There’s more to Ruth Madoc than ‘Hi Di Hi’

If anyone should remember you when you’re gone, do you ever wonder what will they remember you for?

This really struck home to me when I returned to my University after 30 years.  As I walked into the Fellows Garden, I heard various people asking questions like. ‘John, are you still at the Treasury?’  I heard one talking about how he had had the ‘good luck’ to publish a best selling book, another had been a leading political journalist who I recognised off the telly.

During moments of small talk, I asked about people’s lives and families and, yes, occupation.  Something became pretty apparent as the weekend went on.  One by one people would come up to me, look furtively in all directions, before slowly whispering, as if offering me a pair of black market nylons in post war Britain, ‘Hey, did you really sing the theme song to ‘Fireman Sam’?

Of course, what I wanted to do was list what I considered to be my career highlights over the previous 30 years…but I didn’t bother.  ‘Yes’, I would say and then make some humorous remarks like… I was young, I needed the money, it was that or starring in some dodgy films.

Now if I said the name Ruth Madoc to you it wouldn’t surprise me if the first words out of your mouth were ‘Hi Di Hi’.  Ruth became an overnight sensation starring as the Yellow Coat who found it hard to hide her amorous intentions for the young Camp superintendent.  Even all these years later that iconic status is still out there.  I noticed in the new Russell T. Davies TV series ‘It’s a Sin’, the young Welsh character being called ‘Gladys Pugh’ by his new found friends who all share a house together. 

(Before I forget, well done to Callum Scott Howells who regularly performed for Charity locally as part of the LARS ‘Loud Applause Rising Stars’ based in Llanelli)

As I’ve said before, Radio and TV interviews are governed by the clock.  Podcasts give you the time to explore and find out so much more about people rather than just going over the same old territory.

Johnny Tudor, my partner in crime on www.themalandjohnyshow.com has known Ruth Madoc since the 1960’s, so when we started chatting to her on the latest episode of the podcast that’s where we started.

Ruth and Johnny had met on the set of a Welsh Language TV show called ‘Be Nesa’.  The show also starred Ryan Davies, Gail Latham and Bryn Williams.  What set Ruth and Johnny apart was that neither of them could speak Welsh at the time.  They learnt the songs and sketches ‘parrot fashion’.  As long as the rest of the cast stuck to the script they were fine but if anyone adlibbed they would be lost.  After all these years it was great to hear Ruth and Johnny still singing all the words to a couple of songs they sang way back when.

I wanted to go back a bit further.  Johnny’s parents were in showbusiness so he could have been born anywhere as they toured so much but as his mother’s time drew near they decided to send her to family back in Wales.  That’s why he was born in Aberdare.

Ruth with husband John, Max Boyce and Johnny Tudor

Ruth Madoc, the archetypal Welsh woman, well, she was born in…Norwich!!!

Ruth’s mum and dad worked in the health service in East Anglia and with wartime rationing, petrol being illusive and expensive, and with it impossible for her mother to find replacement staff on her hospital ward Ruth was born in the town where they worked.

Over her early years Ruth would spend a lot of her childhood in Llansamlet, being cared for and spoiled by her English speaking Grandad and her Welsh speaking ‘Mamgu’.  

Chapel meant she had to sing and with a house full of instruments like a harmonium, a piano and a harp it seemed obvious that Ruth would become a musical performer. But no.  It turned out that Ruth had won a scholarship to study at RADA where it was acting, acting, acting.  I wanted to know where that acting skill came from.  She told us it was down to her imitating her Mamgu’s friends and families, something for which she often got into trouble.

The bursary meant she had money over so as well as RADA she took singing lessons at the Royal Academy of Music.  That training would stand her in good stead later in her career as in those days there were no personal microphones for performers.  You had to be able to make your voice reach the back of the stalls over a 30 piece orchestra.

What struck me hearing Johnny and Ruth chat was just how flexible you had to be in the early stages of your career.  Ruth might well have been a trained RADA actress but singing songs in Welsh on a TV show or performing in Panto meant you were working and eating.

Ruth as Fruma Sarah – Fiddler on the Roof

One of the first big breaks for Ruth was getting a part in the film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.  Ruth played the part of Fruma Sarah, the widow of Lazer Wolf the village butcher.  She says she got the part by playing it up and because she had ‘Chutzpah’.  In the film she literally rises from the grave to threaten retribution if her husband remarries.  After the film ended they even gave Ruth her ‘Headstone’ which she kept in the garden for years before it disintegrated.

Her spells working in theatre across the country and in the West End were broken by trips home to Wales to perform with Ryan Davies, Max Boyce and her then husband Philip Madoc in the BBC Wales TV show ‘Poems and Pints’.  Ruth says she loved to do that show as it felt so much a part of her culture growing up in Wales. The other breaks in work came about when Ruth had her children, events by which she still uses to pinpoint stages in her career.

Ruth and David Jason in Under Milkwood

Being Welsh in theatre meant regular chances to play parts in various revivals of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milkwood’.  That resulted in her playing the part of Mrs Dai Bread 2 in the film that starred Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole.  If you’ve never seen the film, well, all I can say is that Ruth steals the film with her scene playing opposite David Jason.

 

So, will Ruth be remembered for all of this and starring in a touring production of ‘Calendar Girls in her mid-seventies?  In truth, Ruth’s career would have had many highlights and talking points even if she hadn’t been asked to read for the part of Gladys Pugh in a new Jimmy Perry, David Croft show called ‘Hi Di Hi’.  Perry and Croft had a remarkable track record with sit coms including ‘Dads Army’ and ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’.  But she was asked, and she got the part and overnight Ruth’s life would never be the same.

As she talked you could see how fond she still was of that show, a show that’s still going strong on one satellite channel or another year in, year out.

And there are plenty of shows to replay.  I asked her how long that ‘runaway train’ of success ran for.  She had to think for a minute.  Well, when we started my daughter Lowri was in primary school… and when we finished, she was off to University.

Oh, and by the way Ruth has no intentions of slowing down.  Lockdown has also brought opportunities.  Using Zoom she’s been doing Radio plays and interviews but with a longing in her eyes she told me and Johnny, she can’t wait to get back on a real stage.

You can catch this 2 Part Ruth Madoc special by going to www.themalandjohnnyshow.com

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