Life After Maplins

Three little words. That’s all it takes to get a reply from comedy star Su Pollard. Three little words that for eight years were the war cry of any good Maplin’s Yellowcoat . . . oh, and also of one mild-mannered chalet maid, Peggy Ollerenshaw 

But even as the Nottingham-born actress put the holiday-camp sitcom behind her way back in 1988 with one last defiant "Hi-de-hi" yelled Julie Andrews-style, moments before the final credits rolled, she knew escaping the character that had made her a household name would be difficult. 

In the past that has caused her to reflect that: "The only time it gets on my nerves is when people are too shy to speak and they wait until I’ve passed and shout: ‘Hi de hi’ after me. Of course, I shout: ‘Ho de ho’ back. And then I think: well, that’s the voice gone for tonight’s performance!" 

Right now that performance is part of the national tour of the hit musical Annie, in which she plays the wicked orphanage manageress. 

It gives audiences a chance to see Pollard in a whole new light . . . as the bourbon-swilling, hard-cussing, man-hunting harridan, Miss Hannigan. 

The star, famous for her OTT specs and dangly earrings, says: "It’s fantastic to be able to play a part you don’t have to glam up for and a marvellous challenge because she has to be absolutely real. 

"When she hits the girls (she always takes it out on the kids), she hits them on the bum with a paddle. And all the orphans have to wear padding because I said to them: ‘It’s no use Miss Hannigan tapping you, she’s got to look like she is merciless.’ But you can’t help feeling sorry for the woman as well because she has a terrible drink problem." 

It’s a role the 53-year-old is relishing, and with a scream of laughter she adds: "When I first got the part I actually said to the director: ‘I think I need to go out on a bender to research the role!’ He said: ‘No’." 

At the Festival Theatre next week, it’s not just the kids that Pollard has to cope with in the musical tale of Annie, the 12-year-old orphan whose dream finally comes true when she is plucked from the orphanage and welcomed into the warm and loving home of billionaire Daddy Warbucks. By working with not one but two canines (Sandy played by Danny and Mutt played by Sparky) Pollard breaks the first golden rule of theatre - never work with animals or children - twice! 

"The dogs are a little excitable," she admits. "But the children are superb and the music is so great. I’ve always wanted to be in Annie because I just love the music so much." 

The musical, which co-stars Sixties chart-topper Mark Wynter (he had nine Top 20 hits including Venus in Blue Jeans) includes old favourites like The Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile and the show-stopping tear-jerker, Tomorrow. 

"We’ve got a brilliant cast. Every single person seems to be absolutely suited to their part. Mark Wynter is just fantastic as Daddy Warbucks, he’s very warm and still has a great voice. He was probably the Will Young of his day. Young and beautiful to look at," she enthuses. 

Appearing in Annie brings the outrageous performer back to her musical roots. Her career began at the age of 16 when, while working as a secretary, Susan Georgina Pollard started singing in charity shows and working men’s clubs - her proud claim to fame from that time being that she was the first woman to "sing Ave Maria in hot pants in a working men’s club." 

She reveals: "That was the campest thing. I used to have these thigh boots, and hot pants with a bib on (almost like dungarees) that said on the front ‘I love Mr Pink’ because I was going out with a bloke called Andrew Pink at the time. We thought we’d get married and said if we had a little girl we would call her Saffron - can you imagine, Saffron Pink. The poor cow, she’d never dare leave the house. 

"Anyway, nobody ever expected me to sing Ave Maria and I think they were pleasantly surprised when I did because I had a soprano voice then." 

After an apprenticeship at the Arts Theatre in her home town, Pollard famously came second to a singing Jack Russell terrier on Opportunity Knocks - although her first taste of the spotlight had actually come at the age of six when, as an angel in a school nativity play, she stood on a box to announce the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and promptly fell through the lid - "I remember crying," she confides. 

Despite the tears, it was her first experience of making an audience laugh and although she has since become known for comedy, it is singing that remains her passion. "I actually started singing in the school choir," she recalls. "And have tried to take it as seriously as I could - I had lessons for years - because I believe that if you have some talent in that direction it’s nice to fulfil its potential. 

"That’s why I try to do roles that combine the comedy, the drama and the music. To be honest, I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years." 

And with a twinkle in her eye, she adds: "Between you and me, I’m never going to see 27 again and because of that I seem to be getting a lot more challenging roles now, characters that are a bit more meaty, and that’s rather nice." 

One thing’s for sure. They don’t come more meaty than Hannigan. 

Edinburgh Evening News
October 2003