Allo Allo star Vicki Michelle hits out at content warning for show
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“It’s silly nonsense,” says Sue Hodge, the actress who played man-hungry waitress Mimi Labonq in the long-running war-time sitcom. “People are frightened to say anything these days, in case someone gets ‘offended’. Even with pantomimes. Aladdin might be banned for cultural appropriation. It’s nuts. It’s a traditional fable which has been performed as a panto for more than 200 years.”
Sue, 65, who has a streaming cold from playing the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, goes on: “Buttons used to greet the Fairy Godmother with ‘Goodness it’s Ann Widdecombe’ but we can’t say that any more for reasons that defy logic.
“It’s just a bit of fun! They won’t shut up and let the rest of us enjoy ourselves!
“I can’t understand why everything is aimed at people under forty now. Millions aren’t getting the comedy they want – good family entertainment, no foul language, just pure comedy that leaves you screaming with laughter.
“There is nothing clever or witty or warm about most modern comedy. It’s just cheap and offensive.”
Comedy runs through Essex-born Sue’s veins like ‘Southend’ through a seaside rock. The acting career started early, she made her TV debut at 14 on BBC1’s The Dick Emery Show in 1973.
“Dick was lovely, like a kindly grandfather. I did my first panto that year in Jack And The Beanstalk at the Cliff’s Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea, with Charles Hawtrey and Peter Glaze from Crackerjack.”
She’d trained as a dancer from the age of five, “But when I got to 14, I stopped growing…” She’s 4ft 9.
After attending the Corona Theatre School, Hodge had a four-year run in Toad Of Toad Hall at the Old Vic.
Her next role, in A Midsummer’s Night Dream was the game-changer. Hodge played fairy Peaseblossom alongside Richard E Grant as Lysander and Natasha Richardson’s Helena in the New Shakespeare Company production, at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.
Time Out described Grant’s performance as ‘more wooden than the surrounding Regent’s Park trees’. So on behalf of the cast, Sue affectionately presented him with a spoof award – an inscribed plank.
“I asked if the ‘E’ in his name stood for elm,” she laughs.
One audience member lapping up tiny Peaseblossom’s gigantic performance was David Croft – co-writer, with Jonathan Lloyd, of ’Allo ’Allo!
Croft later said that if Sue had been born two generations earlier, she’d have been “a female Charlie Chaplin”.
Hodge recalls, “He cast me that August, but nobody told me about it until February.
“I was in rep in Colchester and got a call from my agent, saying I had to go David Croft’s house the next day,” she recalls.
“I said, ‘I can’t, it’s the end of show rap party’ and she yelled, ‘Get yourself down there, madam!’.”
Sue, who joined the BBC1 sitcom in series four, laughs. “By the end of that year I couldn’t walk down the street without someone shouting, ‘Allo Mimi’…”
Before that, her biggest screen role was playing one of the Forces Of Darkness in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian comedy Brazil.
Croft and Lloyd’s daft farce – a parody of the BBC drama, Secret Army – was a different level of bonkers. Set in Nazi-occupied France, it revolved around café owner Rene Artois, a reluctant Resistance hero and unlikely sex symbol played by the late Gorden Kaye.
The series ran for 85 episodes over ten years and is repeated to this day. As are its catchphrases – “Good moaning” and “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.”
Why was it so popular? “Because people were allowed to laugh out loud with comedy legends,” Sue says emphatically. “People are crying out for comedy now, but they don’t make them like this anymore.”
Pocket-rocket Mimi (from Paree) fitted in well with fellow waitress Yvette Carte-Blanche, Gestapo creep Herr Flick and the rest, not to mention the much-sought-after Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies.
“The make-up was amazing,” Sue recalls. “In one episode, they turned me into a bald-headed butler with one tooth. I was so much like Richard O’Brien, I looked like I was going to break into the Time Warp.
“Another time I was hanging upside down outside the café as a Patagonian fruit bat.
“You’ll have to buy my book to find out about the flying nun episode. I had a stunt double who got paid for doing nothing! That’s all I’m going to say…I ending up doing all my own stunts.”
One classic scene involved Lt Gruber and Colonel von Strohm in ill-fitting false teeth.
“Not only did it alter their appearance but also their voices,” she laughs. “They couldn’t speak!
“David always wanted to get the show done on first takes, but with them it got up to take 32!! The audience were in hysterics. We all were.”
The final episode aired in 1992, but fifteen years later the ’Allo ’Allo! stage play opened at the London Palladium, penned by Croft.
It ran there for six months, then toured the provinces before hitting Australia for five months, then New Zealand and Bulgaria – where the show had aired for 23 consecutive years. “We watched a live performance of the Bulgarian version with the scripts in Cryllic. We couldn’t understand a bloody word but we knew every word of it.”
Sue was born in Orsett, Thurrock. “My father was an unwell man, he’d died by the time I was 15; my mother was a John Lewis upholsterer. I’ve got one younger sister, a therapist – that’s handy, Harry, isn’t it?”
In 2002 she married Keith ‘Paddington’ Richards who she met at the Theatre Royal, Chichester, when he was Musical Director for Jack & The Beanstalk.
“I hated his song for my character, so I asked him to rewrite it and two years later he proposed…”
Keith praises Sue’s big heart and helpful nature, but claims that she and Vicki Michelle “keep the French wine economy booming”.
When they started dating, David Croft invited them to dinner. “I think he wanted to vet me,” he jokes.
Sue was close to Rene star Gorden Kaye. “Some people found him difficult to work with – he wasn’t. I watched him every night and it was like watching a masterclass.”
Kaye died in 2017. “I knew he was going to go but when it happened it was devastating. He was the best man at my wedding in Australia – he was best man twice because we had another ceremony here.”
In 2015, Sue was invited to take part in a comedy-themed cruise with Jeffrey Holland, Sue Holderness and the late John ‘Boycey’ Challis.
On the ship she told the director about her idea for a stage show, which became Mimi & Me (’Allo Again). He advised her to write her book, Mimi’s Memoir.
“I self-published it but then my agent sent the manuscript to publisher Austin Macauley and they’ve taken it on, it’s going really well.
“I’m putting together the sequel now. I don’t really relax. I’m busy all the time, re-inventing things, re-inventing myself. I love writing, I love musical shows.
“I’m patron of Lamberhurst School of Theatre Dance near Tunbridge Wells. I like teaching younger generations, passing on my experience and knowledge.
“I’m helping create the Easter panto, Alice In Easterland, directing and co-writing it, then I have two cruises and summer school with the kids. Keeping busy.
“I enjoy working with the younger generation, I don’t want to stop!”
She misses great TV comedy. “People can’t understand the other style – that’s why they’re still watching Dad’s Army. I like Gavin & Stacey, that’s a good script. But the rest…
“Bring back decent, good old British humour – funny faces people know and love. Jasper Carrott, Russ Abbot, Mick Miller is brilliant…They won’t be replaced.
“There’s nothing wrong with Les Dawson’s mother-in-law jokes or Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman gags.
“We used to send ourselves up, that’s the British way. It’s our humour, laughing at ourselves. We need to learn how to do it again. We used to laugh our socks off.
“We can’t do things we should be able to do anymore and it’s not right.”
- Mimi’s Memoir: Allo Allo! by Sue Hodge is out now.
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