As ever, it pains me to recommend anything to do with the Mail on Sunday, but this week they excerpted the autobiography of awesome comedy actress Celia Imrie, and it isn’t quite the light-hearted, “jolly hockey sticks” fare one might have assumed from her reliably chirpy/saucy on-screen personae… in fact, the headline for the piece reads: “My Electric Shock Nightmare at the Hands of CIA’s Evil Doctor”!
Apparently as a girl she desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer, but she was rejected on the grounds that she would be “too big”. This sent her into an anorexic spiral, which eventually resulted in her being admitted to a special ward in St Thomas’ Hospital (London), belonging to the Department of Psychological Medicine. “And once there I was placed under the care of world-famous psychiatrist William Sargant. I was 14. Now, more than 20 years after his death, Sargant is notorious for his work for MI5 and the CIA, particularly its covert MK-ULTRA mind control programme. Even then, Sargant was a world expert on brainwashing… Sargant’s methods were simple: electric-shock treatment and insulin-induced comas leading to continuous narcosis, or deep-sleep therapy, complete with tape-recorded ‘brainwashing’ orders being played at the patients from beneath their pillows. And to think that all this came free on the NHS!”
It’s a fascinating and horrifying story… but also rather uplifting, since she has clearly thrived in the intervening years. Incidentally, there is an explanation in the article regarding the belated blossoming of her remarkable figure, but I won’t quote it for fear of attracting (and then disappointing) bra-size-related searches.
The Happy Hoofer by Celia Imrie is published by Hodder & Stoughton on April 14th.