April 07 - Wendy Craig

JOANNE APPLETON meets versatile actress Wendy Craig, now starring in a new series of The Royal on ITV

Say the name Wendy Craig, and there’s a good chance someone will mention Butterflies.

This popular TV series ran from 1978 to 1982, and Wendy’s portrayal of scatty housewife Ria made her a household name.

But for Wendy, Ria is only one of many characters from a career spanning 50 years in film, TV and theatre. So what have been the highlights for her?

“It certainly includes Butterflies,” she says. “The show was beautifully written and such a joy to do.

“I also enjoyed Nanny, as I had been doing comedy for a long time, so it was nice to tackle something more serious.

“In the theatre, I absolutely loved doing Mrs Malaprop with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was huge fun and a great challenge. And I found the 1963 film The Servant with Dirk Bogarde was very interesting to make.”

Wendy was three when she decided she wanted to act, after her parents took her to see a pantomime.

“I made up my mind there and then and never really wavered,” she says.

With the encouragement of her family and school, she worked hard at learning the necessary skills. Once she became established as an actress, her musician husband Jack Bentley was, in her words, “a total support”.

“He understood the stress of performing; that you are exposing yourself and have to get it right. But he made it easy for me to have a home and work as well.”

Her childhood faith was encouraged by her grandmother, who taught her about Jesus and read her Bible stories. However, as Wendy became well known and busy with her career, it became harder for her to make time for God.

“Life was very full and the ‘world’ encroached,” she says. “I found myself going for several days without praying, then several weeks. Eventually it got pushed aside and after a few years I seemed to have lost my way entirely. I got to the stage where I was saying ‘what was all that about?’”

But even though she was successful in her profession, Wendy began to feel something was missing in her life. Walking through the countryside with her dog had brought some peace, so when her dog died, the sense of depression magnified.

“I got to the point where I had to do something,” she says. “Looking back I had really been walking through the countryside with God without knowing it, and I realised I needed to come back to him.”

So Wendy prayed, asking for God’s forgiveness and help to return to the faith of her childhood.

“My faith has made a huge difference to me,” she says. “I feel forgiven and not burdened; joyful, secure and confident: all the good things that flow from being in a right standing with your Maker.

“Now I make time for the Lord instead of pushing him away, and constantly pray in quiet moments, trying to keep close. I set the alarm early and pray before I get up; and when I go to bed I do my Bible reading and pray about what has happened during the day.

“I know how difficult it is to make the time, but if you can just take 20 minutes each day to offer to the Lord, it does make a difference.”

Wendy is currently on our TV screens as Matron in the popular ITV show The Royal and she’s about to start filming the next series in Leeds, Bradford and Scarborough.

Even though the travelling aspect of the job is tiring, she says it is a great show to work on, with lovely people. But after half a century in the public eye, does she have any plans to retire?

“None whatsoever,” she says adamantly. “I can’t think of anything worse than not being busy with work. So long as I can remember my lines and not fall over I’ll keep going!”

  • Show Me the Way by Wendy Craig, published by Hodder and Stoughton, is now available in paperback, price £6.99 ISBN:978 0340 910474

Photos: Philip Reeson - www.reeson.com

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