Today is Penelope Keith’s 82nd birthday. With a long public television history dating back to the days of Good Neighbors and To the Manor Born to her efforts serving as host for PBS’ The Funny Ladies of British Comedy and More Funny Ladies of British Comedy and right through to her more recent presenting efforts in the numerous Coastal Village travel programs, Penelope continues to be very active in her efforts to keep regional theatre in the UK alive and has also appeared in recent years in West End London.
If that isn’t enough, in 2002, Penelope was named the High Sheriff of Surrey, a position which dates back to 1066. Penelope currently serves as a Deputy Lieutenant in Surrey. Penelope was also awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1990 and promoted to a Commander (CBE) in the 2007 New Year Honors for charitable services.
In 2009, we ventured to the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey, the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation to visit with Penelope Keith. What an awesome place with everything from a Sopwith Camel (Tommy Sopwith actually learned to fly here) to a British Airways Concorde (more of the Concorde was built at Brooklands than any other site). Set in the hills surrounded by what’s left of the racetrack built in 1907, Brooklands was also the primary site for the building of the Wellington bomber aircraft in the early 1940’s.
Why Brooklands, you may ask? Well, we interviewed Penelope, whom you have known for a lifetime as both Margo Ledbetter in The Good Neighbors and Audrey fforbes-Hamilton from To the Manor Born, here as she is a trustee and board member at Brooklands. She truly is one of the greats of British comedy. For the better part of an hour, Penelope shared her thoughts on what makes a good comedy script and insights on both the Margo and Audrey characters.
Dame Penelope also discussed in great length the back and forth that took place between the actors and writers of both series. In particular, she mentioned several “subtle” changes that were made in the four leads from The Good Neighbors (Good Life in the UK) solely due to the incredible talents of the writing team of Bob Larbey and John Esmonde. Both would listen and observe very intently to rehearsals and read-through’s and incorporate what they observed about what the actors were bringing to the table with respect to their characters in future episodes.
In 2011, Keith told an audience at Cheltenham Literature Festival she got the part of Margot because Richard Briers suggested her after seeing her performance – with Felicity Kendall – in Alan Ayckbourne’s play The Norman Conquests.
Known for her posh outfits, especially when compared to the ‘sustainable lifestyle’ wardrobe of Tom and Barbara Good, Dame Penelope noted that there were constant worries about the costume budget on The Good Life. “The costume supervisor was determined to spend the entire budget in case her budget for her next program was cut. So every Monday of the week I would spend in Harrods or shops along Regent Street trying on these wonderful clothes,” said Keith.
Happy 82nd, Dame Penelope Keith! Thank you for the years of laughter…past, present and future!