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PeopleLindsay Meller

Lindsay Meller

Lyndsay Meller 2 (1 of 1) for web‘Born Lindsay Ingram in 1948, I was brought up and educated in London. My Dad worked for The Land Registry in Lincolns Inn Fields, and my Mum is driving over this afternoon from Minehead to do the ironing. Luckily I still have the “Sit-At” ironing board my Dad bought me from the Scout jumble sale in 1966! She is 95 and more than an inspiration to us all. Perhaps somewhat precocious, aged twelve I got a Saturday job in a new coffeehouse/restaurant opposite Harrow Art School, working in the kitchen and waitressing. The French-trained chef and owner taught me a lot about food—I’d never seen an aubergine or a red pepper before—and I was introduced to some very colourful people. I have one brother, Malcolm, who is 4 years older than me. He is an actor, a Professor of Drama at Syracuse University and lives in America but his influence had a profound effect on me. When I was fourteen he was training to be an actor at The Drama Centre London—much to my parents’ horror. At weekends he would bring such interesting people home; I listened and watched and went to see their productions. This was my introduction to the theatre. At sixteen I worked at The Troubadour in the Old Brompton Road which had a live music cellar. On Sunday afternoons it was the Jazz Club and Friday nights it was folk. I was at the back serving the coffee, listening to amazing musicians like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, pretending to be doing my history revision. My Dad and brother both had a passion for jazz so this was my initiation into music.
After taking my A-levels I predictably applied to drama school, and fortunately got into the Drama Centre London. Even more fortunate was to survive the gruelling three years training. 33 students started the course and only 12 of us completed the third year; the competition was formidable even then. I found a flat on Hampstead Heath which cost me £6 a week and together with my major county award and maintenance grant lived moderately with the state’s blessing. How very different it is now for students who end up with thousands of pounds worth of debt in order to receive a higher education.
On leaving Drama Centre I joined Inter-Action Trust in Chalk Farm, a community arts cooperative, as a member of “Doggs Troupe”. We were working with underprivileged kids doing street theatre, drama session work, festivals in Amsterdam and Hanover and mime and acrobatics in Paris—those were the days. After a couple of years I was glad to get back to my flat; cooperative living is an acquired taste. I was offered a new play at The Kings Head, Islington which led on to seasons at Nottingham Playhouse and Watford Palace as well as an agent. Whilst doing a Cervantes play at the Soho Poly I was invited to audition for the National Theatre, where Sir Laurence Olivier was the ‘Guvnor’ and it was still at The Old Vic. My nerves were unspeakable, regardless of the rescue remedy, but I somehow got in. I understudied Diana Rigg and Maureen Lipman. I was then asked to play the first witch in the Scottish play—cruel casting for someone of 24. Diana Rigg sent me flowers and a telegram on my first night which said “To the sexiest witch I know”—not encouraging. It was an experience.
Television and film work followed. Three months on The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a singing/dancing Transylvanian Transvestite gave me more street cred with my students later on in life than ever the National did. I then joined a group called Grimms with Roger McGough, John Gorman, Victoria Wood and Andy Roberts. We worked on a piece by Roger called Wordplay, took it up to the Edinburgh Festival and then brought it down to the Hampstead Theatre Club. It was a very funny and thought provoking play, which was a joy to do.
When I was resting I worked for a criminal/human rights lawyer clerking. I attended trials, did prison interviews and conferences with the barrister and client, at the same time as playing parts as a lifer in Within These Walls and the accused in Crown Court. My sense of reality was seriously challenged. I was on a train with Mike Mansfield QC and he suggested that if I did the law exams he would offer me a pupillage in his chambers. That really made me think.
In 1976, however, I fell in love with my husband Barrie. He was an old and trusted friend and a boat builder. I also fell in love with Dorset. We bought an old rectory near Lulworth Cove and I had three babies in five years. The best thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to leave them or get a nanny or go on tour, so I became an Aga-lout and full time Mum, living in the countryside and enjoying every minute—somewhat different from the Portobello Road. When I heard David Edgar had written a community play for Dorchester, called Entertaining Strangers, I went along. I had done one of his plays at The Open Space in London, and I was missing being involved in the theatre. I auditioned and played the young Sarah Eldridge. A lovely woman, Maggie Ansell, played the older version; later, Judi Dench played the part when it went to The National Theatre. Ann Jellicoe was inspiring, directing such a huge project and it was great to be doing something other than breast feeding. As a result I was asked to run some workshops at Weymouth College. We moved to Bridport in 1986, and I became a full time lecturer at Weymouth. I took my teaching qualifications and stayed for 15 years. While I was teaching I did a Masters degree in Performance Arts at Middlesex University to keep me up to date. My three children all went to Colfox School and then did their A-levels at Weymouth College.
The freedom I was given with the choice of productions was exhilarating. I enjoyed the directing enormously, even more when I was collaborating with local musicians. I’d like to acknowledge some Bridport luminaries, Julie Trevett, David Martin and Jess Upton. I must have done at least ten productions with Julie as musical director/composer/player. She was the most creative, dedicated and inspired colleague imaginable. David Martin wrote us two musicals and one of them, Feet, a whacky, modern rock and roll Nativity tale, we did at the Bridport Arts Centre. As part of my MA I wrote a play, set in a recording studio, called Grievous Angels. Having worked with Jess Upton and Steve Wilson on Feet I asked them to play the main roles. I just loved working with them both and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction they are still singing together 20 years later. I was invited onto the board at BAC and also worked in the café. Fifty years later I was back in a café—full circle! Long live the Bridport Arts Centre.
I ran an outreach BTEC Acting course in Bridport at around this time. Some of the people who did it have carried on performing, creating a theatre company of their own, ‘Sinistre’ and are happily still going strong. I have been an Artsreach promoter for the last 15 years bringing live music and theatre to Powerstock Hut and I currently manage North Eggardon Carthouse, a barn beautifully renovated by Victor Crutchley. It is next door, so not far to walk to work.
On reflection I’m very glad I invested in my kids and not in an acting career. Rose, my eldest, went to Oxford and is a lawyer in London with two lovely children, Beatrix, three, and Benedict, one. He was born last year on my birthday—the best of presents. Gill, my middle son, married his first love Alice and they have two beautiful girls, Isla, 17, and Coco, 10. He’s a chef and has been working with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for the last ten years at River Cottage. Patrick, the youngest, is a Director of Photography in the movie business. They are all so different. I always felt it important to listen to what they wanted rather than pushing them all through an academic higher education. I’m glad it worked out for them. They keep me ticking over.’

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