I have never made any secret of my love for Patricia Routledge who I consider one of the great performers in my lifetime of theatre going. I first saw her in 1967 at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in the Broadway bound Darling of the Day (though it may have been called Married Alive at that point). It was a show that changed titles almost as often as it changed directors and sadly folded after 31 performances in New York. Blame for its failure was laid at many door steps – leading man Vincent Price, the work of five various book writers, even Jule Styne’s music and Yip Harburg’s lyrics came in for some criticism. But the praise for Patricia Routledge was unanimous and she was – howbeit briefly – the toast of Broadway. Her next Broadway appearance was to repeat the story: Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Learner’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was savaged by the critics and lasted seven performances after a tortuous try-out period. But on opening night Patricia Routledge received a mid-show standing ovation for her performance of “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)”. And on closing night the orchestra stopped the show to give standing-voice to their delight and approval. Flop or not that’s one show I wish I had seen. Routledge was to receive Tony Awards for both these shows.
I was to see her again the summer of 1969 on stage at Chichester in Pinero’s The Magistrate holding her own with Alastair Sim who was giving what was considered by many as his greatest onstage performance. It was one of those theatrical events that stays in my mind until today. For Routledge it was only the first of her many appearances at the Festival in comedy, musicals and drama.
She makes Chichester her home and works tirelessly for local and national charities both church and theatre related. It was for these efforts as well as her theatrical work that her name appeared on the 2017 New Year’s Honours List. On Friday a very smartly attired Patricia Routledge arrived at Buckingham Palace and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for her services to the theatre and charity work. At her investiture Prince Charles recognized that it was an long overdue honour for the 88 year performer.
Though she is best know for the widely-viewed Keeping Up Appearances her television career has included the proto-type for what was to become Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, murder mysteries, drama and comedy. On stage most of her initial successes were in musicals – which comes as a surprise to anyone who every heard her Hyacinth Bucket vocalize for poor Emmett. In a recent interview she said that you have to be a good singer to be able to sing off key. Anyone who has listened to that episode would draw the conclusion that she must be a great singer.
Here she is giving proof of what had the critics and audiences on their feet back in 1967-68 in the eleven o’clock number from the ill-fated Darling of the Day: Not On Your Nellie!
Around the same time she appeared as the Mother Superior in a studio recording of The Sound of Music. Where the previous clip showed a bit of the Broadway belter this excerpt is almost operatic.
Though she has slowed down a bit she is still tours doing two shows: Admission: One Shilling about the Wartime concert pianist Myra Hess and Facing The Music – reminiscing about her career on the musical theatre stage.
Congratulations Dame Patricia – there truly isn’t nothing like a Dame!
Some other appearances by Dame Patricia on Willy Or Won’t He:
As the very opinionated and not at all shy Kitty on Victoria Wood: Lunedi Lunacy
A very rare early recording of popular songs: Mercoledi Musicale
On this day in 1807: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, becomes the first passenger-carrying railway in the world.