Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Patricia Swift/Webb became Polly Browne

Patricia Swift/Webb in Auckland
Sometimes one realises that one doesn't really know one's friends. Yesterday while having a goodbye coffee with Patricia Swift/Webb who is off to Wimbledon and Alderney Pat was fascinatingly frank about how she became a West End musical star. Pat reigned for 21 months in the original Boyfriend by Sandy Wilson at The Wyndham's Theatre  in London's West End. Pat was the perfect Polly Browne.

To my astonishment Pat entertained us all by relating how she got into musicals and went on to become a world class coloratura soprano. With  delightfully straight face Pat told us how at the age of 15 she rebelled and refused to go back to her covent school in Clapham. She just walked out and having seen an advertisement for an audition for the chorus line in a Watford pantomime got on the green line bus and attended.

At 15 Pat had no idea of what to expect. She didn't even have any suitable dance practice clothes but not surprisingly she got the job. I expect the management was only too pleased to see her as she must have been beautiful and the pay was meagre.

To Pat's relief her father was not unsympathetic and Pat perfomed in her panto two performances a day for three months, pantos still do have long runs travelling daily from home by green line bus. We all did long journeys to work in those days. I once rehearsed Windsor and played Bournemouth!

After the panto Pat refused to go back to the convent and her father found her a job as a trainee florist which consisted of sweeping the floor. In three  months Pat did not touch one flower except one lunch time when a man bought a dozen red roses for his wife who had just given birth. Pat looked me in the eye and said "Do you think one dozen roses is enough?" He upped his order and Pat was popular that for that sole afternoon.

As the florist did not work out Pat asked her father if she could go to a famous stage school Aida Foster in Golders Green, another long journey every day. Her father said he would pay the fees but Pat had to work to pay her train fare which she did. On Saturdays she worked in a dress shop.

Aida Foster was a remarkable woman and helped many young women to stardom, Joan Collins, Jackie Collins, Jean Simonds, Shirley Eaton, Marti Webb to name a few. I also attend this school for a year as my own school Arts Educational was threatened with closure. The academic standard was nil but the confidence and the way one presented oneself was fostered, excuse the pun, to a very high standard. Although I disliked the school I do not think I could have survived the London Theatre without it. You were taught how to do well at auditions and to be professional. To always look your best, turn up on time, learn you lines and do what the director tells you.

Pat enchanted Sandy Wilson who must have been delighted to see her and she went on to captivate the West End. Pat does not look or act like a rebel but now that I think of it she had that strength of character to succeed that only one who has the courage to rebel can achieve.

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