Top positive review
A lively account of the first half of Julie Walters' life
on 24 May 2018
This is the sparky and often raunchy autobiography of Julie Walters. She was born in 1950, the last of three surviving children, in Smethwick into a working class family – her father was a builder and decorator. I did not find her memories of childhood particularly interesting. She describes in detail their house and what went on in each room. One of the impressions we are left with was how the family skimped on heating. The account of her finding out about sex, her teenage loves and disappointments, her evening adventures with a girl friend of hers, her first experience of acting, family holidays in Blackpool, are all pretty humdrum also, though touched with a degree of wit.
There is an affectionate portrayal of her mild, humorous and frail father. Her Irish-born mother was the dominant, if anxious, force in the family. Julie’s maternal grandmother came to live with them for her last 15 years or so after her husband had died. She suffered from something like Alzheimer’s and from incontinence (the descriptions are gruesome), but she was “a good playmate” and Julie, aged ten when her grandmother died, was fascinated by her, and thinks it was due to her grandmother that, when Julie became an actress, she so often played people older than herself.
She had a miserable time at a primary school run by savagely punitive nuns, and stubbornly refused to change her pronunciation during elocution lessons. She passed her 11+ exam and was happier at her senior school. She was popular, good at sports, entertaining as a mimic and a clown, took part (reluctantly) in bullying another girl; but did so poorly in her post GCE work that she was told not to come back for her A levels. So, aged 17, she told her mother that she wanted to leave school and take up a temporary job to save some money to take up nursing – and her mother agreed. At 18, she enrolled in a School of Nursing. She worked on wards for 18 months and recounts various mishaps – some of them both macabre and funny. (In fact, mishaps of one kind or another, usually hilarious, will figure frequently in the rest of the book.) In the end, she decided that nursing was not for her: what she really had wanted all her life was to become an actress: years ago, her brother and even one of the dreadful nuns had told her that she was a born actress. She moved to Manchester, where her first serious boyfriend and lover was studying Sociology at a Polytechnic which also had a Drama course.
And so her theatrical career began. First she worked for some eighteen months in the Everyman Theatre Company in Liverpool. He lived in primitive accommodation, but she loved it all. The audience was a popular one, and the company also played in fairly rough pubs. Her fellow actors included the young Pete Postlethwaite (who was for a time her lover), Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy, Anthony Sher and Prunella Scales. One of the shows transferred to the London West End. She and Pete lodged in then sleazy Soho. More anecdotes, some entertaining, others really gross. I don’t know how she stood it for two years.
At the tiny Bush Theatre, she became a close friend of the hilarious sketch-writer and fellow actor Victoria Wood. It led to a television show called “Wood and Walters”, and then to many other TV shows and films. There were many other performances up and down the country which it would be tedious to list in this review.
And then we come to the play (1980) and film (1983) which made her big breakthrough: “Educating Rita” for which she won her first BAFTA award. That story is of course told in considerable detail, much of it set in the United States. (The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures). In 2001 she would win a second BAFTA award as the Best Supporting Actress in “Billy Elliot”. But again it would be tedious to list the other performances she describes, along with the usual collection of anecdotes. (One of these is her meeting with Cynthia Payne, the notorious madam whose part Julie was playing in the film “Personal Services”.)
The range of characters she can play is enormous, from Lady Macbeth to Cynthia Payne, from the sad to the risqué (to put it mildly). She was often up to playing practical jokes, all of which are told with relish. She was obviously sociable, sometimes wildly so, and could be drunk with the best of them. And she slept with several people before she met Grant Roffey, who at the time was working for the Automobile Association, in 1986. Their first encounter displayed characteristic impulsiveness on her part. She bore them a child, Maisie, in 1988. Julie’s pregnancy is described with her usual detail, and the book ends with Maisie’s arrival, when Julie was 38. Julie does not tell us that she and Grant did not marry until 1997. Nor, of course, does she tell us anything about her life and many other acting successes during the twenty or so years after Maisie’s birth, though these are listed, together with all her earlier ones, in an appendix. Perhaps she is saving this up for a second volume?
(The Kindle edition acknowledges picture credits, but does not have any pictures!)