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: An actress of great importance; Josephine Tewson has starred alongside such comic greats as The Two Ronnies and Patricia Routledge. She talks to Jenny Longhurst about her latest role.

Byline: Jenny Longhurst

JOSEPHINE Tewson, one of the best known comedy faces on television, swaps screen for stage next week to play a muddle-headed aristocrat in the Oscar Wilde play, A Woman of No Importance at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

``If you're going to get your words wrong, this is just the type of character to do it with,'' laughed Josephine, although it's hard to imagine this professional stumbling over her lines. Since her first appearance `on the box' as she puts it, with Charlie Drake, she has been in demand to play comedy with all the big names in the business. Most recently, we've come to love her as Elizabeth, Hyacinth Bucket's nervy neighbour, the one who always manages to make a mess in Keeping Up Appearances.

``The trick there was trying to think of a different way to spill coffee every week,'' she said.

She is probably best known for her appearances with TheTwo Ronnies as well as playing opposite Ronnie Barker in the television sitcom Clarence.

``Ronnie Barker is ace. I'd do anything for Ronnie,'' she said.

``I was terribly unhappy when he packed it in.''

She, him and him were star turns on the Sunday night show, Frost on Sunday, where they did live sketches for 40 weeks in a row.

``It was terrifying but exhilarating,'' she recalled, remembering one very sticky spot for Ronnie Barker.

``He had a monologue which he had to read from the autocue.

``He'd had a really quick change, ran into the studio, said Good Evening and realised he didn't have his glasses and couldn't see the autocue.

``He patted his pocket and as luck would have it they were in there but they could have still been in the dressing room, anywhere.

``The sweat was pouring out of his forehead and we all knew but he just carried on as if nothing had happened and nobody would have noticed at home.''

Josephine, an only child, whose father played double bass in the BBC Symphony Orchestra was all set to read English at Durham University when her English teacher told her parents she would do well on the stage.

``In those days, I thought you worked and got paid for it but you did all your enjoying yourself in your spare time. ``It hadn't occurred to me that you might be able to earn your living doing something you loved.''

When she is not working, she says she can be found at Lord's cricket ground.

``I belong to Middlesex,'' she revealed, owning up to her passion.

``My grandfather and uncle were great players so, as a little girl, I was always there getting in the way on the boundary.

``It's an enthralling game and very theatrical with this conflict between the bowler and the batsman.''

Her love of sport does not extend to football --``I have to have it explained to me who Beckham is now and again.''

Rugby is a different matter and theMillennium Stadium will be one of the first sight-seeing spots on her agenda when she comes to Cardiff.

``I love touring,'' she enthused.

``There are some actors who just go between the theatre and the hotel and maybe Marks & Spencers but I think that's a terrible waste.

``I lug people off to museums and all over the place.''

Josephine admits to being star-struck herself on occasions. ``My great hero wasJohn Gielgud. ``A friend introduced me to him after a play and I was so overcome with just shaking his hand, I backed up against the door with a very red face babbling something.

``He must have thought I was a total idiot.''

Josephine, whose husband died 20 years ago, lives in a London flat and enjoys spending time with friends and family in Pembrokeshire and the Peak District.

She keeps her privacy by hiding behind the Daily Telegraph crossword on the underground but is frequently recognised in the street.

``My mother used to apologise to people saying `she looks much better with her make-up on.' ''

Josephine Tewson plays Lady Hunstanton in A Woman of No Importance at the New Theatre, Cardiff from May 27June 1.

Kate O'Mara and Oliver Tobias also star in this Oscar Wilde comedy of manners which centres around a weekend house party and contains the playwright's usual mix of scandal, intrigue and witty banter.

For tickets, call 029 2087 8889.

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TALENTEDActress Josephine Tewson who is starring, below, in A Woman of No Importance. Inset, The Two Ronnies.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 25, 2002
Words:746
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