Lynda Bellingham
interviewed by Mark Campbell

Lynda Bellingham (from "Doctor Who-The Eighties")

If you're wondering why this interview is a little late in reaching Skonnos readers, let me explain. Originally conducted during transmission of Season 23 (which explains Bellingham's reticence on certain revelatory plot twists), it was intended to go in issue 13, out in 1987. However, this occured at the exact point I left home, moved to London and began a whole new life - a life that had no place for Skonnos. The interview was dropped to squeeze in all the other stuff I had lying around, and issue 13 was loudly advertised as the last one ever. Which of course it wan't. When I resurrected the fanzine four years later, I had new ideas and new enthusiasm - the last thing I wanted to do was to stick in an old, and out-of-date, interview.

Well, the Internet has arrived and changed all that. Now you can read in full this never-before-published interview with one of the stars of THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD. Our conversation took place on 13 November 1986, while Bellingham was starring in DOUBLE DOUBLE at the Fortune Theatre, London. Her co-star in this tense two-hander was Keith Drinkel, and if you've never seen the play, well, it has the most amazing climactic twist you're ever likely to witness!

Bellingham very kindly let me corner her for 15 minutes in her dressing room between performances, and my memory of her - dimmed by the passing of so much time - is that she made me feel very welcome in her cosy little den. To provide some period detail, here is my diary entry for the day in question: "Went into London to interview Lynda Bellingham. This was conducted in a rather pleasant dressing room, after the matinee performance. Also present was 'Mr Brooks', a gentleman of about 60, was was taking her to tea. (She 'phoned someone after the interview, and made a date to eat at the Waldorf! So casual.) Interview was short, but she was very nice to talk to, and I should have enough to fill a page or so." But I'll let you be the judge of that...

SKONNOS: What made you want to be an actress?

LYNDA BELLINGHAM: I have no idea. It's all I've ever wanted to do since I was a little girl. There's no-one theatrical in my family, so I didn't get it from there, but it's all I wanted to do. My parents weren't thrilled by the idea, of course, so they kept bribing me. They said, "If you stay and take your O-levels, the we'll consider it." Then I took my A-levels, which have done me no good at all except to get me a grant, and I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama and got it all paid for. I spent 3 years there, leaving in 1969.

How did you get the part of the Inquisitor?

That was quite interesting. I have never, ever got work through socialising! (Laughs) My husband runs a restaurant, and a friend of mine had her birthday party there, and she invited various people, including John Nathan-Turner. So we were sitting down one end of the table getting extremely drunk all together, and we rolled out at 5 o'clock in the morning, and the next day I got a call from my agent saying, "I've had a 'phone call from Mr Nathan-Turner who wonders if you'd go in and have a word with him because he thinks there might be a part for you in DOCTOR WHO. I was utterly amazed. In fact, when I went in, John Nathan-Turner said, "I hope you don't mind me asking this, but would you read for the Inquisitor, because I know you can be a funny lady, but I don't know if you can be a stern lady." So I read sternly and - voila!

Did you know much about the cancellation issue?

Well, I read it all in the papers, and I was quite surprised because it's one of those programmes I've watched since it began, and it's part of our heritage really. I don't know whether it's right, it's hard to say, really - I don't know how these men up at the top work.

Do you think it's common for actors and actresses to want to work in DOCTOR WHO?

Oh, absolutely, yes. You'd never say "no" to DOCTOR WHO or CORONATION STREET.

Was your costume uncomfortable?

Deeply uncomfortable. What happened was I went to all these costume fittings, and there was this idea that my collar would sit up at the back - and it never did. I knew it would all go wrong on the day, and I kept saying to the designer, "Will it sit up?" and she'd say, "Oh, don't worry about it, it'll go fine." Well, on the day, of course, it didn't stand up straight, so they took a huge hatpin and pinned my head to the back of the collar so I couldn't actually move at all. It was deeply uncomfortable, and I'd have it like that practically all day. They gave me very long false nails, so I found it very difficult to go to the loo, because I couldn't undo my tights! (Laughs) So I sat about, doing not a lot. I suffered for my art.

Were your scenes all recorded in one go?

They did them in blocks of four episodes, so we'd have a read-through which everyone came to, and that was basically the last I saw of everybody, because it was just Colin [Baker], me and Michael [Jayston] that would rehearse. Then we'd have about two weeks off while they did the filming, and then we'd come in and work for a week, just the three of us. Then they'd have one recording day when they'd do all the other stuff, and then do all our courtoom stuff at once, recording four episodes at a time. So it was a bit isolated, which was sad. I saw Bonnie [Langford] quite a lot towards the end, because... well, I couldn't divulge that!

Do you have a favourite Doctor?

I must just say that I think Nabil [Shaban], who plays the monster, is wonderful, I really do. That's a truly original feat. Who's my favourite Doctor? Well, I think the one I remember most clearly is William Hartnell, because he was the first. That's who I was brought up with. I like Colin. There's a criticism in your magazine of Colin, isn't there? You don't like Colin?

There might be, but that must've been another writer!

Colin's a very literary person, and I think that's rather a nice image when you think of him being a Time Lord and a space guy.

Did you think of the Inquisitor as being a stereotyped character?

No, I would never think that about anyone I played. It's difficult with a part like that, though, because she's a kind of Queen, a Time Lord and all the rest of it. Even if it wasn't science fiction, and she was just a lady judge, it would be difficult to find a life for her outside the courtroom. But because I'm very much there as that figurehead...well, you'll find at the end that you see a bit more of her. But I approach it like I approach anything, I try and give it another layer, because a lot of television is very one-dimensional.

Are you watching the series as it goes out?

Yes, every Saturday. My son's a bit confused - he's 3½. I took him to the filming, and it was the first time I'd taken him to my place of work. So now when I say I'm going to work, he thinks I'm DOCTOR WHOing, and I find it quite hard to explain that it's the theatre.

Do you prefer television or theatre work?

Um, they're so different. In a perfect world, I would do film and theatre, because to me they're the most pure mediums. Television's very much the one in the middle. Theatre's better, because in the two hours that you're on the stage, you're in charge - you don't have to rely on anybody. But acting is a strange profession, because normally you're reliant on other people. You can't sit quietly and say, "To be or not to be," in front of a mirror at home. I don't mind meeting the public, but I find it's a very tangled jungle. Director, producer, writer - you've got so many people to deal with in order just to act, really.

Was that what DOCTOR WHO was like?

No, I must say DOCTOR WHO was very pleasant, and I think they've got a wonderful lot of actors.

What was Brian Blessed like?

He's wonderful. When he did his last shot, they played in the Z CARS music over the speakers, which was quite sweet.

What about Michael Jayston?

Oh yes, well he's a wonderful actor. We were all chuffed to be working together, and it was great fun coming to rehearsals. But we all take it very seriously, and there's no question that it's just DOCTOR WHO.

Do you think Mel will make a good companion?

Yes...I suppose he has to have a companion? I quite like the idea of her being a keep-fit addict, I think that's rather nice. Bonnie's good because she's got that sort of Peter Pan thing about her - she's ageless. I think it probably will work very well. She's only just started, and I'm going to try and watch it objectively, although that's hard.

Would you like to be a companion?

Oh, I'm a bit old - although I could be his ageing auntie! I'd love it though, and I'd want a deeply ourageous costume, but I think I am a bit old for it.


Left: Radio Times
(6 September 1986)

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