Helen back treading the boards

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Helen Fraser, one of our most familiar faces on TV, is back doing what she was “trained for”.

“I love theatre,” says Helen, who stars in the latest touring production of Calendar Girls alongside Lesley Joseph, Sue Holderness and Ruth Madoc (The Hawth, Crawley, May 9-14 01293 553636; also Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, June 27- July 2, 01323 412000).

“I always try to go back to the theatre when I can. I always say that the theatre sorts out the men from the boys. If you go can on stage and remember a three-Act play and play it all the way through without being able to say ‘Cut!’ all the time, then you can do your job!

“With TV you can just start again. I think there is such skill involved in the theatre.”

Which isn’t to say that Helen hasn’t had a fantastic screen career.

She got her breakthrough role alongside Tom Courtenay in the 1963 film Billy Liar. They later played the parents of character Dave Best in the BBC sitcom The Royle Family in the 2008 Christmas special.

Helen made her TV debut in the early 1960s, since when her credits have included Z-Cars, Dixon Of Dock Green, The Likely Lads, Doctor In The House, On The Buses, Man About The House, Rising Damp, Tales Of The Unexpected, Duty Free, One Foot In The Grave, Coronation Street and Casualty. She also worked with comedians including Dick Emery and The Two Ronnies in the 1970s.

“Billy Liar was my big break, and then 40 years later Tom and I were in The Royle Family. We’d seen each other at various events, but we hadn’t acted together for 40 years! It was lovely. I was a bit of a stranger to The Royle Family. Usually at Christmas I do panto. But it was great fun. We just laughed and laughed. You can see us giggling. It was terribly funny.

“Billy Liar was also great to do. The wonderful thing about films is that they can never ever scrub them. I have done two classic films - Billy Liar and Polanksi’s Repulsion. Last year, I played in Billy Liar on tour. It was like coming full circle. I was playing the mother!