I was only five .. but I still tried to separate my mum and dad as they tore at each other; EASTENDERS' CAROL HARRISON TELLS OF FAMILY TORMENT THAT PLAGUED HER CHILDHOOD.
No mother could betray a daughter quite like EastEnders' flame-haired Louise Raymond.
Fuelled by drink and desire, she does the unthinkable by bedding her son-in-law and Tiffany's husband, Grant Mitchell.
In an explosive hour-long special at 8pm next Sunday, she gives in to temptation sparked by the kiss she gave Grant when he saved her from another beating from ex-husband Terry.
It is an act that few would be able to forgive - but star Carol Harrison knows all about troubled mother-daughter relationships.
She was often left heartbroken by her own volatile mum Frances.
And she knows first hand the fall-out that domestic violence like Louise and Terry's can cause, for she watched her own parents' unhappy marriage descend into savage arguments and flying fists.
"I don't think you can ever judge anyone, all you can do is try to understand," says Carol. "Like my own mother was, Louise is very strong and resilient but deep down she has a very vulnerable streak."
Speaking exclusively about her own childhood growing up in some of the toughest areas of London, Carol reveals just how brutal it was.
As a toddler she witnessed her parents' arguments, then at the age of six the father she adored disappeared from her life. At nine she watched her mother suffer a nervous breakdown and took the brunt of her fury while trying to care for her.
At 17, she left home unable to cope with her mother's increasingly volatile behaviour and almost suffocating love.
Carol's earliest memories are filled with pain. As a five-year-old, she felt powerless to stop the screaming matches between her mother and alcoholic father Victor that degenerated into brute force.
"I remember running between my parents and trying to separate them when they were fighting," says Carol, 44. "I was only tiny but I would grab their legs and try to push them apart.
"They had very violent rows and I'd be in tears watching them and feeling so helpless to stop it.
"My mother had flaming red hair and a temper to match. She'd lash out at my father with anything she could lay her hands on - plates, jugs, anything. Once she broke a china jug over his head and another time she marched down to the pub with his Sunday lunch and tipped it over him.
"My father, who everyone knew as a lovely, gentle man, would eventually snap and hit her back. But it was nearly always mum who started it.
"She'd scream at him: `You're good for nothing'. She was a strong, independent woman who wanted so much more out of life than dad could give.
"When you grow up with that, it makes you very fearful. You live in a constant state of watchfulness - and when violence erupts, you feel like an animal trapped in the headlights.
"Dad used to say to me when she was screaming: `Don't listen, Tinks'. That was the nickname he gave me, short for Tinkerbell.
"Dad was an alcoholic. It was a vicious circle - the more unhappy he became, the more he used to drink. But worse than the terrible rows was seeing my parents in tears afterwards, so ashamed of what they'd done to each other."
"Sometimes I was terrifed of mum's temper but I was never frightened of Dad. I was the apple of his eye. He adored me. To me, he was always wonderfully loving."
Talking about such painful memories is not easy for Carol. She loved her mother and father - both of whom are now dead.
At every turn, she does her best to understand and defend them. "They were tough times. We lived in real poverty. For the first few years of my life we lived in cramped caravan," says Carol, who has an older sister Patricia, 50, who works with abused children.
"There was never enough money. Dad was a lorry driver and mum, who grew up in the East End, had been sent out to work as a tailoress at 13.
"She would sit at her sewing machine running up the most amazing clothes for us because she couldn't afford to buy us any.
"But my parents were a bad mix. Mum was very clever but married the wrong man for her."
FROM their tiny caravan with just a curtain separating her parents' beds from fold-down bunks for the girls, the family moved to a tower block in Dagenham and from there to another in North Woolwich.
But the rows and violence grew worse. When Carol was six, Frances told her husband to go and not come back.
"The final straw was when Dad lost his licence for drink-driving. He was a proud man and lost all his confidence when he had to take a lowly job as a janitor.
"When he could drive he could get away from the arguments, it gave them both breathing space. But he couldn't do that anymore.
"One day Dad got me up for school and gave me lots of pocket money. When I came home, he was gone. That was it. I said to Mum: `Where's Dad?' and she just said: `He's gone away'. He'd go away often because when he was a lorry driver but this time he never came back.
"No one ever explained what had happened. I didn't like to ask any more in case it upset my mum.
"But I really missed Dad. For all his flaws he was a lovely, lovely man but it can't have been an easy decision for Mum. In the Fifties and Sixties single mothers were virtually unheard of."
As she was growing up Carol saw her father briefly again twice. But time and distance had done nothing to mellow her parents' feelings for each other: "Mum was really pleased to see him at first but it wasn't long before they were at each other's throats again."
If life was tough when her parents were together, it was even more so after her father left. Although bright, Carol was condemned to the lower streams at primary school because teachers mistook her dyslexia for lack of ability.
Struggling to support her two girls alone and dogged by ill-health, Frances
suffered a nervous breakdown when Carol was nine.
She had to give up a job at Ford in Dagenham and the family moved to Upton Park near West Ham Football ground. At an impossibly young age, Carol had to mother her own mother and calm her violent mood swings.
"After she had a breakdown, Mum never really got any help, because she refused to acknowledge that was what it was," she says. "I used to worry every time I went home from school. She had terrible mood swings and I didn't know what to expect.
CAROL adds: "I could see her pain, I felt it. But I never fought her, I tried to be the peacemaker all the time.
"She wasn't well. She had a bad heart and later suffered from breast cancer. I just wanted to make her happy because I loved her. She often hurt me but I knew it was because she was ill."
Carol always kept her anguish from her friends. To them she was a streetwise, sassy, tough little cookie.
At 13 she was a skinhead - in the days when it was synonymous with with racism - and thought nothing of defending herself from rivals with a mean right hook.
"I had the crop, the mohair suit and the sheepskin but I was a skinhead with hippy tendencies because I believed in peace and love. I used to wear a bell around my neck. My friends thought I was a bit weird.
"But we weren't the kind of girls who sat around reading Bunty. We had to fight or be beaten." Two nights a week Carol also attended a youth theatre. "I had no control over my environment so I retreated into a fantasy world," she says .
THAT was also the one thing that would bring joy to my mother's face - I'd do little sketches for her and imitate voices just to see her smile."
At 17, Carol won a place to study drama at college but never started. Unable to cope any more with her mother's mood swings, she left.
"I had to get away to survive. It was stifling me so I decided to leave after one row too many." Carol returned to college to take O-levels and a drama course.
It was there that a tutor introduced to her to a theatre company called The General Will and was promptly invited her to join them.
Touring Britain playing gritty characters, she was fulfilling her dream. Not only was she acting but bringing joy to her mum's face again.
"We always stayed in contact, I never abandoned my mum because I loved her too much.
We were able to build a much better relationship. I knew that the only way I could really make her happy was to make something of myself."
When Carol started getting parts in TV dramas such as Softly Softly and Within These Walls, her mother would proudly ask everyone: "Did you see Carol on the telly last night."
Carol was devastated when her Mum died suddenly from a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 64.
"It felt like part of my body had been cut off. I suddenly felt so vulnerable. Our love had been so deep that when mum died, I felt like an orphan."
It was then that Carol decided it was time to track down the one person who could stop her feeling like an orphan - the father she hadn't seen since she was a child.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Sep 7, 1998|
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