The 60's were a golden decade for Rita Webb. She kicked off 1960 playing Minnie the maid in the lost classic TV play 'David and Broccoli' it was a small but notable part in an interesting play.
Another Dixon of Dock Green was added to her credits in 1960, this time playing a character called Marge Davies in an episode titled "All Cats Are Grey" described as "A big sleazy character" playing nagging wife to David Graham, she yells at him "Don't you tell me to shut up, you great leery slob you, it wouldn't hurt you to stay in".
Rita also appeared in an episode of BBC's classic "Maigret" series. in an episode called "Liars" she appears briefly in the opening scenes as Leonie a vicious tongued harridan who spits insults at her neighbours from her window above, shouting out "Hey Rateu" (Dallas Cavell), "dirty old black Smith, paid yer tax yet, or have yer drunk the money?" she then cackles with enjoyment as Rateau falls down drunk, then turns on another passer by "It's little Jean Paul, the school masters boy, how's your Father dear? or isn't he your Father?" more cackling follows as Jean Paul runs away followed by the shows famous opening signature tune and credits with views of Leonie making faces at her window, complete with blacked out teeth, after the episode title fades we see a gun fired at Leonie s window and in a close up shot the bullet blasts through the glass and hits Leonie straight in the face and sees the end of the character on screen as she falls backwards in slow motion.
RitaWebb in David and Broccoli
It was in 1964 that Rita got to work with Norman Rossington in the Comedy "Tea At The Ritz", it was not unlike the 1957 film "The Smallest Show On Earth " with Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford. Rita played Mrs Hilda Gutter the usherette, pushing a tea trolley around in the interval instead of serving Ice cream, Ann Lancaster and Ronnie Stevens also starred.
In 1962 Rita wrote to producer Holland Bennett, saying "It's many years since I wrote to you, I came across an old letter (copy) I once wrote you, & I can only come to the conclusion, that you must have thought me a little mad, to say the least. Upon reflection, Perhaps I am, or am I, what so many people call me a character. Whatever it is, I’m a character without a job." her bad spell didn't last too long. and she was soon back on the box working alongside the likes of Sid James, Dickie Henderson and Frankie Howerd.
Rita was often in parts like that of Mrs Priddle, a lovable cockney neighbour with gossipy lines like "Some of the stories I've heard about him! Well I wouldn't have him if his backside hung in diamonds!" flattering remarks like "you're a good looking women in your own right, you are. You ought to have somebody who lavishes love upon yer" or reminiscent lines like "Do you know he could belt me round the mouth one minute, and the next minute I'd be cuddled up to him. In a throbbing mess of love and desire for the bleeder"
Rita was always a welcome friend to the TV viewer. She took on other notable parts in "Liza Of Lambeth" and "The Four Seasons Of Rosie Carr" A part which her brother Henry thought was "The best thing she ever did!". Playing Granny Carr she is seen Lying on her death bed and tells her Granddaughter "I never made much of a show while I was alive, but by gaud, I'll ride out of this lot like a perishing duchess!"
Ken Loach gave her meaty parts in the 1965 "Wednesday Play" season. In "Three Clear Sundays” Rita played Britannia Lee. Her son Danny Lee (Played by Tony Selby) is in prison and gets the death sentence for Killing a guard. Rita dominates the production and in one scene she is trying to persuade a juror (Reg Lever) to give her son the 'Not guilty' verdict. She tells him "You see that figure up there, holding what they call 'The Scales Of Justice' They're the actual 'Scales Of Justice' and you know what she'd say if she could speak? She’d ask for the inspector of weights and measures! Them weights are very dodgy sir" The plan failed and Danny was sentenced to death. Rita visits Danny in prison shouting at the guard "I wanna go in there and kiss my Danny. His my baby you know! His always been a good boy to his mum and given me money! Ere don't you tell me I can't go in and kiss him. I'll have you reported! I'll write to the queen about you-Stinkers!!" The day of Danny's hanging we see Rita walking along with her other sons croaking "I'll tell yer Lou, if they've got enough to nick yer, they've got enough to charge yer. And if they've got enough to charge yer, they've got enough to convict yer. And if they convict yer, don't you think they won't hang yer! Because they bloody well will the Bastards! The whole bleedin' systems bent!" hip flask in hand she knocks it back.
Rita had good reviews for her part. Robert kemp said "Rita Webb was a remarkable but entirely credible monster as his mother" while Richard Sears writing for the Daily Mirror raved "There were some wonderful scenes with Danny's mother, played by Rita Webb with hagish joviality" The stage commented "Unquestionably it gave an opportunity to Rita Webb that she has long deserved. If anyone could be said to have shared the honours with Tony Selby it was she. She never let us love the old harridan with a rasping voice and sloppy emotions, but we had to admire her as matriarch of 'tea leaves'.while variety praised "Outstanding portrayals came from Rita webb as his raucous, unscrupulous hoyden of a mother."Some viewers at an audience research report thought that Rita over played her part, while a number of others considered her particularly good!" Rita's brother Henry also appeared as a prisoner in one brief scene. The play was a success and we even get to hear Rita singing some haunting melodies throughout the play.
Not long after the show went out Rita was interviewed about her career on "Late Night Line-Up" for the BBC, with the opening question "Rita, you are famous for playing Cockney parts but do you have to be a Cockney to do this?" we may never know the answer has it seems the programme has not survived!
Rita's next "Ken Loach" outing came in the highly successful "Up the Junction" Rita played the chirpy old dear 'Mrs Harding' when we first see her, she is in a wash room chatting "Smashing dinner today, always go up and have a good dinner on a Wednesday, when my son gives me the money. I had roast mutton, roast potatoes, cabbage and mint sauce, and a nice bit er tart ter follow, half a crown that's all they charge. I don't feel like cooking me own dinner do you? It drives yer barmy it do, cooking yer own dinner when yer all on yer own" she pops up throughout the play and in one scene she tells her friends "You know what? I'm courting again! I met him up at the mission; you know one of them shilling dinners for old age pensioners. He kept asking me to go up to tea. Course I knew he had a place of his own and that his wife had been dead eighteen months, but I didn't fancy going up there. Cos yer know what men are dontcha? But I went up Sunday, cooked his dinner for him. Cor it were narf cold up there! ere you ought tar got a fire going for me I says! Why you cold duck he says get under them covers!"
The Arthur Haynes Show was hugely popular in the 60's, and Rita Webb would become one of its regular cast. She was seen week after week in hilarious sketches. Rita also flew to America and appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show" was featured in the programme "Music Hall" made her first appearance on "The Benny Hill Show" and played "Salome" in Ken Russell’s highly controversial TV play"Dance Of The Seven Veils" In a letter dated May 22nd 1969 Rita wrote "How far is 'Salome' from the virgin Mary-it only needs a little imagination! you must watch me in Salome, I wear a woollen body stocking-it will put you off women for life, & save you a lot of money!!" adding "Ken Russell is a lovely bloke!!"
Rita made her first appearance on "Steptoe and Son" in 1965 as "Freda" Harold's aunt in the classic episode "And Afterwards At..."Rita gets to squabble with Gretchen Franklin over some tea towels, after being told that they were used to wash up with, Rita shouts "That's very nice using the presents before you gets married. Well that's that then I won't be able to take them back to the shop now will I? and while I’m about it, I am yer mother's sister yer know, yet I was bung right at the back of the church, while there was other people, not even family mind yer who was..." She gets cut off by Steptoe who shouts "Alright Freda will yer give yer ears a chance" Rita spits back "Oh I realise we were lucky to even be invited at all! And if he had have got married that have been the last we'd seen of him! Why I haven't even had a drink yet..." she gets cut off again as Harold shouts back at her and the rest of the guests, eventually throwing them out of the house!
Rita did Another "Dixon Of Dock Green" in 1965 playing Mrs Noakes in episode "All Clear" her character refuses to leave her poorly furnished slum dwelling when an un-defused bomb has been found. In one scene she reminisces about the war saying "I remember it all, not a thing you could ever forget. Night after night the zoom, zoom, zoom of those devils ahead" Later after being asked by Dixon about the bomb site on the corner she recollects "Just in the corner, now that would have been Mrs Hilton's house...who was it who had it before her? She didn't come 'til after her the war...Ah yes, I remember. Mr and Mrs Nugent, but they were evacuated so it was empty right up until...wait a minute, I don't know about a bomb but there was a bit knocked off the corner of their house when they got back." as the episode progresses and she still won't budge Dixon tells her she will have to go to the church hall, telling her "All your friends will be there" she replies"Friends? Huh, they're all gone. People move out, new ones come. It isn't like the old days, you know. I suppose it's what comes of getting old." (she shakes her head, sadly) Dixon replies "There's still plenty of life left in you" and she bucks up and says "Yeah, and come to think of it, I should hate to think old Hitler Killed me after all!" The episode continues inside the church and after all is clear, Rita finds that she has been burgled of her life savings and remarks "I don't begrudge 'em, but it's us old un's who made it possible. We struggled and skimped ourselves to pay the rates that gave them their education. The good wages and conditions in the factories today was won for them by men like my hubby. Then some dirty rotter goes and steals what little you have. It destroys your faith in your own countrymen, that's what it does."
Rita also appeared on the first episode of "Til Death Us Do Part" she was in one short scened own the local pub singing drunkenly with Alf and co. her second appearance with "The Garnetts" came in 1967 in the bank holiday knees-up special "Til Closing Time Us Do Part" Rita is one of the regulars down the pub, and is teamed up with Arthur Mullard again as her husband, she gets to sing "No One Loves A Fairy When She's Forty" while wearing a short bobbed wig. At the end of the programme she starts singing "Knees up mother brown" and gets everybody up as they dance into the street. Jeffie also appeared in the background as he and a fellow musician supplied the music
TV lost some fine performances over the years. And "Thirty Minute Theatre" was no exception. Many performers thrived in these half hour gems, and Rita Webb had her finest hour in one such play!"Someone's Knocking At Me Door" was a starring role for Rita. Although even the Radio Times seemed to ignore the fact, in that week’s edition, apart from the listing it does not get a mention.
Rita's finest hour may have come, but it was practically ignored by most critics. The play was filmed in colour (although most viewers without the good fortune to own a colour TV, watched on their black and white sets) Rita's part of Lizzie Truckle was played opposite Harry Fowler. Bryan Pringle as 'The White Sudsy Man' also took part, as did Ann Lancaster.
Rita's Lizzie was a tough old bird, with lines like "They warn yer about this in the papers, they do. Watch out for the doorstop sharks, they say. Watch out for the terrible tallyman." and "I Told yer I was skint, didn't I? why, if my 'Arry-boy don't get back wiv his dole money by eight O'clock I won't be even able to go to Bingo."
Rita had trouble getting her character right in rehearsals and wrote to producer Sunny Amey "I read the whole script through very carefully & quietly yesterday, & realised that my whole conception, 'playing' & shouting was all wrong." adding "as you say, I’m so used to learning quickly, & just giving the "gist", but this is different". She also wrote to Sunny after getting a revised script saying "I was also pleased to see on revised script that the part of Lizzie taking her false teeth out had been cut. In any case I wouldn't have done it. 1st because I haven't got false teeth, secondly I regard this as thoroughly sickening & totally unnecessary!! & regard this more obscene than showing your bust, in fact this could be beautiful (not mine of course, too big for beauty) Ha Ha!" Sunny wrote to Rita at the end of filming saying "You were absolutely marvellous throughout the day yesterday, and I think you achieved wonders."
The play and all it's parts may have gone unnoticed, but Rita Webb ended the 1960's on a high, it had been a jubilant decade, with many outstanding performances to her credit.. After 20 years on our TV screens, it is safe to say she truly was "Britain's Best Loved Character Actress!"
Thirty Minute Theatre 1969
60's TV listings
David And Broccoli-26.01.60 as Minnie the maid, BBC
ITV Television Playhouse: A Stop On The Way-11.03.60, as Sleazy landlady Mrs Roxbury
Armchair Theatre: Leather Jungle-10.04.60, ABC as First Women
The Army Game: Holding The Baby-22.04.60, Woman with Pram
The Snapshot Hour-31.08.60, ARTV (Plays wife to George Roderick in a domestic scene with Hughie Green)
Police Surgeon: Lag On The Run-24.09.60-, ABC as Mrs Briggs
Dixon Of Dock Green: All Cats are Grey-01.10.60, as Marge Davies , BBC
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood: EP6 Central Problem-02.11.60 as Mrs Billikin,ARTV
The Love Of Mike: They're Off-07.11.60, ARTV 1960
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood: EP7 The Strangler-09.11.60 as Mrs Billikin, ARTV
Citizen James: The Money-08.11.60, BBC
The Hughie Green Show-1960, Granada
Bootsie And Snudge: There's No Smoke-03/02/61 Shop owner
Churchill's Memoirs The Valiant Years: The Gathering Storm-11.02.61, BBC/ABC, as Housewife
Cheerio Lou-13.03.61, BBC
Deadline Midnight: Bid For Glory-03.06.61, ATV as Mrs Condrini
The Younger Generation: Goodbye Charlie- 08.09.61 as Old Fan,Granada
Citizen James: Crusty Bread-09.10.61, BBC
The Jelly End Strike-13.10.61, BBC as Ada
A Resounding Tinkle-30.11.61, Granada, as Tea Lady
Maigret: Liars-18.12.61, BBC as Old French lady
Citizen James: Washing Day-18.12.61, BBC
Our House-1962 ABC
Comedy Playhouse: Sealed With A Loving Kiss-09.02.62,as Trolley Lady,BBC
Sunday Night Play: The High Mountain-08.04.62, BBC as Second Woman
Citizen James: The Tennis Ball-14.09.62, BBC
Citizen James: The Transistor-12.10.62, BBC
Citizen James: The Librarian-09.11.62, BBC
The Badger Game-30.11.62, BBC, as Ruby
The Dickie Henderson Show Christmas Show-25.12.62, ARTV
Call Oxbridge 2000-25.12.62, ATV as Miss Mander
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Mrs Briggs, living downstairs in seance sketch 23.02.63
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Mrs Briggs, witness in court-09.03.63
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Mrs Briggs, in voting sketch - 13.04.63
Armchair Theatre: Wednesday Caller-26.05.63, ABC as Mrs Beatty
Compact: A Day At The Seaside-04.06.63, BBC as Gipsy Rachel
Tea At The Ritz-06.06.63, Granada, as Mrs Gutter
That Was The Week That Was-23.11.63, appearance cancelled due to Kennedy assassination, BBC
Points Of View-29.11.63, BBC, Reading in vision
No Hiding Place: Solomon Dancey¹s Luck-23.12.63.ARTV as Mrs Briggs
The Arthur Haynes Show-as lady stuck in the window 25.01.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Landlady falling in bath of water 01.02.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Mrs Webb, customer at Bank 15.02.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-Lady with son at Tower Of London - 22.02.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as French Waitress - 07.03.64
The Arthur Haynes Show- as Lady in Laundrette - 21.03.64
Points Of View-23.03.64 (Pre recording date), BBC, Reading
The Arthur Haynes Show-as singer at Church party 28.03.64
The Dickie Henderson Show : The Job-20.05.64
The Dickie Henderson Show:The Formation Dancing Team-27.05.64
The Four Seasons Of Rosie Carr: Summer in Matlock Street-04.07.64, as Granny CarrBBC
Theatre 625 -Women In Crisis: My Grandmother 04.10.64 as Mrs Halliday, BBC2
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Dermot's wife in posh supper club 10.10.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as mother with son watching gorillas at the zoo 17.10.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as woman wanting to buy a dog- 31.10.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-As Dermott's wife at beach in Cannes - 14.11.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-As Nurse with baby in pram in park- 12.12.64
The Frankie Howard Show-18.12.64,BBC
Scott On...Birds-19.12.64 (Special),BBC2
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Landlady with boxer 26.12.64
The Arthur Haynes Show-as guest who sings at annual ball - 02.01.65
The Wednesday Play: Three Clear Sundays- 07.04.65 as Brittania Lee,,BBC
Late Night Line Up-23.04.65, BBC, Interviewed on Career
Liza Of Lambeth: Part 1 Innocence-25.04.65 as Mrs Hodges, BBC Scotland
Liza Of Lambeth: Part 2 Guilt-02.05.65 as Mrs Hodges, BBC Scotland
Scott On...Money-15.05.65, BBC2
Scott On...Food-05.06.65, BBC2
Sunday Night At The London Palladium-06.06.65, ATV, with Arthur Haynes
Late Night Line Up-16.07.65, BBC, Interviewed about Three Clear Sundays
Mogul: Tosh and Nora-04.08.65, BBC, as Mrs Priddle
Late Night Line Up-16.09.65, Interviewed on "What's In", BBC
Steptoe And Son: And Afterwards At- 04.10.65,BBC
The Billy Cotton Show-17.10.65 (recorded), BBC
The Wednesday Play: Up The Junction-03.11.65 as Mrs Harding ,BBC,
Dixon Of Dock Green: All Clear-13.11.65, as Mrs Noakes, BBC (D)
The Arthur Haynes Show-as bus conductress 20.11.65
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Dermott's wife at picnic on golf course - 04.12.65
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Nurse in Psychiatrist's Dream - 11.12.65
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Arthur's wife in job interview - 18.12.65
The Great Metropolis-09.04.66- BBC, as Old Sarah
Wednesday Play: Coming Out Party-22.12.65, BBC, as Floss,
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Arthur's dance partner in song routine & waitress in supper club sketch - 25.12.65
Ed Sullivan Show-1965, CBS (New York)
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Woman at door in Dustman sketch -01.01.66
The Arthur Haynes Show-as cleaner in filming sketch 08.01.66
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Woman next door in room to rent sketch 15.01.66
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Dermott's wife in train excursion sketch 09.04.66
The Arthur Haynes Show- as landlady in Irish son sketch - 16.04.66 with ANTHONY BOOTH/JACKIE TRENT
The Arthur Haynes Show-as Nurse in Casualty sketch & cleaner in Ministry of defence sketch - 23.04.66
The Arthur Haynes Show-as woman at zoo who gets her wig ripped off by a gorilla - 30.04.66
The Frankie Howard Show-01.03.66,BBC
Armchair Theatre: And The Walls Came Tumbling Down-23.04.66, ABC
Late Night line Up-10.05.66, BBC
Till Death Us Do Part: Arguments, Arguments-06.06.66, as Singer, dir: Douglas Argent, BBC
The Ken Dodd Show-07.08.66, BBC
The Ken Dodd Christmas Show-25.12.66,BBC
Mister Aitch: ...Said The Spider To A Fly-16.03.67, ARTV as a French Au pair
Til Death Us Do Part: Til Closing Time Us Do Part-27.03.67, BBC, as Rita, wife to Arthur Mullard
To Lucifer A Son: Comedy playhouse-29.06.67, BBC, as 2nd Woman
Trailer For BBC2 Colour-13.12.67 (filmed)
The Benny Hill Show-26.12.67, ATV
The Golden Shot-1967-ATV
The Dickie Henderson Show: It's My Camera Not Yours-17.03.68 artv
Doddy's Music Box-20/01/68 ITV
Dee Time-06.04.68, BBC
La Palace Of Fun Called 'Cockneyland' Opens In London's East End-07.04.68, Rita arguing with man
Detective: Dover And The Poison Pen Letters:-24.05.68 as Freda Gomersall,BBC1
Orlando: Orlando And The Fifi Affair-24/05/68, as Cockney Landlady Fifi Le Bon-Bon. ARTV
Show Of The Week: The Jimmy Tarbuck Show-21.07.68, BBC
European Eye aka The Search-29/07/68 as Charwoman 20th Century Fox
Show OF The Week: Jimmy Logan-18/08/68 BBC2
Hold On It's The Dave Clark Five-31.08.68, ATV
The Eamonn Andrews Show-17/10/68, Granada
Dee Time-16.11.68, BBC
The Benny Hill Show-11.12.68, BBC
The Jimmy Tarbuck Show-06/12/68 Granada
Bill Tennett Show-1969, BBC
Bruce Forsyth Show-1969, BBC
Dee Time-23.08.69, BBC, Interviewing Covent Garden Porters
The Monday Show-26.08.69, BBC, as Queen Boadicer
Thirty-Minute Theatre: Someone's Knocking At Me Door-19.10.69, BBC, Lizzie Truckle
Music Hall-09.11.69, ATV as Self(NBC in USA as Kraft Music Hall Presents Sandler & Young)
The Ken Dodd Show-26/12/69, ITV
Photos copyright of Geraldine Lewis and Louise Webb
additional photos supplied by Aaron Smith
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