Su Is Not A Lady To Be "Pegged" Down!

All Peggy in Hi-De-Hi! wanted was to be a Yellowcoat. Su Pollard is rather more ambitious - she wants to be a superstar! And it looks as if she has the talent, energy and determination to do it...

A Special Interview By Stephen Hunt

Su Pollard's lifelong ambition to be a famous face has already been fulfilled through playing the hapless Peggy in TV's Hi-De-Hi!. Yet following the announcement that the next series will definitely be the last, Su has now set her sights on achieving something much bigger and bolder - to become the next Shirley Maclaine!

Should you think that such an ambition is about as feasible as poor Peggy's fruitless attempts to become a Yellowcoat at Maplins, then be prepared to be proved wrong! If there is one quality for which Su is renowned, it is her dogged determination.

After all, you would have to be pretty persistent to overcome falling through the lid of a cardboard box as a six year old in your first school play, or coming second to a performing dog on Opportunity Knocks! And Su certainly knows what it is like to suffer for her craft, having persevered through 13 years of amateur theatre in her home town of Nottingham while working as a secretary by day and a singer in workers' clubs by night, to make ends meet.

Now that she is a star and in demand, Su is not going to be caught napping. Her shrewd outlook has reaped great rewards in the past few years.

During that time she has reached number two in the singles charts, released her debut album and scored great success with her cabaret act in Britain, Australia and aboard the QE2. She also appeared on a Royal Variety show singing 'The Lady Is A Tramp' from the musical Babes In Arms, in which she toured the provinces with actor friend Matthew Kelly.

Then she starred for seven months in the enormously successful Me And My Girl, made an hour length musical special for the BBC and last summer received excellent reviews in a short tour of Sweet Charity - the classic musical that in 1969 was made into a memorable film starring...yes, none other than Shirley Maclaine.

Backstage at one of her former professional homes, the Adelphi Theatre in London, 38 year old Su looked typically zany in a pink & yellow tracksuit, tweed jacket and sporting a parrot shaped earring as she told me about her admiration for Shirley Maclaine.

"Oh, I've always loved her," she enthuses. "I think she's a really strong and honest performer. She always looks as though she is enjoying what she is doing rather than just pretending to - and there is nothing she cannot do. She's got the lot!

"I'd like to think I could be as good as her or any of the all time greats like Streisand or Minnelli. They don't have to make holes in their jeans to remain popular! I was thinking the other day about how few female performers there are around to take over from these people. I found myself saying, 'Go for it!' and now I'm really excited about it."

And Su will not be content with anything short of success on an international scale! Already she has conquered Australia having popped up on all the chat shows there following the great success of Hi-De-Hi! down under. And in April she will return for her second concert tour there in as many years.

"I want to do more and I believe that if you can get the offers then you must  not hang about. You must get up and go," she declares.

Eventually, Su hopes to make it big in the United States and perform a week of sell out concerts at her favourite venue - the legendary London Palladium. In the meantime, Su will be putting the finishing touches to a new album and a semi-autobiographical book - intriguingly entitled 'Love Hurts' - before opening in the London premiere of the hit Broadway musical show Jerry's Girls.

This features the songs of Jerry Hayman, composer of 'Hello Dolly!', 'Mame', 'Mack And Mabel' and 'La Cage Aux Folles'.

Su's change of direction is not only fuelled by her ambitious nature but is also due to the lack of good new television shows being written.

"Some scripts that I get sent are really quite appalling and I have often said that I will never do another sit com unless it is of the excellence of Hi-De-Hi! or even better. I have turned down about half a dozen lately because there is no point, when you have worked so hard to achieve a high standard, in accepting mediocre stuff just because you want to be seen on the box again.

"A lot of my friends have made that mistake. They have taken the first thing that has come along thinking that they will be able to make it work. Well, they haven't - it's hopeless. So therefore once you have made your name, you have got to keep up a high standard or else your reputation goes down the dip."

Making the transition from comedy to music has been a very easy one for the inexhaustible Su because she admits singing has always been her first love.

"You can put everything into a song. The words and music are there ready to be interpreted into a whole, well rounded performance. As soon as I hear a song I like, I sing it around the house all day and it is lovely to be able to think that something comes out of your mouth that is neither flat nor sharp!

"I haven't had a proper singing lesson for ages. However, I practise every day with an instruction tape which I listen to on my portable stereo with headphones."

I mention to Su that, although her first album contained a number of pop songs such as 'Band Of Gold' and 'You Never Done It Like That' I consider her to be closer to a torch singer than a pop star.

"Yes, I know what you mean." she smiles. "In fact, somebody mentioned that to me once before and I said, 'What do you mean? I don't run off batteries!' I didn't know what a torch singer was!

"I always thought Judy Garland was terrific and she was never a chart artiste, was she? She was more of a torch singer. Yes, I think that is eventually how I would like to see myself - a concert performer. But if I happen to make records that sell and get in the charts then that is great.

"But I do love all those emotive songs that really stir something up inside you. I feel that I deserve for myself to sing songs that have got a lot of soul to them and are not just five note jobs. So I have decided that my next album will consist totally of show songs."

Interestingly, it was the simple ditty, 'Starting Together', the theme from the BBC documentary The Marriage that provided Su with her first major hit, reaching number two in the singles charts. She was kept from number one by the Diana Ross hit 'Chain Reaction'. I ask Su if she was disappointed at being runner up.

"Oh yes! I nearly slashed my wrists, overdosed, jumped out the window, put my head in the oven!" she laughs mischievously. "No, I'm only joking. I just thought, That little upstart Diana Ross - she's only been going twenty-five years! But of course it was disappointing but I was just glad to make the Top Twenty.

"But in future I would like my records to do really well without the presence of a TV programme which, to be frank, acts as a weekly nationwide plug for the record."

"Did you like the song?" I ask.

"Funnily enough, I did. I mean, obviously it was not the type of thing I would have chosen but I did it because I knew it would get maximum exposure and bring to people's attention that I can do more than just Peggy in Hi-De-Hi! I'm not knocking her - she is brilliant and the whole show is - but you have got to show people that you can do other things.

"To be honest, though. I must admit that the words of the song are very schmaltzy and much more so for me, but I don't care. I would like to thin that in ten years time people will be playing it at their weddings."

The BBC series for which the song was the theme proved to be even more controversial, with many claiming that its study of a young Welsh couple's first year of marriage was patronising and boring. What was Su's opinion of The Marriage?

"I only saw two episodes," she admits, "but I thought it was an informative programme about an average couple. I think that a lot of viewers could identify with them and say, 'It's just like us two. We do that, don't we?'

"So, in a way, it was an eye-opener for people who were interested to see how their marriage was working out in comparison to someone else's. I think the young couple were very brave to do it.

"Lots of people think it is undignified for ordinary folk to want to be seen on television, but for many people it is a big dream."

Su herself has been happily married for three years to Australian teacher, Peter Keogh - that is, unless you believe some of the stories that regularly appear in gossip columns. Su answers doubts on the state of their marriage wit typical humour and self assurance.

"We have agreed that the best way to deal with it is to tell each other everything so that we can expect the gossip. We have seen that a lot of celebrities get very upset by the gossip columns.

"They read certain things about each other and then start bickering with each other. They are just not close enough to handle it. But Peter and I are - we just say, 'here we go again.'

"Mind you, I'm very glad of the notoriety. I have had practically more publicity than anyone else in the last few years! And it has not affected my popularity atall. In fact, I received a lovely letter today from a lady telling me to 'take no notice of the gossipmongers, my dear!'

"The problem is, as soon as you become well known, the slightest thing that appears in your past is immediately front-page news."

Su's overwhelming success in the role of Sally Smith in Me And My Girl changed a great many people's perception of her as a performer. Since then she has been inundated with offers of further stage work, which means she can now wave goodbye to Hi-De-Hi! without having to fear the kind of bleak future that awaits many stars who have been so strongly associated with just one character.

In preparation for Me And My Girl, she not only had to develop a Cockney accent, but also took tap dancing lessons for months in order to be proficient enough for a sequence that lasts just minutes.

"It is only a very small part of the show, but it is very intricate if you are not used to tap dancing, so I had to learn it literally step by step. But the singing did not worry me at all and I picked up the accent quickly and just had to concentrate.

"It really was the most enjoyable piece of work I have ever done - absolutely brilliant! And the best thing about the show is that it attracts many people who have never been to the theatre before. It's the sort of show you can go to see and, for an evening, forget that you owe a thousand pounds or that your house has burned down - brilliant!"

Shortly after Su left the show in August 1986, it opened to rave reviews on Broadway and is likely to still be running on both sides of the Atlantic when Su returns to the West End stage in Jerry's Girls in the spring.

Seemingly picking up fresh skills with every new part she tackles, is there any area of show business that Su is prepared to leave untackled?

"Oh yes, I don't do impressions because I am not very good at them and also feel that they have been done to death already. I think that the top impressionists are very clever, but I want them to impersonate me, thank you very much. I think that is an accolade!"

My Weekly
January 1988