Love, wit and pain in life of Mau­reen

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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.

ROGER LEWIS

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