HONOR Blackman will probably be forever known as Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore.
She’s proud of her work on the film and has accepted she will always be best remembered for that as well as for Cathy Gale in the 1960s TV show The Avengers, but there is far more to her than those two roles.
So now she is now taking to the stage in conversation with director Richard Digby Day to talk about her childhood, the early days and the many parts she has played in a career that has spanned more than 60 years.
“I’m no longer keen on doing eight weekly performances of a play,” she explains. “When you wake up in the morning you know your work is at night. With this show I can do it when I want to, and I love it.
“I talk about my childhood and my brother and sisters and parents and how I got, step by step, to being well-known.”
Blackman’s career has its roots in elocution lessons she took as a teenager.
Her father had a good job as a civil servant but hadn’t grown up with the same advantages as most of his public school-educated colleagues and felt this had sometimes held him back.
For his daughter’s fifteenth birthday he paid for elocution lessons, aware that for his children growing up in the East End of London, being able to speak ‘the Queen’s English’ could open doors more easily for them.
“I had the most wonderful teacher,” says Blackman. “She opened up a different world to me. She introduced me to Shakespeare and all kinds of poetry.”
The teacher also recognised that Blackman could have a talent for acting and suggested to her parents that she take lessons.
So after leaving school, Blackman began learning her craft while also holding down a job. She then spent the next decade supporting herself as a working actress before her big break came in 1962 when she landed the role of Cathy Gale.
Gale was a breakthrough character in terms of the portrayal of women on television. She was a strong, independent, smart judo expert - a rare sight on 1960s television.
“We were still in a world where women weren’t thought to be intellectually equal to men, and certainly not physically able to defend themselves and Cathy Gale broke down all that,”
“There had never been a character like that on television before, either here or in the US. Even the script writers struggled with it. She was always being slightly subservient, and that wasn’t how we wanted it, so I told them to write for a man and that I didn’t think I would have any trouble letting the audience know I was a woman!”
She certainly didn’t.
Her black leatherclad figure attracted lots of fan mail from men. “But I also got a lot from women saying ‘good on you’,” she says.
But as well as her roles in The Avengers and Goldfinger she has appeared in many films, television shows and plays as well as several musicals including The Sound of Music and A Little Night Music – the latter being one of which she is particularly fond.
Now 88, Blackman’s love for the theatre hasn’t dimmed, but she doesn’t want to take on any big roles and is enjoying the relaxed evenings talking about her early years and her work.
“I just talk about my life,” she says. “Although that has gone on for rather a long time, so I can’t talk about all of it – we’d still be there a year later!”
* Honor Blackman in Conversation. Salisbury Playhouse. Saturday January
18. Visit salisburyplayhouse.com or call 01722 320333 for tickets.