One of the few upsides of this past week of sub-zero temperatures, loss of electricity for millions of people and the possibility of broken pipes in our collective futures, is the opportunity to send good wishes for a very happy birthday to the brilliant Dame Patricia Routledge, who turned 92 on Wednesday. While Hyacinth would be appalled that I forgot to put a card in the post to arrive on her birthday, I hope she knows the sincerest of best wishes are still there, belated or not.
Universally known for her role as Hyacinth Bucket (“pronounced Bouquet“), whose delusions of grandeur could fill Royal Albert Hall, it’s fitting that Dame Patricia launched her career in the very town we readily frequent to screen BBC programming, the Liverpool Playhouse.
Following her early theater training background from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and subsequent professional beginning in Liverpool, she won the 1968 Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for her performance in Darling of the Day. There were several big screen appearances including To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier and Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River with Jerry Lewis before heading to the small screen, with early guest parts on Steptoe and Son, Coronation Street and Doctor at Large.
As we belatedly celebrate Dame Patricia Routledge’s 92nd birthday, I’m once again fondly remembering when I had the great good fortune to cross paths with the actress who, at the time, seemed larger than life due to her portrayal of Hyacinth in the late 1990s. It was a once-in-a-lifetime (which, later, turned out to be twice-in-a-lifetime) opportunity to interview her for a salute to British comedy programming for broadcast on public television in the States.
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It was like sitting down with your favorite aunt or close friend. It was several years later when we, again, had the opportunity to interview Ms. Routledge for our PBS special, The Funny Ladies of British Comedy, hosted by Penelope Keith. It was like seeing our favorite aunt all over again. You just wished it could be more than once every several years.
After extensive over-preparation on our parts and Patricia’s general brilliance, we came away feeling like we had just been schooled, in the most extremely positive way, in a Comedy 101 workshop while getting a brilliant look behind-the-scenes of the making of Keeping Up Appearances. We treasured every moment.
Happy 92nd, Dame Patricia Routledge. Thank you for the lifetime of laughter you have given us over the years and the continued smiles that await us all in the years to come.