Back page interview: Dora Bryan, actress

02 November 2006

'I have to stop myself from being so busy and just sit down and pray'

I have just come up to London (from Brighton) with my vicar and his curate. It was quite by chance we were on the same train, but people, when they see me now, seem to want to help me. I am going to be 83 in February, but can manage quite well, and sometimes extra help can be more confusing.

The other week I left my chicken in the supermarket. A nice man tried to help me pack up, and it all went wrong.

I hope people do not think I am God. My book, Tapestry Tales, is not the Bible, although I quote verses. I just jotted down things from my life while I was doing my tapestries.

Forty years ago, my husband and children and I should have been killed. We had this terrible car crash in Spain. I was cut out of the wreckage, and driven in this little Spanish car to a clinic. The others were OK.

I was in such a lot of pain, and just prayed. I had a strong faith, but this was one of those moments when I just called on God for help. I am much more committed now.

My faith has been tested and strengthened through my husband Bill's illness. He was a professional cricketer, but he now has Alzheimer's, and I need all the help I can get.

I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I got very lonely on tour, and used to order room-service with a bottle of wine, which was not the answer. I don't miss it at all, and just enjoy coffee or tea. 

But I do think it is too easy now to get alcohol. It can be cheaper for young people to go to a pub than to buy coffee in Starbucks.

My daughter Georgina died of a stomach haemorrhage. So I have been very struck by Gloria Hunniford's book [Next to You: Caron's courage remembered by her mother] about losing her daughter. Caron interviewed me once; so it seemed even more real. I also have two sons; one of them lives with us at the moment.

I have just finished making a film with Tony Booth, Tony Blair's father-in-law. It's called It's a Dog's Life - it might be one of those that are never shown. He is a nice man, but is an awful smoker.

I got my part as Roz in Last of the Summer Wine through Thora Hird. We had always been friends, and always nattered on about the old days. We knew actors most people have now forgotten. Then, a few years ago, she suddenly said: "I wish you were in it with me."

My mother ran a dress shop in Oldham. She was very ambitious for me, and sent me to dancing school very early on. Later in life, we ran a hotel together in London, which really did not work out, as we were trying to do other things as well.

I was very ambitious myself. I won a British Academy Award, a Cannes Film Festival award, and others. Things really took off after I had a two-year run in the West End in Hello, Dolly!

I don't really get angry about things, as it takes up too much energy. But I've had some great times in my life. I particularly remember drinking champagne on the Brighton Belle with Laurence Olivier and falling off the train the other end.

I just love dogs. I have a Tibetan terrier called Georgie Porgie. Sadly, I had a second dog who was run over a few months ago when a car reversed over her. This was a great sadness, as she had been wandering round outside where we live, and I felt it could have been avoided if I had been out there with her. But she was 14 and had had a good life.

I was very struck by a sermon by our vicar [the Revd Andrew Manson-Brailsford] during Advent. He talked about the importance of celebrating Christmas as a Christian festival and that we should be promoting Jesus. I felt awful, as I had not even bothered with lights or decorations; so I immediately went home and got the box out.

I have five Bibles at home. I love 1 Corinthians and Jeremiah, who was a builder. We seem to be good at knocking people down, but what about building them up?

I pray when I get het up. I have to make myself stop being so busy, and just sit down and pray. I find it easier if I retreat to the bath or our balcony.

I have sewn tapestries since my mother died in 1963. She left an unfinished one, which I completed, and I have been hooked ever since. I think they look lovely with all the different colours.

I certainly would not like to be locked in a church with a fella. I don't find them that interesting, apart from Michael, my old hairdresser. He would have been great, but, sadly, he died of AIDS. The dog would be no good, as she would need the toilet.

Tapestry Tales by Dora Bryan (Canterbury Press £9.99; 1-85311-621-1; CT Bookshop, £9) Dora Bryan talked to Rachel Harden.

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