Glorious tintanabulations, I am being visited by that unicorn of London phenomena, a house call from a doctor. I can’t go back to the Chelsea & Westminster or UCL after the two rejections so have decided I might be best to try again at Tommies. I had cancer treatment there in my twenties by an astounding specialist called Doctor Timothy who had looked after Ingrid Bergman in her last illness. Tommies is much closer than the Chelsea & West and I have the South Bank to keep me entertained if I actually do get referred to a room. Don’t hold your breath…
Patience is now severely tried (what else is new?). On a foray to Waitrose in the Brunswick Centre today, a Chinese girl was ahead of me in the cash point queue. Well, she systematically and with the pace of a somnambulist used three different cards, printed receipts, tucked her currency into her Hello Kitty purse and seemed entirely oblivious to the queue. Well, I went loco. After giving her a piece of my mind, she turned to me with the look of a pinched kitten and said ‘you no good man’. ‘Yes’, says I, ‘and you are short and selfish’.
When life throws shade at you, there comes the time to decide not to take it lying down. One of my heroines is a TV character called Dolly Rawlings as written by Lynda La Plante and played by the formidable Ann Mitchell. Dolly was married to a London gangster called Harry Rawlings. He planned meticulous heists but was allegedly killed when a job turning over a security van went wrong in the underpass on Southampton Row just down the road from Bloomsbury Towers.
Of course the police are all over Dolly and, in an act of righteous anger, she decides to gather the widows of the gang who died in the heist and pull the job to instructions left by Harry in his ledgers. The first series follows the widows as they prepare and execute the job that was a mirror image of the heist that killed their late husbands.
The acting and writing for Widows is sensational but it is really Ann Mitchell’s show. Dolly has to be hard as nails. She is canny and she is fearless. She is also a vulnerable woman mourning the loss of the love of her life, Harry. She has a poodle called Heidi that she mothers like a child. As you may know, there was another two series of Widows: the last called She’s Out. Dolly is solid as a rock throughout while the other widows grow hysterical and gradually unhinged by the money and their nerves.
The last series, She’s Out, is a two-hander between Dolly and her nemesis as played by Lynda Bassett. Lynda Bassett is a very raw, visceral actress. She plays a feral, lesbian nightclub hostess/blackmailer who is jealous of Dolly and wants to stitch her up. Spoiler alert, series two ends with a diamond heist that Dolly gets away with despite losing two of her team. She is jailed but hid the diamonds until her release.
Once out, Dolly discovers the diamonds have been replaced by paste. The culprit is a Cockney slattern whose dead daughter Shirley was one of the original widows. Dolly goes after Audrey and, when threatened, tells her ‘I’ll do ten for you’ as in ten years for murder. It was one of our catchphrases at The Yard when we had an unfaithful boyfriend or a difficult customer.
So I am channelling Dolly Rawlings at the moment to get through the days until I can finally reclaim my health. Anyway, back to Dolly. I have never met Ann Mitchell though she is now going great guns on Eastenders as, coincidentally, was Lynda Bassett. Eastenders has outclassed Coronation Street for those strong women scripts. Now I’m not entirely sure why I always identify with the ballsy women characters on screen but I do. In childhood it was Coronation Street queens Bet Lynch, Annie Walker and Pat Phoenix. Later it was Siän Philips’s portrayal as the Empress Livia in I, Claudius.
But, even now, Ann Mitchell as Dolly Rawlings stands head and shoulders above them all. I return to Widows at least once a year and can practically recite every line. Perhaps what draws me most to Widows is the ‘London in the 1980s’ locations. It was shot in a lock-up under the arches in Kings Cross, at the late lamented women’s day spa, The Sanctuary, in Covent Garden and various Soho strip clubs, cemeteries and dens of iniquity. Much of the world of Widows is now lost.
There is an extended episode of another Lynda La Plante masterpiece, Prime Suspect, that is a particular favourite and very pertinent. I think it is Prime Suspect 3 in which Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennyson investigates a Soho kiddy-fiddling ring centred around an advice centre headed by a charismatic but ultimately corrupt human being. Much of the nightclub filming is centred around Madame Jojo’s, now closed though slated to reopen after a redesign. I am sure the new Jojo’s will be not dissimilar to what happened after Ronnie Scott’s had a face-lift. But nothing lasts forever…