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Katy's still going bonkers

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Doctor Who cult heroine Katy Manning, who is better known as Tardis-travelling Jo Grant, is back in the North-East with touring play Death By Fatal Murder. She talks to Steve Pratt

IT'S silly, fun and bonkers, " says Katy Manning, summing up the play, Death By Fatal Murder, that brings her to Billingham next week.

I'd use the same three words to describe talking to the actress known to Doctor Who fans as one of the Time Lord's companions Jo Grant.

As befits someone who travelled the galaxy in the Tardis, her own career has taken her from Britain to America and Australia and back again. She's returned to live here, but was on the move again when I called. With the tour on hold for a week, she was moving house.

She's back for good. Well, not quite good because she still responds to calls of work from Down Under, including voicing cartoons. One character is a puppy. "A nine-month-old puppy at my age, Not a thing you want to see, " she adds.

Her partner of 26 years remains in Australia - namely Barry Crocker, known to people of a certain age as Fosters-swilling character Barry McKenzie. "He's such an Australian icon. He's 75.Makesme feel quite young sometimes, " says Manning. "I bought his sewing home with me and then posted it back to him."

Trained as a dancer, she rejected Hollywood at the start of her career for work over here.

Job offers included Jo Grant, a role she reprised recently in The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC.

While she loves being a character actress ("people think, 'I know your face', but I can change my face at the drop of a loofah"), the woman who played Jo Grant is in a world of her own. She was recognised at a book launch only the other night. "The most unexpected and most unlikely people turn out to be fascinating. Whatever event, there's a warmth about Doctor Who, something that appeals to people, " she says.

It was difficult becoming Jo again after 46 years, not least catching up on what was supposed to have happened to her in the intervening years. The success of the series, when Jon Pertwee was playing the doctor, took her by surprise.

"It was Jon's second season and they brought in the real Army and the Master. We had no idea it had turned into a cult. I was very much a now-person in the way I dressed. I even lifted my voice. Jon always said my character was the smallest creature in the world, but sounds like a truck driver.

"Bringing Jo back was absolutely petrifying but I was working with Matt (Smith, the current doctor) and am a great believer that as an actress if you keep working with new, wonderful people you never stop learning or get stuck in performances of the past. The great thing about this business is learning every single day.

"You don't think when you're performing what things are going to do and in Jon's era we got this cult following which took us by total surprise.

Those who came after us in the series all knew what they were going into."

She went from Doctor Who to playing a junkie in TV cop show Target, played the first lesbian on British television and appeared in her first stage play, Why Not Stay For Breakfast? , for two-and- a-half years in London's West End.

Then there was Ophelia in Hamlet and, to emphasis hermulti- skilling, her own arts and crafts show Serendipity. "I can weave, " she explains. She went to Australia for the health of her twins, Georgie and J. "I was a single mother who arrived with two suitcases and two terribly-ill children, " she recalls. "I had no idea what I was going to do and with the telephone number of my friend I was going to stay with.

"I got them healthy again, then I met Barry and started doing a chat show and lots of voice stuff."

Life has, as you can see, been unpredictable.

"I don't plan anything, " says Manning. "Life doesn't really permit planning. If you're going to let it be the adventure it's going to be, you just have to go with it."

With her children grown up and healthy - one over here, one in Australia - she felt she could return to this country. She's been homesick for 26 years. "But I had to be there. I had to do what I had to do. Once I'd done that I had a great life and career. You just keep going, but I'm a woodland Viking, I'm not a sun bunny.

"I've seen every inch of Australia - toured it, worked it, loved it and done things I thought I'd never do, but it's been absolutely wonderful."

London was the obvious choice to settle because "I can't do out of cities" she says. "I can even go riding in London. I just love this city.

The streets are packed with history and I love the amount of people here."

Then she realises she's supposed to be plugging the production, in which her co-stars include familiar TV faces such as Leslie Grantham, Richard Gibson and Michelle Hardwick.

She's already stated she's forgotten how good it is to work with English actors and "everyone in it is so marvellous", she says.

"We all get on which is just as well in a play like this where you need to work as an ensemble.

"It has been such fun to do.

It's silly, fun, bonkers". Which is where we came in.

Death By Fatal Murder: Billingham Forum, Nov 812. Box Office: 01642-552663


Caption: Katy Manning

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