I was coming up for A levels and applying to university and drama schools and writing to loads of reps to get work in the summer holidays. I had also done some singing with a group to get a provisional Equity card.
During the summer, I joined the National Youth Theatre in London and was in a play by Peter Terson called The Apprentices, where I was spotted by writer Jack Rosenthal and TV producer June Howson and asked to come up to Manchester to audition for a new TV sitcom called The Lovers.
I was phoned at home and told I had got the job but that they were not going to make the series for six months. Granada was excited about finding me and put me in three or four TV shows before The Lovers. The first was Her Majesty’s Pleasure, playing the girlfriend of one of the characters who had come to visit him in prison.
When I pushed open the door of Studio 1 at Granada TV, where they made all the sitcoms in front of an audience, and saw the vast size of the space, it filled me with amazement and horror. We began to rehearse on camera. I very quickly adapted and tried to show that I wasn’t ignorant about anything.
We took a break and then the audience, of 200 to 300 people, was sent in. We met the ‘warm-up man’. I didn’t know what that meant. Another actor, Bryan Pringle, told me that he got the audience warmed up before the recording and that I would be introduced by him. “Then what do I do?” I asked Bryan, who was very mischievous. He replied: “About five minutes.”
So when the warm-up man called my name, I went forward and was all ready to do a five-minute spot. Fortunately, he must have seen what was about to happen and stopped me.
From that job, I learned that the quicker you make the audience feel comfortable, the more chance you have of entertaining them. My advice to anyone starting out today is not to be afraid to ask questions – intelligent ones, preferably.
Training: On the job
Theatre includes: What Shadows (Lyceum, Edinburgh/Birmingham Rep/Park Theatre), Kindertransport (UK tour), Great Expectations (Vaudeville Theatre), Bea (Soho Theatre), La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse Theatre)
TV includes: Living the Dream (Sky), Upstart Crow (BBC), Girlfriends (ITV), Moving On (BBC), Mount Pleasant (Sky), Still Open All Hours (BBC), Emmerdale (ITV), Peak Practice (ITV)
Agent: Peter Brooks, Creative Artists Management
Paula Wilcox is appearing in Driving Miss Daisy at York Theatre Royal until June 29