It’s a shame that, with such a long and illustrious theatrical career (she is a member of the RSC), Patricia Routledge will forever be remembered for her comic creation Hyacinth Bucket (pron. bouquet). Her sitcom Keeping Up Appearances dates from the early 1990s but continues to attract audiences in re-run heaven. Routledge is well known to dislike the small-minded snobbishness for which Hyacinth is famous – maybe that’s partly what makes the character so funny and so loved.
This stage appearance sees Routledge in conversation with Edward Seckerson (a familiar voice from Radio 3). And although audiences may be attracted to Routledge’s TV work – which includes Hettie Wainwright and monologues for Alan Bennett – they’ve come to hear her reminiscences from the world of operetta (an art form long in danger of being forgotten) and musical theatre. And what a long, productive life it’s been. Routledge was born in 1929 so she’s now in her 80s.
Although Seckerson seemed twitchy (something that doesn’t come across on the radio) and there was a feeling that this was more of a rehearsed performance than a spontaneous conversation (interspersed with recorded music tracks) Routledge showed that she is a star of considerable warmth and worldly charm. Born in Liverpool’s Birkenhead (the ‘posh end’ of the city, quips Seckerson) she showed early promise, even in primary school, telling stories to the five-year-olds while she was only eight. Notions of growing up to become ‘an avant-garde headmistress with a sports car and romances all over Europe in the holidays’ were forgotten when she learned to love the power of the English language. Singing classes and elocution lessons followed.
Her rich mezzo soprano and peerless comic timing won her a host of theatre awards and appearances on Broadway, New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, and London’s West End. Throughout, Patricia Routledge is relaxed, charming and funny. What struck me is what a consummate professional she is and, even in old age, sharp and clear-eyed about her career. And what a contrast she makes to the one-hit wonders of X Factor-land who expect to be rich and famous and respected overnight. I wonder where Leona Lewis and Matt Cardle will be in old age? We will need to wait until the 2070s to find out.