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What Katy Did

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There's much more to Katy Manning's life than having once been sidekick to Dr you-know-Who.

FRANCES WHITING spoke to the British actress, in Brisbane for a role in the comedy Noises Off

I was totally re-assembled from top to toe. I just wish I could do that now, darling, I'd have everything lifted as well

BRITISH actress Katy Manning doesn't so much enter a room as engulf it. A five foot (1.52m) whirling dervish in capri pants, Manning is a one-woman cabaret whose own show seemingly never closes.

Known to millions of die-hard Dr Who aficionados as Jon Pertwee's one-time assistant Jo Grant, Manning is in Brisbane rehearsing for the Twelfth Night Theatre's comedy Noises Off.

Despite the fact that she still looks young enough to play ingenues ("Only with very good lighting, darling!"), fortysomething Manning seems to have been around forever.

In the '70s she was the good Doctor's perky offsider before moving on to a two-year West End stint with Derek Nimmo in Why Not Stay For Dinner and countless television and stage roles in Britain, the United States and Australia.

In fact, Manning's life has been one long international curtain call.

"Oh, I know, I know, darling," she laughs. "I am the ultimate bag lady, just listen for the rustles. My friends often complain they need private detectives to find me.

"I leave homes all over the world, Australia, one in Los Angeles, one in New York and one in London. This means, of course, I have wardrobes all over the world _ and I still have nothing to wear wherever I am."

Manning doesn't mind a laugh at her own expense and there is no doubt she is seriously funny _ several times during our interview I gave up, put my pen down and just went along for the ride.

But behind the air kisses and the "Don't you think, Darlings?" is an exceptionally strong woman who is a lot braver than she would have you think.

In 1980 Manning left behind a successful career in London when a doctor said her twins, then aged four, would fare better in a warmer climate.

She was on the next plane to Sydney.

"The twins, my daughter Georgie and my son JJ, were born premature and didn't have the strongest immune systems.

"It was all very sudden, I just threw it all in and off I went, two children, two suitcases and one suddenly terrified actress.

"When I arrived it was like, 'Well, here I am ... now what the hell am I going to do?' "

Manning did what she has always done _ got on with it.

What was meant to be a short season in Australia while her twins grew stronger turned into a 15-year run.

And that Manning is here at all is testament to her will. An horrific car accident at 16 left her literally shattered.

"I actually was desperate to be a dancer.

"Dancing was my life and then I had this big car crash which was, I suppose, um, quite bad. It took me two years to recover _ I was totally re-assembled from top to toe.

"I just wish I could do that now, darling, I'd have everything lifted as well."

Manning had to find something else to put her boundless energy into.

"It was literally a case of, 'What's left that works? Your mouth _ so act.' "

If Manning's life has not been one long opening-night party, she's not complaining.

Besides, if it ever gets too tough she can always turn to her best friend Liza.

That's Liza with a Z, by the way. Manning and Minnelli have known each other since they were 12.

They met as "snotty schoolgirls" at Miss Dickson and Miss Wolf's School For Girls in London, an institution Minnelli attended whenever her mother Judy Garland was performing in Britain.

Their first meeting _ "she wore stupid skirts and socks, I wore big thick glasses, it was a match made in heaven" _ ignited a friendship that has survived geographical separations, several decades, quite a few husbands and every drama in the book.

"What can I say about Liza? She's just the most extraordinary person _ always has been.

"When she had to go back to America, we pined for each other, literally pined.

"By that stage I had proved completely useless at school and acquired a private tutor.

"Then we got a call saying Liza is completely useless without Katy and can she come back over? So we were both tutored by Mrs Coin ... lucky old Mrs Coin, can you imagine?

"You know, I hear all this stuff about Judy, I read all this stuff and I find it so different to how I saw her. To us she was just 'mama'. I mean she was a mother to both of us. When we were in London together, she would read us stories, sing to us, we'd all climb on the big bed together and giggle our heads off.

"That woman was full of hugs and kisses _ full of heart. I'm forever grateful I saw the big picture."

In the '80s, Liza and Katy flatted together in New York. Minnelli is godparent to both of Manning's children and together they own a production company Somerset.

"I've just written my first play which Somerset will produce called Not A Well Woman. I said to Liza, 'I've got this idea for a show' and she said, 'Well write it then, Manning'. When I finished it, she said, 'That's marvellous Manning' and I said, 'Yes, now I'm doing it to music'. She said, 'You're mad'."

But Manning went ahead and, with help, has written an original musical score for the production, which is being rehearsed in both New York and London.

Manning will return to New York to work on it after the national season of Noises Off.

No matter where Manning goes, she is always recognised from Dr you-know-Who.

"I went from not being known at all to being in 16 million people's living rooms every night and some of those people still write to me.

"People sometimes ask if I was stereotyped by my Dr Who role, but straight from playing Jo I got a job hosting a terribly proper arts and crafts show on the BBC. I did that by day and then by night I was playing a 16-year-old schoolgirl mass murderer in a TV play.

"Directly after that I got a role playing the first lesbian on British television.

"So no, I don't think I was stereotyped _ not unless you think being a psychopathic lesbian with a passion for macrame is stereotypical," she roars, and once again I have to abandon my pen and join her.

Noises Off plays at the Twelfth Night theatre from Saturday until September 19. Information and bookings on

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  • APA 6th ed.: Whiting, Frances (1998-08-16). What Katy Did. The Sunday Mail (Queensland) p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Whiting, Frances. "What Katy Did." The Sunday Mail (Queensland) [add city] 1998-08-16, 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Whiting, Frances. "What Katy Did." The Sunday Mail (Queensland), edition, sec., 1998-08-16
  • Turabian: Whiting, Frances. "What Katy Did." The Sunday Mail (Queensland), 1998-08-16, section, 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=What Katy Did | url= | work=The Sunday Mail (Queensland) | pages=8 | date=1998-08-16 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=What Katy Did | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024}}</ref>