I started performing as a child during the Blitz, singing in an air-raid shelter. When I left school, I joined City Lit and worked in the Civil Service during the day while going to classes or the theatre at night. Eventually, I applied for and got a scholarship to RADA, receiving the Silver Medal and Emile Littler award in my final year.
My first job, four days after leaving drama school, was a film, The Trials of Oscar Wilde. I remember being led on to the set by the director and getting feedback that they were pleased with my one scene. When I saw the film, my scene came and went – but I wasn’t in it. Fortunately, having been raised on Chekhov and Shakespeare, I wasn’t just a pretty face. I wanted to work in theatre and made my debut at Ipswich Rep and the Salisbury Playhouse, before touring in lead roles such as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Beatie Bryant when Roots came out of the West End. I remember John Fernald, then principal of RADA, saying: “Not bad Patty, number one dressing room within a year of leaving.”
I did a lot of television and was hardly out of work for five years. Fame was unavoidable during a stint in Crossroads, which regularly clocked up 15 million viewers, but when I got to the dreaded age of 40, the telephone stopped ringing. Fortunately, I met Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, a world-renowned yoga expert, and travelled the world as her secretary. My life changed and I forgot about acting.
Six years ago, on holiday with my husband in Sicily, we visited a Greek amphitheatre. An amazing thing happened: I had to stop myself running on stage, the urge was so strong. When I got back, I started auditioning, as an unknown, in a different age group. Eventually, a good part came along: a Mulberry Christmas advert, which is still very popular on the internet, followed by a Bollywood movie and Karl Pilkington’s Sick of It comedy series.
If you don’t desperately want to act, don’t go for it. It’s much harder than you imagine. But if you do, hang in there, come what may. I’m glad to be back and can’t wait to see what new parts tomorrow may bring.
Theatre includes: A Streetcar Named Desire (Piccadilly Theatre, London), A Night Out, Barnstable (Comedy Theatre, London), Roots (UK tour), The Golden Cadillac (Bristol Old Vic)
TV includes: The Rag Trade, Crossroads, Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, The Avengers, Sick of It, Emergency – Ward 10
Patricia Denys was talking to John Byrne