Interview: Sue Pollard

Annie at The Alhambra, Bradford

WHAT images are conjured up when you think of Su Pollard? Crazy Clothes? Zany Glasses? Hi-de-Hi?

The chances are that most people, at least those people who haven't seen her perform live in a show, won't instantly recall a stage career stretching back over 35 years.

But long before her defining role as wannabe Maplins yellow coat Peggy Ollerenshaw, Su was doing everything she could to make her name as a singer.

"I remember appearing on Opportunity Knocks in about 1973," she says. "Believe it or not I was up against a singing Jack Russell – and came second!

"It wasn't the best of starts but what made it worse was that all the dog did was howl, which made me wonder how bad they thought my voice was."

The truth is that Su has one of theatreland's best voices. Sure, most of us may not talk about her in the same breath as Michael Ball or Elaine Paige, but in the West End she's held in high esteem.

Hence, at the age of 60 when many stars have long since faded, Su has been invited back by producers, this time to star in the touring version of Annie, which comes to Bradford later this month.

She is reprising the role she has played on several occasions before, the musical's hilarious villain of the piece, Miss Hannigan.

With a booming voice and a natural comedy delivery, Su's a natural to take on the role as the drunken orphanage owner. She's also determined to put her own mark on the part.

"Although Miss Hannigan's seen as this evil person I always try to give her a bit of a sympathetic edge," says Su.

"Yes, she's not exactly a fuzzy maternal figure but she has a lot of problems and many of them have been a result of being treated badly herself.

"So she's turned to drink and that's caused her even more problems. I actually do feel sorry for her, though I know not a lot of other people would – and you can't really blame them."

It won't be the first time she's has performed in Bradford either. Su has taken to The Alhambra's stage in the 1970s.

She featured in numerous big shows like Godspell and Grease, but it wasn't long before TV fame beckoned which launched a whole new chapter in her life.

During the 1980s Su Pollard became a huge household name with some of the most unlikely of fans – and although Hi-de-Hi! was an unexpected launchpad she never regrets it.

She says: "Someone once said to me 'Never dismiss how you became famous because if you do you're essentially laughing at other people's memories.'

"And I've always lived by that rule because so many people have good memories of Hi-de-Hi!, I know I do, so I never take it for granted.

"I had a great time in the 1980s on the back of everything – I remember meeting Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury and I was completely star struck just to be in the presence of these legends, but they asked ME for my autograph... even if it was for their mums."

After Hi-de-Hi! the TV work continued into the late 1990s with spin-off sitcoms also written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry, firstly with You Rang M'Lord and Oh Dr Beeching!

The last decade has seen her spend an increasing amount of time featuring in pantomimes, musicals and shows such The Pirates of Penzance, The Vagina Monologues, the 1960s-inspired Shout! and, of course, her first appearance as Miss Hannigan in Annie.

But the role is one she's delighted to be returning to as she knows it's proof that she's well thought off among her theatrical peers.

"As you get a bit more mature, shall we say, and particularly if you're a woman the parts are definitely harder to come by, that's for sure." she admits.

"I think there's no use in sending yourself crazy over it. I know of some people who continually call producers up trying to get parts and sometimes they'll get them if they pester them enough.

"But I don't do that because if people think you're good enough then you will be good enough so if the phone rings then the phone rings – I'm just lucky that it often does."

Aug 24 to 28, The Alhambra, Morley Street, Bradford, 10.50 to 26.50, 7.30pm, wed mat 2pm sat mat 2.30pm. Tel: 01274 432000 or vist

Nick Ahads play Partition is the first ever collaboration between BBC Radio Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Divided country brought together on West Yorkshire Playhouse stage