Susan Jameson's new writing career
PUBLISHED: 09:58 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:58 27 June 2017
Actor Susan Jameson's writing career focuses on subjects very close to her heart - as Duncan Hall discovers
It was the unlikely figure of actor Warren Clarke who encouraged Susan Jameson to put pen to paper and create her debut book of pony-themed short stories.
She was filming a 2002 episode of the cop series Dalziel and Pascoe, playing Pascoe’s district nurse mother Annie, when the heavens opened. As the cast ran for the bus Warren, who plays the curmudgeonly Dalziel, offered Sue – as she prefers to be called – a space in his car. “We started chatting and I said something about I had been writing bits and pieces of stories,” says Sue from her regular haunt The Old Mill Café in Wisborough Green, home of gorgeous Italian coffee and cakes. “I told him these four different ideas I had in my head and he said: ‘Bloody write it then!’ So I did…”
Writing is something which runs her family, as she reveals in a wide-ranging chat which skips over everything from her love of animals to her husband James Bolam’s terrifying transformation into Harold Shipman for a 2002 TV movie during a holiday in the Seychelles – he would stand behind her with his new beard to scare her. Her granny used to write and her mother received medals for her written work. “None of them ever really did anything with it,” says Sue, joking she would like to go through some of her mother’s work to nick her ideas.
Burpham-based author Simon Brett, who knew Sue and James through the annual Christmas Cracker shows at St Mary’s House in Bramber, read Sue’s stories and suggested she give them to his agent. “The big publishers didn’t know what to do with them,” admits Sue. “They didn’t know whether they were for children or grown-ups.” The tales only saw the light of day when Michelle Charman, founder of Pulborough-based pony specialists Forelock Books, got in touch out of the blue. The result was Pony Tails, which was finally released more than 12 years on after a brief revision to include up-to-date mobile phone technology.
That difficulty of categorisation could be said to apply to Sue’s long acting career – albeit not in a bad way. Different generations have come to know her through the 1970s drama serial When The Boat Comes In – her self-confessed favourite; children’s shows Bad Boyes and Grandpa In My Pocket, where she played the fearsome Great Aunt Loretta; and in the BBC favourite New Tricks as Alun Armstrong’s long-suffering wife: “I spent a lot of time in bed with Alun,” she confides. “He used to do naughty things to make us all laugh. I miss them all, especially Amanda [Redman, who played Det Supt Sandra Pullman].” More recently she has played a retired English cricket captain battling against the modernisation of the game in Midsomer Murders, read all 52 Catherine Cookson novels for an audiobook producer and taken a role in three Doctor Who radio series more than 40 years on from being prevented from starring opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor on television. “I was going to garrotte somebody in the show, but someone decided it couldn’t be done by a woman,” she says.
She admits to a love of radio – something she is continuing with the BBC’s Radio Drama Company, aka Radio Rep, which records classic dramas and new works for broadcast. “It’s the freedom of radio I love – you know everybody listening has their own vision of what you look like. You can go anywhere and do anything. On the last Baker’s End [Paul Magrs’ folk horror starring Tom Baker] I was burnt at the stake while tied to a scarecrow, went down to Hades and got tortured before Tom and Katy [Manning] came to rescue me. You couldn’t do that on TV or theatre.”
She has been sharing her radio knowledge with the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre. She is a patron of the group and oversaw their latest project which culminated in a red carpet event at the Stephen Pimlott Building as three plays were broadcast to an audience of families and friends. “It was a privilege to work with them,” she says. “One or two of the children were very shy when they were confronted with the microphones – they just stepped back and didn’t want to know. By the fifth week they were jostling for position.”
Charity work has been a constant in Sue’s life in Wisborough Green – particularly charities involving animals. She has taken in rescue dogs and ponies in the past and is currently president of both the ABC Animal Sanctuary in West Chiltington and the Cat and Rabbit Rescue Centre in Sidlesham. She is also involved in the Hawk and Owl Trust, Compassion in World Farming and helps young disabled riders as part of Merrylegs Assisted Riding at Pulborough’s Brinsbury College. “When children aren’t able to move on their own without help it’s wonderful to see them on a horse,” she says. “It’s a great social thing for them too.”
Her own experiences on horses began when she lived in the Midlands. She rode a horse called Stormy when owner Iona, of the Cadbury family, was away at boarding school – an experience similar to Sue’s story The Shetland. When Sue moved to London, hoping to be discovered as an actor, she and Jim rode in Richmond Park with “a mad old Polish ex-army sergeant who used to shout at us”. The pair, who first worked together in an episode of The Likely Lads and starred in When The Boat Comes In not long after getting together, moved to Sussex from Fulham when their daughter Lucy was born. “Our cat [who had previously belonged to Likely Lads writer Ian La Frenais] nearly had a heart attack when it first saw a cow in the dairy herd behind us!” Now they live with a menagerie of animals including three old dogs and two cats from Cat and Rabbit Rescue. Her daughter’s formative experiences riding with the Pony Club have filtered into Sue’s story The Welsh Cob – about a loveable, shaggy-haired but temperamental horse – while the fearsome riding instructor Mrs Franks is based on a real person although Sue refuses to disclose who she is. “I have always kept a diary so there was a lot of stuff in there,” says Sue, who also has two grandchildren – ten-year-old Isaac and Gracie, five. Opening story The Connemara, about the rescue of a mistreated pony by a vacationing family, is based on a real holiday experience. “There were a lot of machinations with a not very nice man,” she says. “Eventually we rehomed the pony with a family with four children, who rode him – it was so lovely to see him so well.”
Final story The Exmoor is pure fiction – inspired by the wild horses Sue saw on the moors and the idea of what might happen if a foal was separated from its mother. Sue is trying to brave her paper-filled computer room to start on a longer novel at Michelle’s request.
Getting in the way though is another village issue which reflects her husband James’ role in current touring comedy Fracked. Sue is part of the campaign against drilling at Broadford Bridge by UK Oil and Gas. “People don’t understand it is not just going to be a one-off thing, they will come back here and we will have to fight them off again,” she says. “The site is next to a nature reserve. I’m afraid because of the wildlife and the birds – it’s something I’m quite passionate about. We’re trying to draw attention to it. The number of incidents in the US is scary: the explosions, illegal dumping and land being polluted. Gandhi said: ‘Think globally, act locally’ and that is what we are trying to do – if we can protect this little bit of land and people can see it, hopefully they can do the same. The companies think we will get tired and give up – but we don’t want to give up.”
Pony Tails is available for £9.99 from Forelock Books at www.forelock-books.co.uk
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