my rag.
“I know Craig Revel Horwood, he’s a dear man, but if he told me I hadn’t got the right turn out, or that I had two left feet, I would probably punch him!”
Dame Maureen, who notably played doting Jewish grandmother Beattie in British Telecom’s 1980s adverts, has proved a huge hit since arriving on the cobbles in 2018.
She plays straight-talking Evelyn, gran to mechanic Tyrone Dobbs and fans will be thrilled to see her back on screen now for the first time since lockdown, as part of the show’s over-70s gradual return to filming.
Maureen is as sharp and funny as Evelyn, but a lot warmer, and concedes there’s sometimes a very thin line between them.
She says: “Every part I’ve played has got a big chunk of Maureen Lipman in it. Even though you think you’re disguising it, you’re really not, because you’re using the wardrobe full of qualities and foibles you’ve picked up.
“When I first came in, Evelyn was a really spiky strange person and they’ve written her into a character who is now prickly on the outside, with a softer layer underneath that you occasionally see.
“But she says what she thinks. She’s unmitigatedly confrontational and I quite like that, because there’s a bit of me that’s like that! I’m a little bit gentler than Evelyn, although if you did a vox pop you would probably find people who would disagree!
“Her attitude is: ‘I’ll do you, before you do me!’ She anticipates trouble and then she gets it. I have similar issues with patience and running in where angels fear to tread.
“She’s fun to play. A typical Coronation Street character. It needs a battleaxe and it’s got one. She’s fitted in very well.”
Playing a battleaxe didn’t stop her being made a Dame last weekend, when the star said: “I am proud to be honoured by the Queen and country that I love, for doing the work that I love.
“My grandfather was given the freedom to live and work in the historic and welcoming city of Hull after fleeing persecution in Russia.
“Two generations later that city gave me, his granddaughter, a full grant to live and study drama at Lamda in London, which led to a rich and rewarding career and now to this unexpected Damehood, whilst happily treading the cobbles of Corrie.
“It is a wonderful reflection on what, one trusts, is the continuing generosity of this country to the immigrant.”
For now, she is settling back in on the cobbles. Maureen laughs: “There’s a vibrating chair in the Green Room at work and if I come in, they leap up out of the chair saying: ‘Oh sorry, in you go.’ They’re all treating me like a slightly mad old lady!”
Maureen’s screen career began in 1968, when she made her name in the classic film Up the Junction.
Since then there have been appearances in films as varied as Educating Rita and The Pianist, plus lots of television and theatre roles. She has written 10 books.
But despite her acclaimed career, there have, by her own admission, been one or two blips along the way.
These include her appearance alongside American star Chevy Chase in the 1985 comedy film National Lampoon’s European Vacation, where she played a nameless character simply known as Lady in the Bed.
In the scene, Chevy accidentally enters the wrong room and then realising he’s climbed into the bed of the wrong woman, quickly gets out again.
But Maureen couldn’t resist trying to make her mark. “I should have realised that it was his scene, not mine, but I put my legs around him in the bed, so that he couldn’t get out,” she recalls with a chuckle.
“I thought that was quite fun, but of course the film wasn’t about the woman in the bed, it was about Chevy Chase, so I was spoken to!”
Maureen, who is in a relationship with former businessman Guido Castro, has two grown-up children and two grandchildren, aged eight and five.
Her time is divided between her home in West London and a flat in Manchester close to the Coronation Street studios, which she shared, until recently, with actress Rula Lenska, who played Ken Barlow’s partner Claudia.
“It was much more fun when Rula was in it. We’d be barking with laughter, moaning and whinging and eating too much Wagamama,” she recalls.
During lockdown she remained busy, taking part in Celebrity Gogglebox and appearing in the play Rose.
Filmed in an empty Manchester theatre and shown online, it followed 80-year-old Jewish woman Rose as she begins life in a Russian village, before travelling the globe.
“I’ve never had such a response to anything as I’ve had to that,” she says.
Maureen, of course, is making quite an impression on the cobbles and it’s a role she feels has brought her full circle.
Married to the writer Jack Rosenthal from 1973 until his death in 2004, he wrote episode 13 of Corrie back in the 60s – before they had even met.
This is her second appearance in the show. In 2002 she played Lillian Spencer, the snooty relief manager of The Rovers Return.
Now, as outspoken Evelyn, she’s winning new fans, picking up the award for Best Newcomer (ironic considering she’s been acting for more than 50 years) at last year’s Inside Soap Awards.
Viewers have seen her clash with anyone who crosses her path, but we’ve begun to see a softer side to Evelyn during her romance with old friend Arthur.
Despite success, Maureen can be plagued by self-doubt. “When I saw Rose, all I could see was the dodgy lighting, so I was only able to watch part 1,” she admits.
“My daughter said, ‘You’ve been doing this since Up the Junction. You’ve been running out of your own performances if you don’t like the way your nose looks, or the way your eyes focus’ .”
Maureen, signed to Corrie until September 2021, has lots of ambition left aged 74.
She explains: “I would like to do a television drama, play Lady Bracknell in the theatre and write something that meant something. I’d also like to do more directing – you are allowed to speak when you direct!”
With the exception of Chevy Chase, it’s hard to imagine anyone telling her she couldn’t!
*For more information visit itv.com/coronationstreet and on Twitter @itvcorrie.
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