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Sheila Hancock is one of Britain’s most highly regarded and popular actors, and received an OBE for services to drama in 1974 and a CBE in 2011. Since the 1950s she has enjoyed a career across film, television, theatre and radio. Her first big television role was in the BBC sitcom The Rag Trade in the early 1960s. She has directed and acted for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Her first book, Ramblings of an Actress, was published in 1987.
Following the death of her husband, John Thaw, Sheila Hancock wrote a memoir of their marriage, The Two of Us, which was a no. 1 bestseller and won the British Book Award for Author of the Year in 2004. Her memoir of her widowhood, Just Me, also a bestseller, was published in 2008. She lives in London and France.
The actress’s first novel, we know she can write from her autobiographical work, the award-winning The Two of Us about her life with John Thaw amongst them. This is a chronicle of English society through the second half of the 20th century seen through the life of Marguerite struggling to recover from her experiences with the French Resistance during the Second World War. We go through the lot from her degree from Cambridge (one of the first women to get one) to Aldermaston marches, drugs, hippies, punks, Churchill’s funeral, women’s lib, the permissive society, frozen food, gay liberation, AIDS; you name it, Marguerite was involved. But she must leave all that to find her happiness. I think the author has had great fun remembering it all. Sheila Hancock will be discussing Miss Carter’s War with Kate Mosse at the Bloomsbury Institute on Thursday 23rd October. Click here to find out more and to book tickets.
Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 6 November 2008. In Sheila Hancock’s second memoir she looks at her life moving on, after the death of her husband John Thaw. Both funny and sad this is a book about an experience so many will go through and associate with, learning to cope on your own. Whether you have similar experience or not this is a thoroughly enjoyable book looking back, looking forward and refusing to give up and become invisible. An honest and moving memoir.
It is 1948 and the young and beautiful Marguerite Carter has lost her parents and survived a terrifying war, working for the SOE behind enemy lines. She returns to England to be one of the first women to receive a degree from the University of Cambridge. Now she pins back her unruly auburn curls, draws a pencil seam up her legs, ties the laces on her sensible black shoes, and sets out towards her future as an English teacher in a girls' grammar school. Outside the classroom Britain is changing fast, and Miss Carter finds herself caught up in social upheaval, swept in and out of love and forging deep, enduring friendships.
'Well now, prove it, Sheila. As John would say, Put your money where your mouth is. Be a depressed widow boring the arse off everyone, or get on with life. Your choice.' In The Two of Us Sheila relived her life with John Thaw - years packed with love and family, delight and despair. And then she looked ahead. What next? Gardening, grannying and grumbling, while they all had their pleasures, weren't going to fill the aching void that John had left. 'Live adventurously', a Quaker advice, was hovering around her brain. Putting her and John's much loved house in France on the market she embarked on a series of journeys. She tried holidaying alone, contending with invisibility and budget flights. She tried travelling in a group, but the questions she wanted to ask were never the ones the guide wanted to answer. She tried relaxing - harder than you might think. Finally, heading out of her comfort zone, she found her travels, and the things she discovered, led her back to her past; to consider her generation - the last to experience the Second World War - and the kind of person it made her. Just Me is a book about moving on, but it is also about looking back, and looking anew. Sheila, whether facing down burglars and Easyjet staff or making friends with waiters and taxi drivers, whether unearthing secrets in Budapest, getting arrested in Thailand, exulting in the art of Venice or searching for a decent cup of coffee in Dorset, is never less than stimulating company. Honest - because if you can't say what you think at seventy-three, when can you? - insightful and wonderfully down to earth, she is a woman seizing the future with wit, gusto and curiosity, on her own.
When John Thaw, star of The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, died from cancer in 2002, a nation lost one of its finest actors and Sheila Hancock lost a beloved husband. In this unique double biography she chronicles their lives - personal and professional, together and apart. John Thaw was born in Manchester, the son of a lorry driver. When he arrived at RADA on a scholarship he felt an outsider. In fact his timing was perfect: it was the sixties and television was beginning to make its mark. With his roles in Z-Cars and The Sweeney, fame came quickly. But it was John's role as Morse that made him an icon. In 1974 he married Sheila Hancock, with whom he shared a working-class background and a RADA education. Sheila was already the star of the TV series The Rag Trade and went on to become the first woman artistic director at the RSC. Theirs was a sometimes turbulent, always passionate relationship, and in this remarkable book Sheila describes their love - weathering overwork and the pressures of celebrity, drink and cancer - with honesty and piercing intelligence, and evokes two lives lived to the utmost.
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