Tracey Ullman: “we have wonderful older actresses in this country who aren’t afraid to look old”

Veteran comedian talks to Radio Times about her stock of new – and older – female characters who feature in her return to British TV after 30 years away

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British actresses are not afraid to look their age on screen, according to veteran comedian Tracey Ullman who is returning to UK TV later this month with her first comedy in her home country in thirty years.

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Tracey Ullman’s Show starts on BBC1 next Monday with an array of sketches and spot-on impersonations of some of Britain’s older actresses including Dame Judi Dench (below) and Maggie Smith among others. And Ullman says that this is made possible because the British acting world is replete with women happy to look their age. 

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“I just think we have wonderful older actresses in this country who aren’t afraid to look old,” Ullman says in this week’s edition of Radio Times.

“In fact, when America needs a mother they have to import one of ours because sometimes American women have done so much to their faces, they don’t want to look over 60! So I just admire them and thought it was fun to try and be them, and I hope they take it in good spirits.”

In the new show, Ullman’s Dench is an inveterate kleptomaniac, a hooligan who enjoys nothing more than destroying the property of her co-stars for the thrill of getting away with it. “But I am a national treasure,” simpers Ullman as the legendary actress.

“I wanted to do a series of national treasures, which I think we have in England,” explains Ullman. “I’ve been Helen Mirren before on a show I did, and so… we just thought that was a great component of the show. Who knew Judi Dench was a kleptomaniac?  I think she’ll find it funny…I hope so.”

Episode one also depicts Dame Maggie Smith auditioning for a sci-fi show and Ullman admits that the mimicry of the Downton Abbey star was difficult to master.

“Maggie’s really hard I think it’s really interesting to know that Maggie Smith was Kenneth Williams’ flatmate years ago. And you listen to her voice and you think there’s a slight Kenneth Williams in there! So maybe it rubbed off on her all those years ago.”

Ullman was the first woman to be offered her own sketch show – both here and in America – the first pop star to put a politician in her music video, the first foreign female comic with a hit show on US TV and the woman who discovered The Simpsons.

But she has been mainly based in the US for the past thirty years. And, despite her glittering track record, she says that her time out of the limelight in the UK has meant that she is now rarely recognised in her native country. 

“I am always anonymous, always sitting on the Tube next to people, and I go to the BBC and people think I’m Julie Walters! People have no idea who I am!”

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Tracey Ullman’s Show begins on Monday January 11 on BBC1 at 10.45pm 

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For more of the interview with Tracey Ullman buy the next issue of Radio Times – which offers a free DVD of David Attenborough’s Rise of Animals – available in stores and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 5th January 
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