Helen Patrick has kindly shared her memories of playing Nora:
- How did you come to be cast in the series?
It was a straightforward interview / audition process for the initial pilot episode. One’s agent rings and tells you to be somewhere at a certain time etc. I think Gareth Gwenlan was there – I wore a flowery dress that looked a bit period…..I must have just sounded / looked right!
- How did you go about emulating Kathy Staff’s performance as Nora? Did you meet her?
I met Kathy several times – we did a lot of joint publicity I recall – photo-shoots etc. She had a slight natural speech impediment and so it was a case of mimicking that and then making the young Nora a realistic person and not a mini dragon. We certainly appeared in matching or co-ordinating jumpers for a knitting mag. Plus a couple of other combined photo publicity things. I recall them having to drive her to me – I was in rep at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury at the time, and it was easier for Kathy to be driven to me for photos then me to leave rehearsals. Some nice pics by the river I think….Did radio & telly interviews too if I recall. Actually for a relatively small role (but then, it mirrored the way Nora was on the edge of the key storylines in LOTSW too), I got a lot of the publicity – more than the boys. Nora was such a British icon – in the same way as Hilda Ogden from Corrie – and the curiosity about the state of my stockings was never ending. I endlessly had to explain that the wrinkled version was Nora, the more mature version and that Nora Renshaw as a shy 18 year old certainly didn’t have wrinkly ones! I even did a Sunday Telegraph modelling shoot for “stockings”.
- Which locations did you film at and what are your memories of location filming?
I only did the location stuff so Huddersfield and its surrounding areas were home for several weeks in the Summer. I recall the two owners of the Huddersfield Hotel were two brothers – Johnnie and Joe I think. They must have done pretty well out of the beeb and all of us actors staying. It must have been a hell of a job juggling the dates we were in and out. There was a downstairs nightclub – ideally one wanted to be at least on the 2nd floor if you needed to get any sleep!
I do recall myself and David Fenwick camping it up one evening and being allowed behind the bar where we did a bit of a Bet Lynch and Alec Gilroy (the then stars of Corrie) double act for the punters….
The cinema was fun too in Hyde Park – because it was still used as a cinema we had to do night shoots – so your make-up call would be for say 10pm then film through the night – endless cups of teas, fags and bacon butties. Must have been costly with the lighting etc.
A lot of the locations were a challenge – it was a period piece so just as you’d be lining up for a shot, someone would spot that “Emily” was in view….the bloody TV transmitting beacon Emley Moor – viewers would delight in pointing out any historical inaccuracies so a glimpse of a TV mast behind the 1939 petrol pump was a no no.
Being on location as a young actor was fun all round as the rest of the cast (apart from the oldies) were pretty fresh faced and not long out of drama school so to say we enjoyed ourselves is putting it mildly. I think there was a lot of burning the candle at both ends and not a lot of saving of your daily subsistence allowance. The toughest bits were going into makeup early after a raucous night out and begging the make-up team to allow you a bit of foundation to cover the baggy eyes. They were adamant that we could only have the barest trace of powder as we were all supposed to look young and unblemished – ha ha!
I remember that as Gareth was head of Comedy at the Beeb and then Mike Stephens took the baton, we certainly had top notch professionals working on the shows, the camera, lighting, costumes etc – they were the crème de la crème from the Beeb. And extremely patient with us – we were collectively referred to as the “youngsters” and the crew basically taught us our “TV” skills.
- What are your memories of studio filming?
I was a bit disappointed not to do any of the studio stuff – for no other reason than the rest of the cast got more weeks work out of the beeb for doing the studio stuff. Don’t forget it was all on bare equity minimum those days, so any extra days filming helped one scrape a living as an actor. But it did free one up to go and do theatre etc. Otherwise you’d find a lot of your free dates were booked in advance for the studio stuff and the bit between end of location and start of studio wasn’t enough to go and get any other work – so they had you tied really.
- Can you tell us a bit more about the costumes, sets and vehicles used?
Costumes – come on! Apart from a couple of dowdy headscarves, I got to wear either green overalls or burgundy overalls – that was it! The big memory was getting on the back of Wally’s motorbike – Gary was / is not the tallest of chaps – hence the constant gags etc. and he was tasked with getting to grips with riding a 1930’s Triumph (if I recall?) and I at the end of one episode I think foolishly agree to get on the back! It was a night shoot again and outside the fisheries and I know Gary and I decided to get a bit of practice in on the motorbike – unfortunately we went a bit out of the immediate film location area and got hauled over by the police in Holmfirth. Of course, neither of us were wearing helmets – a headscarf (moi) and a flat cap for Wally. So the very understanding policeman basically told us to ride slowly and carefully back to the film set and warned us if he caught us again without helmets he’d “‘ave us”.
- Nora worked at both the petrol station and the cinema – which did you prefer filming?
Probably the cinema as it was more of a team effort – hell for the crew to keep us all organised but fun!
- What are your memories of working with the older cast members? Peter Sallis, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Derek Benfield
True pros and Maggie in particular enjoyed mingling with the “youngsters”. In fact, I think the Beeb were rather banking (literally) on the “oldies” and “youngsters” not crossing paths, as it was the general friendliness that revealed we’d all been rather short changed by the Beeb. By the time Series 2 came along and we knew from Roy Clarke that he was really planning / hoping to phase LOTSW out in favour of FOTSW – some of us had badgered our agents to ask for pay rises. The word came back from the Beeb that as we were all relative newcomers, we were on entry level wage and so we had to lump it. We were told of the high cost of the series with location and period drama costs and that the “oldies” – such important elder statesmen actors with vast experience had to come first in the pay pecking order. Maggie, being a delicious gossip, was happy to advise that actually the “oldies” had all been told to accept lower pay rates than they perhaps would have expected to command, because it was “really the youngsters who are the stars” in this instance. So us all being chums and spilling the beans about that revered and not to be spoken about topic – what are you being paid? – meant that we all found out the Beeb had been financially rather less than honest….Had there been a Series 3, I think our agents would have all gone in for major pay increases!
- Do you keep in touch with any of the cast?
Alas not – I kept in touch with David Fenwick for ages – but then we’d been at Central together, albeit in different years. I think that keeping in touch nowadays would be / is much easier with email, social media etc. In those days, if you didn’t phone and meet up, send a Christmas card or cross paths in another series or audition, you just didn’t have the means to keep in touch with everyone. Sounds very “old” doesn’t it?
- Do you have a favourite memory and/or favourite episode?
Just a general memoir of Roy Clarke really – he was already bored of LOTSW and was hugely excited that he’d created this prequel – he had worked backwards with family trees and relationships and history so that had the series continued, he knew exactly what would happen to each person and why they ended up as the personalities they did in LOTSW. He had worked out exactly why and how Nora became such a bossy old bat for example – she was so painfully shy that she found a sharp tongue the best defence. He’d done the same back story with all the characters. Even to the point where some of the young lads were FOTSW originals – and not just young versions of LOTSW – he’d planned all along that some of the chaps simply wouldn’t make it through the war. He’d mapped out when they’d get married, who’d have kids and who’d get killed in the war etc and give them events in say the 50’s and 60’s that they could feasibly have been looking back at from a LOTSW perspective.
- What have you been doing since FOTSW ended?
Continued acting professionally until 1997 – had done some work as a chef in London when “resting”, decided catering generally was not right for a full on Career # 2, so having thought long and hard about what else interested me – I turned to drink! After acting it needed to be another career I could immerse myself in totally, something that is a hobby as well as a job – and dare I say it – acting is perceived to be a “glamourous” career – everyone wants to know “what you’ve been in on the telly” etc and I find the wine trade holds an equal fascination for the man in the street. So I’ve worked in the UK wine trade since 1997, had my own restaurants in the Cotswolds & North Yorkshire, part owned a couple of Delicatessens & Wine Merchants in Pickering & Scarborough and then in 2007 came out to the South of France as a Wine Consultant – I have my own company, Fine Wine Works, which trains yacht crew and supplies fine wines to the billionaire super yachts in the Med! Quite a change from late night filming on Saddleworth Moor!
Many thanks to Helen for providing this contribution and supporting the site.