On The Road: Sheila Han­cock Louise Flind

When Sheila Han­cock lost hus­band John Thaw, she went away on her own and found lib­er­a­tion in trav­el­ling solo, she tells Louise Flind

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Is there some­thing you re­ally miss when you’re trav­el­ling? Tea – proper tea. I never quite un­der­stand why even the top ho­tels abroad have never quite mas­tered mak­ing tea. They all give you a teabag and some sup­pos­edly hot wa­ter in a jug. I’m very so­phis­ti­cated about tea – I go to a shop in Maryle­bone High Street and get lovely blends.

Ear­li­est child­hood hol­i­day mem­o­ries? The work­ing class dur­ing the war didn’t have hol­i­days. My dad worked in a pub in King’s Cross and I just re­mem­ber a coach trip to Rams­gate with all the pub cus­tomers for the day.

Are you a trav­eller? No. I wrote a book about travel which is called ‘Just Me’. Af­ter John died [the ac­tor John Thaw, who passed away in 2002], I de­cided trav­el­ling on my own would help me learn to cope. I forced my­self to go to Ger­many, hav­ing been bought up to hate the Ger­mans, and I loved it. I missed a train in that huge sta­tion in Ber­lin and my first re­ac­tion was panic and then I thought it doesn’t mat­ter – there’s no John to get an­gry, no kids to be a nui­sance – just me. And I sat there for about three hours, watch­ing peo­ple un­til the next train came along – it was a won­der­ful sense of ut­ter free­dom.

Did you do a lot of the­atri­cal tour­ing? Hell of a lot. I toured with the Na­tional Theatre to France and Amer­ica but mainly I did all the tatty dates in Eng­land. Sun­days were won­der­ful be­cause, at Crewe sta­tion, which was a cross­ing point, you could see all the stars – Ivor Novello, Noël Cow­ard, Olivier – be­cause they’d be tour­ing with big shows, and there was a place where we’d have cups of tea with them.

What was it like work­ing abroad? We went to Chicago and Paris with the Na­tional Theatre and to New York with ‘En­ter­tain­ing Mr Sloane’, a Joe Or­ton play. New York at that time was quite se­date, and I re­mem­ber the re­view in the ‘New York Times’ said, ‘Throw this Bri­tish cesspit back into the At­lantic.’ The ‘Vil­lage Voice’ took us up and won­der­ful peo­ple like Tal­lu­lah Bankhead and Ten­nessee Williams came and loved it. Joe was the toast of New York, and I got a Tony nom­i­na­tion. My mum came out with my daugh­ter Me­lanie. Mum was fright­fully prim and work­ing-class and Joe adored her – she used to do roast beef in New York on Sun­days in the steam­ing heat.

Where did you go on your hon­ey­moons? Didn’t go on one ei­ther time be­cause I was work­ing. With John, we thought we’d get mar­ried se­cretly with just the two girls as it was then, but it turned out that the Cirences­ter reg­is­ter of­fice was op­po­site the lo­cal press. With Alec [Ross – her first hus­band], we did go down to Brighton for a cou­ple of days, but we were both in weekly rep, we had no money, and my mum did a proper wed­ding which was aw­ful.

Do you go on hol­i­day? I went on my first hol­i­day for yonks with my daugh­ter’s fam­ily the other day – to Mykonos. John hated hol­i­days; we al­ways came home the day af­ter we got there. Do you lie on the beach? Not now – too bor­ing.

Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? There used to be a won­der­ful café in Mad­dox Street in Lon­don which had choco­late-covered in­sects – John and I loved it.

Best and worst ex­pe­ri­ences in res­tau­rants when abroad? I never get recog­nised abroad, whereas in Eng­land I do some­times – so I have to be­have my­self – but abroad I can ear­wig, as John used to say. I once wrote about get­ting in­volved with the Mafia in Mi­lan – where I saw a man be­ing men­aced. No­body no­ticed me, this old wo­man, sit­ting in the cor­ner.

What is the strangest place you’ve ever slept in – while be­ing away? When I was 14, I hitch­hiked around Europe with a girl­friend, and a Union Jack on my back. I slept in haystacks, peo­ple’s cars, lor­ries, ditches and hos­tels. It was 1947 – I re­mem­ber Dunkirk with relics on the beach, bomb dam­age and burnt build­ings.

Top trav­el­ling tips? Just en­dure it and think of the des­ti­na­tion. I went through a pe­riod of be­ing fright­ened of fly­ing, and a hyp­no­tist taught me to think of my des­ti­na­tion.

What about your film lo­ca­tions? I’ve only re­ally re­cently had a good film ca­reer – I’ve got a film out now that’s do­ing so well, and it’s amaz­ing be­cause it’s the first film I’ve ever had a lead­ing role in – it’s called ‘Edie’, and it’s about Scot­land.

My life on lo­ca­tion at the mo­ment is in Corn­wall. I’m do­ing a se­ries called ‘De­li­cious’ with Dawn French, Emilia Fox and Iain Glen. Dawn loves Corn­wall. One of my daugh­ters lives in St Ives – I try to love it…

Sheila Han­cock with John Thaw in 1976

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