Penelope Keith’s theatre work has taken her the length and breadth of the country and now she gets to indulge her pride and passionfor Britain in Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages which returns to More 4 on September 1.
“It is extraordinary, even though it’s very small, how different everywhere is,” she adds of the UK. “When you’re in Sussex, you could only be on the Sussex Downs, and Devon and Cornwall have the wonderful hedgerows and long winding lanes. It’s just glorious.”
The new series sees Keith visit some of our best-loved villages, including Alfriston in East Sussex (which she visited as a child) and Upnor in Kent, and reflect on rural life with the local people she meets.
Over the course of the series, the 75-year-old presenter also explores whether our villages are as robust as ever, or groaning under the weight of 21st century pressures.
So has the death knell sounded for the British village as we know it? Keith doesn’t think so.
“I think they’re a fairly resilient lot, villages. And with the advent of the motor car, that’s what’s changed village life, the fact that people can get out,” she muses.
But Keith adds: “[With] a lot of village life, people don’t understand the way it works really. It’s so important to keep communities together and have young people growing up there.”
As a young child growing up in Clapham, South London, the actress’ own early years were somewhat urban, though she was sent to boarding school in the coastal town of Seaford, East Sussex, aged six.
It was as a schoolgirl that she discovered a love of performing, and Keith went on to study at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art (at around 5ft 10ins, she was reportedly rejected from the Central School of Speech and Drama for being too tall).
She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early Sixties, and in 1975, landed her big TV break in well-loved BBC sitcom The Good Life, as the fabulously snobbish suburbanite Margo Leadbetter, alongside Felicity Kendal.
Another hit, To The Manor Born, in which she played the widowed aristocrat Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, followed soon after.
She has never stopped working and soon will be back on stage in Chichester.
I work when I want to, really,” the actress admits.
lPenelope Keith’s Hidden Villages begins on More4 on Tuesday, September 1