Family ties

Veteran British comedy actress JUNE WHITFIELD takes on a serious role in Channel 4's new drama, Family Money. Story: Sue Greenway.

June Whitfield is about to be seen on television playing one of the few straight acting roles of her career. For over 40 years. Whitfield has been the straight woman to some of the most famous comics in the business. including Benny Hill. Frankie Howerd. Tony Hancock and of course. Terry Scott. with whom she formed an enduring sitcom partnership in Terry/1nd June.

The others are all largely gone. but at 71 and looking a good ten years younger. Whitfield’s career has never been in better shape. thanks to her role as Jennifer Saunders‘s mother in Absolutely Fabulous. More recently she has played Edward Woodward’s love interest in the BBC‘s acclaimed drama serial Common As Muck.

Now she switches channels to play the housekeeper. Ivy. in Family Money about a comfortany off widow in her 60s whose family encourages her to sell up and move into a nursing home. Instead she announces that she plans to set Ivy up with her own flat. Whitfield describes her latest persona as ‘comfy- cosy’. with an unswerving loyalty to her employer and friend. Fran (Claire Bloom).

‘I never really thought of myself as having an image.’ she says. ‘I hope basically I am an actress, so you try to adapt yourself to whatever comes along. To start with I thought that Mother in Absolutely Fabulous was a suburban housewife, and then she became a kleptomaniac and was as mad as the rest of


'If you are not actually seen on television people are inclined to think that you are either retired

Family Money: facing up to old age alone

them. You began to see where her daughter got it from.‘

Ab Fab eclipsed the years of being one half of

Terry Aml June. as Whitfield suddenly became chic. or as she puts it. a born-again actress. ‘If you are not actually seen on television .people are inclined to think that you are either retired or dead.‘ she says. ‘I am very grateful to Jennifer Saunders.‘

Family Money is an adaptation of a Nina Bawden novel and the catalyst for the drama comes when Fran intervenes in a street brawl and suffers amnesia after a blow to the head. The thriller element comes from her struggle to remember the events of the

attack. with her fears heightened by the presence of

Jake. a young man living on a canal boat at the bottom of her garden.

Whitfield admits to having qualms about taking on non-comic roles after so many years of being associated with funny men. ‘I am always surprised. because you would think it had all come to an end. but I touch wood.’ she says. ‘Actresses don‘t retire. you get retired when the phone stops ringing. You think. “maybe I should stop now.” and then somebody says. “we are doing this would you be interested?” And I say. “why not?”

Whitfield lived at home until she was almost 30. when she married a surveyor. They are still together and live in Wimbledon. making Whitfield appear like the epitome of the suburban housewife she has so often been called upon to play. The difference is now she is back in fashion. After shooting an episode of Common As Muck which involved a romantic encounter with Woodward. a driver asked her if it was her first screen kiss. ‘I said. “I think you are probably right.m says Whitfield. ‘80 everything comes to those who wait.’

Family Money begins in mid-March on Channel 4.

preview TELEVISION &. RADIO Channels

As Channel 5 prepares to launch, we ask what all the fuss is about.

With six weeks to go before blast off, and counting, Channel 5 this week announced the schedule it hopes will lure viewers away from the existing four terrestrial channels when transmission begins on 30 March. So, how does it look? Channel 5's buzzwords are ’modern and mainstream', and the biggest surprise is probably how familiar the line-up is, particularly to anyone with satellite or cable.

Director of programmes, Dawn Airey, a former arts and entertainment controller at Channel 4, targeting the weak spots of other channels, with an emphasis on shows which can run at the same time every day throughout the week. The debut line-up is pretty much as billed, with a mix of movies, entertainment shows and news. Daytimes feature a mix of gameshows and leisure magazine programmes that are found on most other channels.

Every station needs a soap, and Channel 5 has commissioned a five- nights-a-week soap called Family Affair. Set in Maidenhead, it centres on three generations of the same family and is expected to feature more up-beat storylines than the trouble-and-strife of existing soaps. After the soap is a new showbiz gossip show called Exclusive, which will major on domestic and Hollywood celebs. Weekend afternoons will offer an alternative to sport, including a lunchtime magazine show The Mag.

Films play a big part in the new schedule, with over fifteen movies screened each week. There are two movie slots every weekday at 3.30pm and 9pm. Given Channel 5's very limited budget, there are likely to be few - if any - first-run blockbusters. Familiar classics are a more likely bet.

After the evening movie it's pure entertainment, including a chatshow hosted by Absolutely’s Jack Docherty at 11pm. Though this is by no means the first attempt to translate a David Letterman-style show to the UK, it is the first one to do it five nights a week. Just don't call it ironic or culty. Remember - modern and mainstream at all times. (Eddie Gibb) I Channel 5 launches on Sun 30 Mar


Family Affair: Channel 5's soap.

21 Feb—6 Mar 1997 "IS [18179