Love, wit and pain in life of Maureen
HEARTWARMING: Maureen Lipman PAST-IT NOTES By Maureen Lipman
MAUREEN LIPMAN is always “on”. Even her movements are forever altering. She can float along like a glamorous dancer, full of poise, or perhaps she’ll decide to waddle from side to side like a galumphing, wide-hipped blue-stocking.
She is as gawky and coy as a teenager one moment, as sassy as a Twenties’ flibbertigibbet the next, complete with hats and scarves and necklaces. She’s fascinating and as liable to say: “Look, you don’t even know me. Sod off!” as she is to invite a down-and-out to live in her flat – an act of impulsive kindness, several of which are recorded in her marvellous autobiographical rag-bag, Past-It Notes.
As a writer, Maureen is observant, fluent and as sharp as a pin, particularly when describing people’s eccentricities.
Her comical Jewish mother was always a particular inspiration. Zelma would come out with deeply pondered statements such as: “Ooh, I say, aren’t eggs useful?” She had 63 driving lessons and still the instructor wouldn’t let her change gear on her own. Maureen’s father, meanwhile, was prone to such daydreaming, he sometimes forgot he was married. He’d find himself back at his parents’ house in Hull.
No scholar, Maureen attended the London Academy of Music and Drama and went on to great success as a character actress. She has played any number of mothers, grandmothers and nosey neighbours and impersonated real-life battleaxes and nanny goats, such as Joyce Grenfell and the literary agent Peggy Ramsay, to acclaim. She appeared as Margaret Thatcher at Labour Party rallies and was awarded the CBE.
Two decades on, her TV ads for British Telecom, in which she played a white-haired Jewish granny called Beattie, are still fondly remembered by the public.
Home was a large house in Muswell Hill, shared with her husband Jack Rosenthal and a tortoise called Zuckerman which was fed on a diet of strawberries and herrings specially delivered by Harrods. Maureen and Jack were married in 1973, the pair of them dressed in satin bell bottoms, cowbells and “enough Indian cotton to empty Madras”.
Jack produced scripts for Coronation Street, wrote TV classics such as Bar Mitzvah Boy and The Knowledge among many others and spent years in thrall to Barbra Streisand as “this schmuck from England” working on the screenplay of Yentl. “It really hurts my ears, your voice,” Maureen and Jack’s young son said to the star.
Farce followed the Rosenthals around. When they went to restaurants, fights broke out. Holiday destinations would be building sites when they got there. In Ireland all they could find to eat was Thai curry. Hilarity evaporated, however, when Jack was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. He died in 2004.
Maureen’s grief is palpable. “He was in my heart, my blood, my memory and every look and sound that came out of our kids. A good man, a man to whom good came easily.” She’d lost her anchor.
Maureen’s own health has had its ups and downs and she now goes in for reflexology, gets her chakras checked and inhales beetroot juice up her nose, which is good for the sinuses. But you sense that as she adjusts to widowhood, greater things too are to come.
As if to signify the new phase, she recently moved to a huge flat in Paddington, where she lives with a pet rabbit and a flowering yucca.
Past-It Notes, like its author, is crammed with life and love; it’s candid, hugely funny and heartwrenchingly poignant.