Mariam Margolyes proves an irresistible, mischievous force

BBC Broadcaster Samira Ahmed in conversation with Miriam Margolyes

Millie Porter, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

Clever, self-critical and always brutally honest, award-winning actor Miriam Margolyes brings laughter and joy to Wimbedon Bookfest’s Sunset Festival 2021 in her new memoir, This Much Is True, covering everything from sex in Britain to Australia’s racist culture.

“For eleven years my parents did not conceive. One night there was an air raid and mummy let daddy in, I suppose.”

Born during Second World War and raised in Oxford in a Jewish family, Margolyes attended Oxford High School and Newnham College, Cambridge where she read English and acted in the Footlights Comedy Review. Education was important. Her mother had left school at 14 to work in a dress shop and was intensely conscious there was a whole other world that her lack of status and education denied her access to. Margolyes’ parents were adamant their child would experience the life they couldn’t.

Margolyes credits her confidence and directness to her upbringing, asserting that it doesn’t matter what gender each parent is: “If children are loved and they know they are loved, they can start life with confidence”.

After university, Margolyes entered the world of radio but truly wanted to be on the stage. “England won the world cup in 1966,” Margolyes told her audience, going on to explain that she remembers the magical year, because it was when she moved to Leister, joined a repertory theatre company and acted in a play written by a friend at Cambridge.

Shockingly, Margolyes dealt with some “misogynist, antisemitic, nasty young men,” when entering the world of the performing arts. “I cannot get out of my head the studied brutalities of those minor public schoolboys” Margolyes said, explaining that she named names in her memoire - including John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Tony Hendry and Tim Brook-Taylor - because she wanted to “Jolly well tell them off publicly,” But despite her young experiences in a male-orientated comedy world, Margolyes feels no bitterness as her life has been “blessed”.

Samira Ahmed praised the book as ‘A wonderful manual for any budding actor or actress. Not just full of history and so much of the great work you’ve done. But there is so much in there about how to perform, how to use your voice for radio… And it’s fair to say, some naughty stories as well.’

Margolyes expressed pleasure that Ahmed picked up on the professional anecdotes and advice as well as the shockers that newspapers had used for easy headlines. “I didn’t want to put absolutely everything in because it would hurt some people and disturb the wives of others” she confessed mischievously.

A born performer whose skills have been honed across the years, performing much-loved roles in classics such as Black Adder, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, James and the Giant Peach, and of course Mrs Sprout in Harry Potter, Miriam Margolyes filled the stage with fun, honesty, and some truly unforgettable stories.

Mariam Margolyes's This Much Is True is available to buy from the links below: