By Jeremy Miles
It’s nearly 30 years since actress Vicki Michelle first wriggled into a saucy French waitress outfit and wrote herself into television history as the sit-com world’s favourite brunette bombshell.
As Yvette Carte-Blanche, love interest of hapless French Cafe owner Rene Artois, Vicki was a mainstay of the long running hit BBC TV comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo.
The 1980s show, set in German occupied Word War II France, followed the exploits of the Resistance. It was a huge success, regularly attracted millions of viewers and lasted longer than the war itself.
When it finally ended after nearly ten years in 1992, Vicki thought she was hanging up her apron for good.
How wrong she was. There would be endless TV repeats, stage spin-offs, specials and now, more than a quarter of a century after ‘Allo ‘Allo first became a viewers favourite, there’s a brand new stage version too. And guess what? Vicki is back again - the only original cast member in the production. René - made famous by Gordon Kaye - is being played by Jeffrey Holland.
A few eyebrows may have been raised when it was announced that, at the age 58, Vicki Michelle had agreed to reprise her role as Yvette. When the show hit the road however she found herself being showered with compliments.
“I’m getting such lovely comments,” she told me. “People saying: ‘You really haven’t changed’ which is so flattering. Of course I’ve changed but I suppose being on stage knocks a few years off and I am lucky, I do seem to be aging reasonably well.”
She puts this down to her genes saying that her 80-year-old mum still looks “absolutely amazing.”
Vicki, who brings the show to Lighthouse in Poole for a week on April 27, says she is actually recognised more often in the street today than she ever was at the height of the show’s success.
“It’s extraordinary: People come up and say: ‘Is it you?’ The other day a woman just ran up and hugged me. I mean how lovely is that?”
I point out that some less generous TV personalities have been known to regard such behaviour as an intrusion of privacy.
Vicki shakes her head: “As long as its not too intrusive I really think it’s par for the course. If you don’t like it you shouldn’t go into acting. I am a people person. I feel that everyone I meet has something to teach me. It’s great way to study characters.”
There are plenty of very colourful characters of course in 'Allo ' Allo, and this new stage production, specially written by original authors Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, has all the old favourites. There’s Mimi la Bonque, Michelle of the Resistance, Herr Flick, General Von Schmelling, Captain Bertorelli, the English airmen...the list goes on.
It is being staged by Calibre Productions - the team behind the recent acclaimed stage version of Dad's Army - The Lost Episodes. With a cast of 16, it finds cafe owner René desperately trying to hide the priceless art work The Fallen Madonna 'with ze Big Boobies’ from the Nazis. What will be his fate if they discover that it is hidden in a giant sausage in the cellar? Adding to René's woes, the French Resistance force him to aid their persistent attempts to return two bumbling British airmen to England, Simultaneously he’s trying to keep his long-running affairs with his two waitresses from his wife, Edith.
Vicki says it may be familiar fare but it proved side-splitting stuff from the first read through.
This, she says, has always been the great strength of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
“I remember when I first auditioned for the show back in the 80s. I couldn’t stop laughing.
“David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, are brilliant writers. You laugh out loud every few seconds. They just know how to structure it.”
She loves the way it appeals to successive generations. “It’s a real family show and because it is still screened on television all the time a new generation of viewers are coming to the theatres. We get nine year olds who watch it with their nans.”
At its height ‘Allo ‘Allo was watched by 14 million viewers a week. Vicki took it in her stride but she remembers that some of her more experienced colleagues quickly worked that something special was happening.
“I remember very early on Gordon Kaye saying: ‘You know what Vicki this will be our pension’... and he was so right.” Kaye clearly wants to keep it as his pension because he turned down an approach to be in the current touring show.
As for Vicki she says she loves being on the road. Britain is such a beautiful country and I think I must have seen most of it by now. She says she’s particularly looking forward to playing Poole because it will give her the opportunity to stay in nearby Bournemouth - one of her favourite seaside towns and many a happy summer season.
In fact during one six week stint on the end of the Pier she found herself turned into a local tourist attraction. “Because I was in town for so long they got me a beach hut and every time that little Noddy train came past they would announce ‘Ladies and gentleman we are now passing Vicki Michelle’s beach hut’ and I’d give them a little wave. I loved it.”
Vicki laments the passing of the golden age of TV comedy saying that, in her opinion, supposedly cutting edge shows like Catherine Tate and Little Britain are just old ideas recycled. “There’s nothing new about it, it’s basically just The Two Ronnies, Dick Emery and Les Dawson brought up to date and made a bit raunchy.
“It’s a terrible shame we’re not having decent comedy anymore because there’s only so much property and gardening you can watch. It’s about time the Tv people woke up to the fact that we need some new ideas and decent programmes. You used to be able to try out comedies and if they worked they worked but if they didn’t there was room for development, you could work on them. Now if you have a comedy and it doesn’t work you’re out on your ear straight away.”
* ‘Allo ‘Allo plays Lighthouse in Poole for a week from Monday April 27.