Jane Horrocks as “Bubble”

Jane Horrocks as 'Bubble'Jane Horrocks first caught my eye as the foxy ‘Nirvanah Crane’, seducing ‘Rimmer’ (Chris Barrie) in an episode of Red Dwarf… but that same year (1992) she also made her debut as ‘Bubble’ in Absolutely Fabulous. I always enjoy it when a “ditzy” character crosses the line into surreality, and Bubble skipped merrily across that line time and time again, somehow managing to make ‘Edina’ seem relatively sane and sensible by comparison. She also wore some super-cute outfits (costumes?) around the office, setting the bar far higher than Ugly Betty has ever attempted with Amanda’s attire. Sadly Horrocks eventually tired of playing the fool, and was reincarnated as ‘Katy Grin’, a soullessly whitebread shark of a TV presenter. I’m not sure how many actresses could pull off a gearshift like that, but then if there’s one thing Horrocks is known for, it’s versatility.

In fact, her ability to mimic various old-timey singers even inspired a play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, later to be adapted into a critically acclaimed film, co-starring Ewan McGregor, Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine. The film spawned two spin-off albums, and also earned her nominations for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Award. Her chameleon skills were also tested in a 1996 sketch-show special called Never Mind the Horrocks, which contained two classic skits guaranteed to haunt me for the rest of my life… The first featured a shrill children’s presenter, from back in the black & white days, talking down to her audience, encouraging them to torment their servants, and then singing possibly the most irritating marching “song” you’ll ever hear. Her commitment to the bit is a joy, even if the sound emanating from her mouth is a pain! The second saw her springing up in a classy costume drama, with Martin Clunes as the astounded suitor attempting to woo a wealthy father’s unruly (rabid?) (rapey?) youngest daughter. That ‘Philippa’, she’ll steal your heart, along with your trousers!

Jane Horrocks as 'Gracie Fields' in "Gracie!" (2009)Most recently (just t’other night, in fact) she appeared as the wartime singer/comedienne Gracie Fields, in a BBC4 docudrama written by her husband. Biopics aren’t my usual cup of tea, but Horrocks and her co-star Tom Hollander kept it all fizzing along nicely, with their amusing and engaging performances. There was also a common plot element with last week’s look at the author Enid Blyton, played by Helena Bonham Carter… namely the eponymous heroines getting screwed over by the British press. In Blyton’s case it was a scurrilous rumour that she had a team of ghost-writers knocking out her novels for her (ironically, the way she was depicted treating her poor children and first husband rather made such allegations pale in comparison), while in Fields’s case it was seemingly manufactured outrage over her decision to “flee” to North America, to escape the Blitz with her Italian husband, who they insinuated was an associate of Al Capone! Granted, her main motivation for the move seemed to be sparing her loved one from being interned as a POW, but she was still touring as a singer and unofficial cultural ambassador, trying to keep spirits up and raise funds for the war effort. She wasn’t sat by a swimming pool, rolling chocolate cigarettes out of silk stockings, so the “traitor” slurs and pillory treatment seems a bit harsh in retrospect. Apparently one of the trade-offs in having a “free press” back then was that they were free to make up any garbage they liked to grab an audience, regardless of the damage it might do to an innocent individual’s reputation. Tch! Thank goodness we’ve all evolved past that sort of trial-by-tabloid hysteria now… ho ho…

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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