Dierdre Malone

Marginal Presence

Arty Types

This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Oh dear, I do hope I haven’t been naughty again,” Deirdre can be heard remarking to the two BBC employees deferentially escorting her from the radio studio in which she has just taken part in a discussion involving a cabinet minister and a one-time ornament of children’s television. 

Oh no, the two young men assure her as the lift gapes before them; everything went wonderfully well. “And I do hope the microphone wasn’t on when I was chatting to Mrs Badenoch,” Deirdre continues, whereupon everybody present exchanges broad grins, incautious remarks into supposedly switched-off microphones being the principal reason why she is invited into radio studios in the first place.

Unhappily, the chat-show appearances are now turning just the tiniest bit irksome

How old is Deirdre? Eighty-three? Eighty-four? Nobody quite knows, although it is a fact that her earliest walk-ons in TV sitcoms date back to the late 1950s. She has appeared in Pinter plays, graced adverts, trodden the boards at the RSC and, as she will cheerfully admit, made most of her money from a stint as Gladys the under-matron in Whimpering in the Rhododendrons, an ancient but long-running BBC comedy set in a girls’ boarding school. There have also been several autobiographies, with titles like Still Here and Carrying on Regardless. The books are poorly-written and the material is stretched rather thin, but, as no one likes giving bad reviews to National Treasures, they are generally well received.

Just lately, Deirdre has branched out to the point where she may be regarded not as a jobbing actress heading for retirement but as a spokeswoman for her generation. Old people, she loudly maintains — it may be in an interview for the Daily Telegraph or to the audience at the Oldie of the Year Award — are cruelly treated. No one takes any notice of them; their talents are undervalued, governments ignore them and the grandchildren are largely indifferent. At best they may hope to be tolerated by their descendants; at worst they will be dumped in care homes to rot.

The sight of Deirdre in full flow on this topic — on a public platform with the Chief Executive of Age UK and the Archbishop of Canterbury, say, or in front of a parliamentary select committee — is always an arresting spectacle. 

If fingers are jabbed, then “salty language” (Deirdre is a great one for dropping a roguish four-letter word or two) is always apologised for, albeit with the caveat that these are very serious issues bound to stir profound emotions on that part of the demographic which they affect. 

Unhappily, the chat-show appearances are now turning just the tiniest bit irksome, and her latest memoir, Not Dead Yet, has so far failed to find a publisher. The least that can be said of her is that she is a game old girl and, for a self-proclaimed “marginal presence”, very nearly ubiquitous.

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