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Maureen Lipman: ‘I smuggled £200 into Spain in my knickers’

·6-min read
maureen lipman - John Nguyen/JNVisuals
maureen lipman - John Nguyen/JNVisuals

Dame Maureen Lipman, 76, is an actress, writer and comedian who has worked in film (Up The Junction, The Pianist), theatre (the National and the RSC as well as one-woman shows) and television (Agony and Coronation Street). She was made a Dame in 2020. Widowed, she lives alone in west London.

How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?

My mother, Zelma, was quite thrifty but then she’d been raised with little money. I never wanted for anything. Once married, my mother stinted herself when she could have afforded nicer things. Then, when I’d made a few bob and bought my parents a car, for instance, they were grateful but it made my mother uncomfortable. She felt it was the wrong way round.

My dad, Maurice, owned a gentlemen’s outfitters and he was hopeless with money, although very generous. If I went into the shop on a Saturday he’d always give me 10 bob.

He once put an advert in the local paper: “Buy a tie from Maurice Lipman’s for £16.” That was a lot of money in those days. And then underneath, in smaller print: “Free suit with every tie!”

What was your first job?

Straight out of drama school in 1967, I got a part in The Knack at Watford Palace. My weekly pay was £29 in a brown envelope, which I thought was absolutely incredible for doing something I loved.

Are you a saver or a spender?

I’m cautious. I’ve had various financial advisers down the years. I’m good at looking clever, I make notes while they’re talking, but really I’m in la‑la land. It all goes over my head. I’ve got a portfolio of shares. My favourite, though, are Premium Bonds because I understand them. Every so often my phone goes “ping!” and I’ve won £25, which is a lovely surprise.

Have you invested in property down the years?

No. When Jack [Rosenthal, her husband] was alive we had a nice Edwardian house in Muswell Hill [north London]. After his death I downsized and moved to a garden flat in Paddington. I also have a small apartment in Manchester where I stay when I’m filming ­Corrie. Lesley Joseph will be staying there when she tours in Sister Act and Rula Lenska when she’s in The Best Marigold Hotel.

English actress and comedienne Maureen Lipman - The Graham Stark Photographic Library /Hulton Archive
English actress and comedienne Maureen Lipman - The Graham Stark Photographic Library /Hulton Archive

What has been your best financial decision?

Jack made all the financial decisions but I did leave his accountant after Jack’s death. He was charging a monstrous amount – or so I discovered when I spoke to actors in my peer group such as Zoë Wanamaker, Robert Lindsay and Larry Lamb. It turned out I was paying five times what they paid. So I moved to another accountant, which turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done in regard to money.

And your worst?

I lend people money and then it rots the friendship and you almost never get the money back. It’s foolish of me to think I’m the Bank of Mo. I did once invest in a show in which I was appearing and lost the lot. On another occasion, because I was working with a producer who wouldn’t advertise and because I thought the show was wonderful, I paid for an advert in a national paper to attract more punters. It cost me many thousands of pounds and made not the tiniest difference to audience numbers.

On the other hand, I know someone whose first investment was in The Book of Mormon.

Have you saved for your old age?

Yes, I’ve got a very good pension, which I must admit was set up by the original accountant. And I have a little money that comes in every month from America from Jack being a member of the Writers’ Guild.

What’s the best thing you’ve bought?

I commissioned a very nice piece of furniture, a well designed wall unit for my living room, when I moved to the flat. And I bought an art deco suite from a repository in Bradford.

And the worst?

I was amazed and delighted last year to be awarded a damehood. I went with my son, Adam, to Windsor for the investiture by Prince Charles. I bought a beautiful dress for the occasion from Tomasz Starzewski and a pair of ferociously expensive high-heeled stilettos from Ferragamo – not Victoria Beckham high, but certainly I was pitched at an unfamiliar angle. It’s a wonder I didn’t end up in HRH’s lap. It also meant that everywhere I walked I sank into the Windsor Castle loam. I won’t be wearing them again.

Dame Maureen Lipman - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Dame Maureen Lipman - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

What has been your most lucrative piece of work?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the BT ads. I was originally asked to do eight and paid quite handsomely. Then they kept asking for eight more and eight more and so on until I’d done over 50. All very flattering but very far from being the fortune most people imagine.

Funnily enough, it’s my writing rather than my acting that has proved the more lucrative.

Have you ever been in a scrape over money?

There used to be a rule that you couldn’t take more than £50 in cash out of the country. I’m going back years now.

Anyway, I arranged to go to Spain with the celebrity hairdresser Ricci Burns, a friend of mine. When we got to the airport he asked if I’d secrete some money about my person – £200, if I remember rightly, all in notes. We got to security and they asked if I had any cash on me.

I tried acting dumb but, for someone who has made a decent living as an actress I’m an absolutely hopeless liar. I flustered and blustered until the secur­ity man suddenly recognised Ricci, a great hero of his hairdresser mum. Ricci put his arm round the man’s shoulder, kept sweet-talking away and we were ushered through without my having to reveal the loot. Just as well, really, because I’d stuffed it into my knickers.

What advice would you give the 18-year-old Maureen about money?

Pin your ears back in maths classes and know your value. It’s no good going through life in a financial haze because you’ll end up the loser.

Maureen Lipman stars in Martin Sherman’s one-woman play ‘Rose’ at the Hope Mill Theatre in Salford from Aug 30 to Sept 11 and at the Park Theatre in north London from Sept 13 to Oct 15