Penelope Keith: “There are areas of our country that are really quite wild”

We asked the actress why she wanted to make another series about villages – and whether she's always been a country bumpkin

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Are you considering selling up and moving to one of the villages in this series?

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I live in a village anyhow and that’s my perfect village. But it was lovely discovering all these different places. I had not been to that part of the west of Scotland and it was extraordinary up there – so beautiful. And I hadn’t been to the outer reaches of Wales, to Pembrokeshire.

The west coast of Scotland certainly looked lovely. Did the tourist board arrange for it to be so sunny?

It was that week in June when the whole of the south-east had thunderstorms and floods, and on the west coast of Scotland it was just the most glorious weather. Having taken tons of jerseys, everyone was stripping off. We went to Bute, Easdale and a lovely little island called Gigha. 

So why did you want to make another series about villages?

They tend to concentrate on urban situations on the television; they forget there is a whole population and an economy out there, and people do still live on the land and in small communities. I was aware of what life in the country is like – I’ve never farmed or anything, but I knew a bit about it. In the country there is a more of a sense of community and a sense of helping others. People say: “Oh dear, everybody knows what you’re doing.” Yes, but they also know when you need help.


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Have you always been a country bumpkin?

I was born in Surrey and went to school by the sea, but I grew up in London and thought of myself as a Londoner. It’s only since I’ve been in Surrey – I’ve been here for 38 years now – I think of myself as a country person. People forget that Surrey is the most wooded county in the land; they think it’s just the borders of London. But when you get into deep Surrey, it really is quite country.

Did The Good Life inspire the move?

No, I don’t think any of the parts I’ve played have inspired me to do anything! When I made The Good Life, I was living in London and I had a garden. I was the only one of the four of us who was the gardener. I used to take in apples from my garden and spare plants.

You try your hand at all sorts in this series. Anything you weren’t keen on?

I was asked to get into a coracle in Wales and I thought: no, I don’t think I’ll do that.

What was the highlight?

In North Yorkshire, I went up in one of those pre-Second World War planes and flew over the moors. I didn’t have to take my own elastic band but it only seated the two of us. There are areas of our country that are really quite wild and that was fascinating to see from the air.

I’d never ridden in a sidecar before, which was surprisingly comfortable. When I was younger, I had an open-top car and it was a nightmare because one’s hair blew all over the place and it was damn cold. But it wasn’t windy at all in a sidecar. 

Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages is on Wednesdays Channel 4 8pm


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