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New Year Honours: Penelope Keith and Angela Lansbury lead acting recipients

Penelope Keith

Story by Jack Foley

PENELOPE Keith and Angela Lansbury have both been made a dame in the New Year Honours list.

Keith, best known for the BBC sitcoms The Good Life and To The Manor Born, says she is “thrilled and humbled” to have been recognised for services to acting as well as the charitable work she has done beyond her celebrity persona.

The 73-year-old was honoured for services to the arts and to charity.

She told the BBC: “It’s a recognition for not only my 54 years being an actress but also for all the charities with which I’m associated and I think they’ll be thrilled.”

Keith began her acting career as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company before becoming a household name for her beloved role as Margo Leadbetter in the sitcom The Good Life alongside Richard Briers.

The Good Life ran from 1975 to 1978 and saw Keith recognsied with a Best Light Entertainment Performance BAFTA in 1977. A year later, she picked up a second BAFTA, for Best Actress, for her performance in the drama The Norman Conquests, which she had previously won widespread acclaim for in stage form, again alongside Briers.

From 1979 to 1981, she played the lead role of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in the TV series To The Manor Born, which surpassed the popularity of The Good Life to become the most watched British television programme (excluding live events) of the 1970s.

In more recent times, she has continued to mix television appearances with her theatre work. On the small screen, she has played Lady Catherine de Bourgh in BBC1’s Death Comes To Pemberley, while stage work includes regular appearances at the Chichester Festival.

Her charitable work includes helping war veterans and providing welfare for people and for animals. She has played a prominent role in ensuring that the Actors Benevolent Fund provide £400,000 a year in grants and allowances, while her assistance to the Armed Services Memorial at the National Arboretum helped to ensure the continued success of a loved place of national remembrance.

For 10 years she has been continuingly involved in KEEPOUT, the HMPs Coldingley and Send initiative to interrupt the succession of young offending, helping existing offenders to give back something of value to the community.

And she has been a figurehead for TRANSFORM for 15 years, providing accommodation and support to vulnerable people across Surrey.

Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury

Also made a dame was actress Angela Lansbury, who is most famous for her role as Jessica Fletcher in the long-running television series Murder, She Wrote.

Lansbury told the BBC: “I’m joining a marvellous group of women I greatly admire like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It’s a lovely thing to be given that nod of approval by your own country and I really cherish it.”

Lansbury, 88, was born in East London and has enjoyed a long acting career in film, television and theatre.

Early on in her film career, she received Academy Award nominations for best supporting actress for the films Gaslight and National Velvet, before then earning widespread acclaim and a third Oscar nomination for her performance as Eleanor Iselin, the mother of the main character Raymond Shaw, in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate.

Further film triumphs came in the Disney classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks, as murder victim Salome Otterbourne in a star-studded adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and as Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes, a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous 1938 film.

She also did a lot of stage work, with work including Hamlet at The Old Vic, a revival tour of Gypsy, and a Broadway run of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

In 1984, however, she accepted the role for which she would become most famous: as Jessica Fletcher, a retired school teacher from Cabot Cove, Maine, who becomes a successful detective novelist after her husband’s death, in Murder She Wrote. She continued to play the role until 1996.

However, Lansbury continued to perform on stage and in film wherever possible and, indeed, is due to return to the West End in 2014 to play Madame Arcati in a new production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

She admitted that when when she received a call from the British consulate about her honour, she thought it was about her work permit to work on the London stage.

Other recipients

Actress and TV presenter Lynda Bellingham has been appointed an OBE for her charity work in the New Year Honours list.

She described the recognition as “a fantastic way to move forward” following a “tough year”.

The 65-year-old Loose Women panellist, who became familiar to millions for her long-running role in the Oxo TV adverts, announced earlier this year that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

She told the BBC: “I am absolutely delighted and proud to receive this OBE. It has been a long and tough year but this award is just a fantastic way to move forward. I feel honoured and inspired and very grateful.”

Bellingham’s other known works include playing a nurse in General Hospital in the ’70s, playing Helen Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small, and in the 14-part Doctor Who serial The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986 as the Inquisitor.

She also appeared as one of the contestants in the seventh series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Among those receiving MBEs were Gavin And Stacey co-writer Ruth Jones.

Jones described her MBE for services to entertainment as “proper tidy” and a “massive compliment”.

She co-created the hit show Gavin and Stacey with James Corden and the pair appeared as characters Nessa and Smithy.

Other notable work includes Jimmy McGovern’s The Street with Timothy Spall in 2009 and her portrayal of Hattie Jacques in Hattie for BBC4 in 2011.

She will shortly be seen in series three of Stella for Sky One in which she takes the lead role.

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