Ten years ago (2012) the film ‘Outside Bet’ was released, based on a book I had written in 2006 with Paolo Hewitt called ‘The Mumper.’
To this day, that sentence is still very surreal for me to write down, but it got even madder, once the casting process for the film got under way. I’d get these random phone calls, to say that ‘Jenny Agutter had signed on’ or ‘Bob Hoskins has attached himself to it’ and ‘We’ve now got Rita Tusingham to play ‘Martha’.’ I’m sure you can imagine my face on my days on set, seeing the likes of those legendary actors arrive for work.
As a student of all things 1960’s, I was, and I remain, a massive fan of Rita’s work, especially the film ‘A Taste of Honey.’ She was born in the March of 1942 in Garston, Liverpool, the daughter of a successful greengrocer. Whilst at convent school, she found she enjoyed taking part in the school plays, though she trained at secretarial college, upon leaving. But her first love wouldn’t be denied however, as her heart was set on a life on the stage. After some initial training at a local drama school, she became an assistant stage manager at Liverpool Playhouse, where she’d earn £1 a week and have the occasional walk-on role.
Then came her big screen debut in 1961, as ‘Jo’ in the aforementioned ‘A Taste of Honey,’ written by Shelagh Delaney and directed by Tony Richardson, which made her a star overnight . She had seen an advert for the role in the local paper and was picked from thousands of applicants.
‘He (Tony) saw something in me. Thank God for him, otherwise it might never have happened for me. I (then)quit as assistant stage manager at Liverpool Playhouse. We shocked audiences without intending to. I only learned later that Paul and I did the first interracial kiss on screen. … A lot of the reaction was, ‘People like that don’t exist’ – by which they meant homosexuals, single mothers and people in mixed-race relationships. But they did.’
Due to most of its subject matter, the film was banned in several countries, but her work in it won her the Most Promising Newcomer Bafta and the Best Actress award at Cannes in 1962, as well as a Golden Globe in 1963.
With her large eyes and quirky looks, she became the face of the new breed of actresses coming through, and soon followed up with other iconic film work, including ‘The Leather Boys’ in 1964 (clips of which appeared in the video for ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ by The Smiths of course) ‘The Knack…and How To Get it’ which went on to win The Palme d’Or at Cannes, and ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ both in 1965 as well as ‘Smashing Time’ in 1967, with a script by jazz vocalist and writer George Melly.
On ‘Smashing Time‘ she said ‘It was all very tongue in cheek, but people didn’t get that at the time.’
Alongside her cinema work during that period, she continued to act on stage including a Shakespearian stint at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square as part of the English Stage Company.
She married photographer Terry Bicknell , in 1962 and had two daughters. Aisha and Dodonna. They divorced in 1976. She then married Ousama Rawi and later lived with German writer Hans Heiunrich Ziemann.
When the 1960s ended, so did a lot of the quality film offer’s here in the UK, so instead, she continued to act all over Europe and ended up living in Canada for a few years.
‘I thought the ‘60s in London was normal, so when it stopped it was a shock.’
In 1999, Rita received the big red book treatment on the TV show ‘This Is Your Life’ and in 2009, she received an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University ‘For contributions to the performing arts.’
She has always been and remains to this day, a passionate supporter of Liverpool FC.
Following her daughter Aisha’s breast cancer diagnoses, Rita has become very prominent in campaigning in support of breast cancer treatment, helping to also raise awareness of the disease.
It was great to see I saw her recently in the excellent BBC series ‘The Responder’ where she played the mother of the star of the show, Martin Freeman.
Here’s Rita on her career – ‘I didn’t think of the camera. I wasn’t intimidated by it. I love the camera and I think because of that I let it in. Some people might be amazing on stage but it’s strange – the camera doesn’t get anything from them. Ignorance is a wonderful thing. You do things when you’re young. Like kids that drive at eighty miles an hour. You just do it without realising what it means.’
The Mumper of SE5
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 2 – AVAILABLE NOW
THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Rhoda Dakar
Available to ORDER here
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 1
THE SPEAKEASY Volume One by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Gary Crowley
ART GALLERY CLOTHING
Sign up to our newsletter and receive an exclusive promo code, latest news & Art Gallery Clothing offers.