High De High

There's just no stopping Su Pollard. The actress, who found fame with her portrayal of drab chalet maid Peggy in the sit-com Hi De Hi!, takes on life with such energetic exuberance she's like an express train leaving you breathless in its wake.

She's got such a warm, sunny personality it is hard to imagine her as drink-sodden harridan Miss Hannigan, who rules the orphanage with a rod of iron in the musical Annie.

But Su is now on the road in her third tour of the show and has got all the niceties - or rather the nastiness - of the role down to a fine art.

She explains how she puts her heart and soul into her big numbers Little Girls and Easy Street. "I really, really feel it when I'm singing Little Girls. Some kids - not necessarily the ones playing the orphans - can be a bit precocious and you can really get it all out of your system. I love it when I have to tear the arms and legs off this doll. Then I tear its head off. It's marvellous!"

And after experimenting with various drinks, she has settled on cold tea as her alcohol substitute. "I tried cola and that's too gassy and the wrong colour. Ginger beer is the wrong colour too but cold tea works. And it has no bubbles. You can't have Miss Hannigan burping all night --though I have done once or twice. Timing them in the right places can be difficult but it does make people laugh."

Su is a practised comedienne who got her first taste of making others giggle when she was just six and played an angel in the school nativity play.

While standing on a box announcing the arrival of the angel Gabriel the lid gave way and Su plummeted through it. Everyone hooted with laughter and from then on she was hooked.

At 16, in her home town of Nottingham, she began singing in charity shows and at working men's clubs. After an apprenticeship at the local theatre she made her debut in 1974 on Hughie Green's talent search Opportunity Knocks.

But for Su it didn't knock quite loudly enough. Her rendition of I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No from Oklahoma! saw her come second to a singing Jack Russell dog.

Such an indignity might have deterred lesser mortals. But Su went onwards and upwards, appearing in an assortment of stage shows which included The Desert Song, Rose Marie, Godspell and Grease.

Her big chance came with the role of daffy Peggy Ollerenshaw in the now classic Jimmy Perry and David Croft BBC comedy He De Hi!

When the holiday camp comedy ended the writing partnership dreamed up a new series set in the 20s, You Rang M'Lord, in which Su appeared as maid Ivy alongside old Hi de Hi! chums Paul Shane and Jeffrey Holland.

In the mid 1990s David Perry reunited some of the team for Oh Mr Beeching in which Su played Ethel the box office clerk and resident gossip.

Su is known to young TV viewers as the voice of Penny Crayon and Noisy in the animated series Little Robots.

She's always been happy to combine television and stage work. But having been involved in some of TV's finest comedies refuses ever to settle for second best. "At the moment I'm discussing a pilot for a sitcom about an eccentric private investigator a bit like Miss Marple," she gushes. "But if a script is not good I won't entertain it. I don't want to do something mediocre. I'm not from the school of thought that anything will do. You know me, I'm a bit like Pick & Mix at Woolworths: I like doing a bit of this and a bit of that."

She's committed to appearing in Annie for several months, including a Christmas season in Manchester instead of her usual panto, but is talking about dusting down her one-woman show again sometime soon and touring it to studio venues round about. "It's called Lady in Waiting at the moment. It's more than just singing and chatting. I'm doing some sketches about my career, playing myself and Shaney (Paul Shane) and Ruth Madoc with wigs," she explains.

Another recent project which suited Su's zany personality was a comedy called A Happy Medium in which she portrayed a latter-day Madame Arcati. "I really enjoyed that. It was a great vehicle for a female performer and I was only off stage for five minutes - apart from the interval! - for the whole show. It was a marathon but it was marvellous. I thought to myself if I can learn all those lines in a fortnight I can do anything!"

It's on the cards that Su might return to the role. "It's got a real shelf-life. It's new and it needs a bit of tweaking but it would be great for a summer season. I'd love to do it again as it's got so much potential."

For now Su is thoroughly enjoying breaking that old showbiz law which dictates you should never act with children or animals.

As horrid Miss Hannigan she shares the stage with both - a new bunch of orphans each week and a dog which has been known to refuse to make its grand entrance so that the human actors were forced to move swiftly on to the next scene.

Su, 54, single again after her divorce from husband Peter, has no children of her own but loves acting alongside a new bunch of little girls each week. "I get new orphans each Monday. Most of them are marvellous. Our choreographer goes on ahead to drill them and they have rehearsed the routines three or four times a week with their dancing schools. Sometimes I get carried away and manhandle them a bit! I tell them I am only acting as I don't want their mothers saying that Su Pollard is an old bag who hits their daughters."

by Diana Eccleston

IC Croydon/Surrey Online
November 2004