British Icon of the Week: Dame Patricia Routledge, the Actress Who's Been 'Keeping Up Appearances' for 70 Years
(Photo: Getty Images)
Dame Patricia Routledge celebrates her 92nd birthday today (February 17), so we’re marking the occasion by making her our British Icon of the Week. Here’s a fond reminder of some of her many achievements since she launched her acting career in the early ‘50s, not least playing Hyacinth Bucket – it’s pronounced “bouquet,” remember – in the beloved ‘90s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.
1. She knew she could play Hyacinth Bucket to perfection as soon as she was approached.
"I was sent a pile of scripts by the director. I read them and immediately thought to myself: I can net this woman up," Routledge told Gold. "It was very clear to me what she was and that I could really sink my teeth into the part. But I didn't expect it to take off the way it did."
2. She loved working with the great Sidney Poitier on To Sir, with Love, a socially conscious 1967 movie set in a tough East End school.
Routledge describes Poitier as someone with "the concentration, the commitment, the stillness, and the generosity" to give a great performance. "I just had one scene alone with him – and he gave it to me," she recalled in a 2017 interview with Australia's Studio 10. "He came into the classroom and he sat immediately with his back to the camera. He was wonderful."
3. But she suffers no fools, and says she's never been starstruck.
In the same interview, Routledge says that Jerry Lewis was "outrageous" and an "absolute nightmare" when they worked together on the 1968 comedy film Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River. Apparently, they had to do the same take 14 times – even though the director was happy after two – because Routledge thinks Lewis "wanted to break my spirit, really."
4. She's an accomplished stage actress who's won a Tony and an Olivier.
She won her Tony award in 1968 for her performance in the musical Darling of the Day and her Olivier 20 years later for her work in a revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide.
Routledge's singing voice is genuinely impressive – check out her incredible rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music.
5. She still gets Keeping Up Appearances fan mail from all over the world.
"They say, 'My dad's been laughing at a woman like you across the road.' There are people like Mrs B everywhere," she told The Guardian a few years ago, adding: "If everything focuses on that [character], it's just too silly. But it would be churlish of me not to appreciate what it's brought me. If a good number of people come into a theater because they know me from the dreaded Mrs B, I couldn't be happier."
6. She also starred in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, a BBC detective drama series from the '90s.
Her co-star was a young Dominic Monaghan, who has described Routledge as an "amazing teacher." He explained to People a few years ago, "She taught me some very valuable lessons that I still use to this day. She told me to conserve my energy and that sometimes when the angle of the camera is not on me, I still have to give her something, which I hadn't really realized. She's quite strict, and I struggled with it at the time because I was only 18, but I realize that she was only helping me out and I appreciate it a lot now."
7. She starred in the first-ever Talking Heads monologue by Alan Bennett.
In 1982's "A Woman of No Importance," Routledge gives a poignant performance as an office worker who's less cherished by her colleagues than she thinks she is. Routledge later starred in another two Bennett monologues, delivering a BAFTA-nominated performance in 1988's "A Lady of Letters."
8. She also showed her flair for monologues in the classic Kitty sketches written by Victoria Wood.
In these somewhat surreal '80s sketches, Routledge plays the title character, a middle-aged busy-body who gets to voice her rather old-fashioned and staunchly held views on TV. Routledge clearly relishes Wood's clever wordplay and quirky turn-of-phrase.
9. She was made a Dame in 2017 for services to entertainment and charity – and threw a lunch party for 20 people to celebrate.
Routledge told the Press Association on the day that she was "very thrilled" to receive her honor from Prince Charles. "He just loves actors and he is our much-appreciated patron of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund," she added. "He said, ‘at last somebody’s noticed.’ He said how pleased he was [for me], and a little more.”
10. In 2019, she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from University of Chester for her contributions to theater and television.
Routledge's speech really shows off her natural eloquence and super-crisp enunciation – a true Dame!
Many happy returns, Dame Patricia Routledge!