The true star quality of elegant actress Millicent Martin when she visited Blackpool

By Barry Band

Friday, 30th July 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Friday, 30th July 2021, 2:46 pm
Millicent Martin. Photo: Getty Images
Millicent Martin. Photo: Getty Images

That was my week, that was - bringing together two anecdotes about a charismatic lady who sprang to fame on television’s TW3 nearly 60 years ago.

Half the nation’s men were in thrall to Millicent Martin on the satirical programme That Was The Week That Was. It ran for 37 weeks between November, 1962, and December, 1963.

Millie has lived in America for more than 40 years with her third husband, Marc Alexander, and has had a golden career, noticed by younger generations for her Gertrude Moon role in five seasons of Frasier and, more recently as Joan Margaret in Will and Grace. She is 87.

Nigel Shaw, centre, with other apprentices at Jean Darley's

We’re putting Blackpool in the picture by recalling that she came to the Opera House midway in the run of TW3, on a Sunday concert bill with her first husband, Ronnie Carroll, in July 14, 1963.

Ronnie had prior billing due to his two recent Top 10 hits, Roses Are Red and Say Wonderful Things.

They had divorced before her next Blackpool show, of which more later.

First, we’re leaping from 1963 to 1995, when TW3 days with David Frost and other rising stars were recalled by Millicent to her table companions at the Imperial Hotel.

The 1967 Opera House summer show

It was an after-show supper put on by commercial sponsors after the opening of Michael Frayn’s comic triumph Voices Off, at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, where the actress was starring with Patrick Cargill, Michael Cashman and Mark Curry

The elegant Miss Martin, wearing a classy black cocktail dress, had the table’s attention when a nervous young waitress, serving coffee, managed to spill half a jug of cream down the dress.

Seated at the table were the Gazette’s former deputy editor David Upton and his wife, Jane, and David gives Memory Lane readers the first mention in print of the disaster.

“There was a collective intake of breath around the table but the actress barely paused from her story and calmly asked the mortified young waitress to fetch a damp cloth as quickly as possible.

“Naturally, it turned up almost as quickly as the maitre d’ with his frantic apologies,” says David.

“But Millicent Martin treated it as lightly as if it was a comic moment in the farce in which she had just appeared.

“That takes star quality.”

We skip back to the 1960s for another “first time in print” Blackpool anecdote of Millicent Martin; the secret of Millie’s lustrous hair.

In 1967 she starred in the summer season show at the Opera House, billed second to Bruce Forsyth.

Hair stylist Nigel Shaw, of St Annes, recalls: “I was an apprentice at Jean Darley’s salon on Topping Street, Blackpool, and for several weeks I shampooed Miss Martin’s hair.

“She was a strawberry blonde and her secret was having a final rinse of beer.

“She always brought one of those large screwtop bottles of Whitbread Pale Ale. I didn’t use the entire bottle for the rinse and she said I could keep the remainder.”

Cheers! More star encounters next week.