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Susan Penhaligon – Reader Profile

By guest editor Lucinda MacPherson

Susan Penhaligon – Reader Profile 11 February 2019

Born in Manila, then brought up in Cornwall, Susan has made Chiswick her home for over 40 years.

“I settled in Chiswick straight from drama school as it was near the M4 so easy to get back to Cornwall. I always thought I’d go back, but never did”.

An experienced TV, film and theatre actor, Susan’s screen credits include A Fine Romance, Upstairs Downstairs, Bergerac, Remington Steele, Doctor Who, Casualty and Emmerdale, as well as film roles Under Milk Wood, and The Land That Time Forgot. Her most recent TV appearance was this Christmas Eve in The Dead Room, a Christmas ghost story by Mark Gatiss with Simon Callow.

Her big break came in 1976 when she was cast as Prue in ITV’s Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, a mould-breaking series which raised issues of incest and domestic abuse. “I’m really proud of that,” she says. “It had a great story and was very well done, I had a wonderful part and worked with great people like Frank Finlay. Then there were only three British TV channels and we got 26 million viewers so that meant instant fame.”

Clive Aslet in The Daily Telegraph wrote that Penhaligon “was the face of the decade”.

“The media portrayed me as a dolly bird, despite the fact I was doing a lot of interesting work in the theatre. I was in some really good, well written work and a hell of a lot of theatre, which was a lot more serious – on stage you are not just a pretty face on a screen.

“So it was a fight to escape the stereotype if you were blonde and pretty, like me. A lot of young actresses were stereotyped.”

“30 years ago if something untrue or distorted was written about you, you had no voice. Now you can go on social media and say ‘that’s a load of bollocks” “I’ve been working for a long time and done a lot of varied work so my work has changed as I’ve got older. When I was young the popular press weren’t interested in the theatre. It was a much more chauvinistic time, both in the industry and the media.”

“I remember a photographer asking me to raise my skirt. And a really famous photographer said “If you don’t take your top off, I’ll stop photographing you. That was the attitude. So happily, times have changed in my lifetime. The great plus of social media is we now have a voice.”

Susan has lived on a Dutch barge with her son Truan and dog Pepper for 20 years.

She redesigned it a few years ago and it’s got a 20ft living room and three bedrooms, central heating, and “all mod cons”.

“ I was brought up on a house by the beach in St Ives, Cornwall, so I gravitated towards the Thames. I love the wildlife – I saw a great big seal on Sunday!”

“ I like Chiswick as it is very green, but I’ve seen it change over 40 years and I wish there were more independent shops still, but the rental has gone up for them. There is something very European about the High Road – I think it’s the trees and it’s wide.

We have terrific pubs by the river– and The Strand Café by Kew Bridge has a great atmosphere. My friends and I call it “Darlings” as the guy that runs it calls everyone Darling! I love reading The Chiswick Calendar as I feel part of it, having had roots here for so long.”

 

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