What’s on Wayne: I’ll never forget my chat with Lynda Bellingham

The late Lynda Bellingham, who starred in Calendar Girls at the Ipswich Regent

The late Lynda Bellingham, who starred in Calendar Girls at the Ipswich Regent - Credit: Archant

Unfortunately, one in three of us will have cancer Lynda Bellingham told me in 2011 as we chatted about her visit to the Ipswich Regent with Calendar Girls. How sadly prophetic she was.

Bellingham as the Oxo mum

Bellingham as the Oxo mum - Credit: PA

The 66-year-old, a high-profile supporter of Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, died in her husband’s arms at a London hospital on Sunday just two months after deciding to end her treatment for colon cancer which had spread to her lungs and liver.

The original calender girls were a group of ladies from a Yorkshire branch of the WI who stripped off to raise money for charity, raising more than £3million for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research to date.

Bellingham, like so many others, was moved by the true account of how cancer affects those it touches; adding how empowered women felt after seeing the play. She loved the role of Chris, which she originated on stage; playing her on the pre-West End tour, in the West End production and several UK tours.

“It’s a tribute to the play that I could bear to do it more than once... when they release the rights for the amateur side of it it’ll be fantastic because there’ll be people all over England taking their clothes off,” she laughed.

She was in the back of a noisy London cab after recording the voiceover for Channel 4’s fly on the wall series Being N-Dubz when I called.

“They’re very north london, very ‘init bro, hit it up for the London crew’,” she laughed in a convincing “yoof” accent. “I’m quite posh in the voiceover; everytime they swear I come in with ‘well really, I don’t think you should be doing that’.”

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We laughed a lot during that 15-minute cab ride.

About the look of horror on the face of every new Calendar Girls cast member when they realised they had to take their clothes off and the following sense of liberation once they had. How she wanted a marvellously eccentric cameo in a big American film and win an Oscar for best newcomer at 75 and how people should write to Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat campaigning for her character the Inquisitor, last seen in 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord, to return.

Forever etched in our minds as the Oxo mum, Bellingham was keen to revive the character.

“I approached Oxo about coming back as a granny or a divorcee but they didn’t want to do it. I thought the company missed a trick by not bringing her back in the era of the older woman.”

She defied her Mrs Mum image by playing The Bill’s villanous Irene Radford.

“People go ‘oh you’re that lovely mum’... I felt like saying ‘there are bad mothers just as there are good ones, I could play a bad mum’. TV is not known for its bravery in casting, they cast you in the obvious and once you’re in your pigeon hole you stay there. I wrote to them (The Bill’s producers), sent in my picture and asked ‘please if there was anything I could play’.”

It was perfect timing, with producers thinking how brilliant would it be to have somebody with the image of the Oxo mum playing the nasty.

“I was only going to do five or six episodes but stayed six months.”

A fan of live theatre - “It always has such heart,” she said - Bellingham was a lot like Calendar Girls’ Chris. Passionate and a doer.

Her acting career included the title role in sitcom Faith In The Future - one of her favourites, she told me - and regular stage roles. She also took part in the 2009 series of Strictly Come Dancing, was a panellist on ITV show Loose Women and an author.

“I feel I represent women of a certain age now who historically have always been a bit invisible and I’m detemined to get us out there... I’m making myself not invisible,” she laughed.

“There are lots of roles I’d still like to do... I’ve always had a secret yearning to do Lady Macbeth but I don’t think I’ll get that chance,” she laughed.

Sadly not.