Cindy May Be Long Dead, But Michelle Collins Remembers her NY Fans
By Tim Wilson
Whilst lathering up in the shower the morning of January 9th another of those brilliant ideas came flashing through my already over-burdened peabrain. The very fact that this occurred as I was in deep recovery from severe jet lag following my return from London 10 hours previously struck me as something of a miracle.
However, the idea turned out to be a direct tie-in to the impending NYC arrival of one of my all-time favourite EastEnders actresses, Michelle Collins (Cindy Williams Beale). Michelle, with many thanks to Larry Jaffee, the Gazette's editor supremo and chief spearheader of the Save EE 2005 campaign, had graciously accepted an invitation to make a personal appearance at an Irish pub in Manhattan
named Fiddlesticks in order to help raise some funds for our cause.
I was extremely excited at finally getting the chance to meet Ms. Collins in
person. We had actually met once before over the British TV airwaves
when I provided a question to be answered by her for a short-lived BBC morning
program of dubious quality entitled Open Air.
It was a quite amiable question, really: "Why is it that virtually all of the male characters on EastEnders are henpecked (and in some cases, cuckolded) by the female characters?"
Miss Collins was seemingly neither amused nor charmed by my question. She didn't skip a beat and shot back with "Well, Tim from New York City, USA, why SHOULDN'T we get to play strong women? That's how they are in the East End, anyway. Soaps in this country revolve around strong women, actually. Soaps are about conflict and high drama and strong women characters are great at providing that. Is it any different in America? Well? I thought not!"
Her feisty retort signaled to me that she and her character Cindy were perhaps not all that different!
I couldn't wait to meet this lady in the flesh, especially since I'd heard such great things about her over the years from Larry as well as mutual friends such as EE scriptwriter Tony Jordan and actresses Gillian Taylforth and Pam St.Clement. So I was determined to make my dicey/dodgy idea a reality when we finally would meet that night-and prayed it wouldn't have an adverse effect on our honored guest.
I staggered off in the freezing cold to Fiddlesticks, still jet-lagged but obviously gathering up enough adrenaline to keep the fatigue at bay for at least the next few hours.
I was greeted there by Larry as well as Debbie Gilbert and Dana Gordon, two of the campaign's primary organizers.
Larry left us to collect Michelle from her hotel and we met to discuss plans for the event with Nathaniel, the manager of Fiddlesticks and an all-around swell guy whose graciousness and generosity towards our endeavor shouldn't be underestimated.
I told him I had an idea and could he help me out with it: "There was this song, y'see, called 'The Bitch Is Back,' I informed him. "It was played on the Queen Vic jukebox as Cindy made her stunning
reappearance back there in 1997 or thereabouts. I think it was
performed by Elton John. Do you have a tape of it which we could play when Michelle arrives?"
Nathaniel replied there was this great new innovation called "downloading," and he definitely could have it played when needed.
And, sure enough, the song played on the sound system as Michelle arrived. She heard "The Bitch Is Back," looked up and with typically sublime timing, cracked: "Is that intentional? Because I certainly hope it is."
"Result!" as the Brits are fond of shouting after something finally goes right.
One more thing about "The Bitch is Back"-not only was Miss Collins
chuffed at the gesture of playing it, she whispered to me at the end of the night "It's the LITTLE touches which make the difference!"
Michelle looked absolutely fantastic. She was accompanied by her movie star-handsome Welsh fiance Parry Cockwell, as well as an Englishwoman friend who's been residing in NYC for several years.
They were, of course, warmly greeted by all of us who were lucky enough to attend this terrific event. She sat down for a bit and various attendees walked up to her and introduced themselves.
For someone who seems so extroverted on the surface, Michelle, like many actors, is actually a bit on the shy side. She was charmingly reluctant about participating in a formal, Actors Studio-like Q&A session hosted by Larry, adding "I'll probably run out of things to say!"
She never did, of course, once the informal questions started flinging in from the audience. She flipped through an EastEnders anniversary photo book, which EE devotee Lizzie Yacoubian handedher to autograph. It was like a stroll through memory lane for Michelle.
"Wow, I've never seen this book before--so many great photos!" She
came across a photo of Cindy holding her baby twins Peter and Lucy. I asked her if she'd seen the show recently and she replied she hadn't. I informed her that the show had very recently brought on a gorgeous little 13-year-old actress to play Lucy, who was definitely intended to become a Mini-Cindy. Michelle was tickled by that.
"I couldn't stand working with those babies!" she laughed. "All they did was scream and puke! I guess they gave me plenty of experience when the time came for me to raise my own little girl, Maia, though!"
Michelle thumbed past a photo of Carol Harrison (Louise, Tiffany's mum), and Lizzie and I remarked on the amazing facial resemblance they share.
"You could be her slightly younger sister," I innocently offered. Ms. Collins lovely eyes suddenly transformed themselves in a squinty picture of mock fury and she hissed "SLIGHTLY YOUNGER?" I realized Ms. Harrison was probably nowhere on this continent let alone in this pub and quickly modified my opinion, "Uhhhhhh....I meant BABY sister!" Michelle grinned and admitted she and Carol were actually good friends and frequently went out socially.
"She's a very nice lady," said Michelle, "albeit a man-eater!"
I told her about our Open Air experience. She thought that was very funny, adding "I'm a lot less like Cindy now. I guess we were a lot alike then in some ways. The writers were uncanny in being able to incorporate our own personalities into the characters!" I reminded some of my other friends there who were at the event (like Lizzie) that Michelle was not just a former EastEnders actress, she was a huge star in the U.K. due to her leading roles in the series' Sunburn and A Thousand Acres of Sky, as well as television films such as International Emmy-winning The Illustrated Mum and Can't Buy Me Love, the latter of which attracted nearly 8 million U.K. viewers and which she played the wife to Martin Kemp (Steve Owen).
Michelle agreed that if Martin had been on the show at the same time as her there would have been amazing chemistry. I suggested a Steve/Kat/David/Cindy/Mel storyline would have helped the show get ratings comparable to the Den/Angie days. "I think you could be right!" she agreed.
She remembered sitting in a car on the set of that TV movie and telling him the show's higher-ups never even told her that her character was being been killed off in childbirth. He filled her in about how they staged a fiery car explosion so his character could never return-the BBC apparently doesn't take kindly to actors leaving EE to do other things-look at poor Tiffany! He capped the story off with "Perhaps we'd better be careful in this thing!"
Michelle told us she was on her way to Los Angeles later in the week to meet up with a very high-powered agent recommended to her by her own very high-powered London agents.
It was at that moment that I came up with another brilliant idea (no shampoo required this time): she should be added to the cast of that massively popular new U.S. series Desperate Housewives. She has the perfect look, she's the perfect age and she could be a big asset.
Michelle gasped, "YES-that show just started going out over in England.
I'd LOVE to be in that." At the Q&A session hosted by Larry, which Michelle reluctantly agreed to do after overcoming her initial shyness, I brought up Desperate Housewives. I declared my intention of campaigning to get her on that show. After all, Cindy was the original Desperate Housewife!
Michelle openly supported my idea, claiming it would be a great way to introduce herself to the mainstream American audience. This exchange at the event turned out to be picked up somehow by the British media but it made it sound like she was making an overt pitch! Michelle doesn't have to make overt pitches for anything, career-wise-if it would happen it would happen through her talent, vivaciousness and all around fabulousness.
I asked her a LOT of questions, so much so that I did feel at one point I was hogging the event a bit. I asked her about the
"duf-duf." "The what?" Michelle asked with a puzzled look on her face. I explained that that was what we here in the U.S. EE fan community used to describe the tom-tom sound at the end of each
episode-was she excited when Cindy got a camera close-up followed by the "duf-duf?" "Ohhhhhh, WE called it the 'dun-dun!' Yeah, it WAS pretty exciting. All of us loved being able to get that but it was also considered a big responsibility because we were the focus of that episode's cliffhanger. Actually jealous feelings got started up as to who would get more 'dun-duns" than others! Some NEVER got 'em!" She said the last bit with a wicked smile. We all laughed.
I asked her if she'd seen the episodes containing Cindy's funeral." They never even told me she DIED! I was in Portugal shooting Sunburn and didn't even get a phone call about it by the BBC or anything. And I was still working for the BBC! Thanks for letting me know, fellas! I was a little miffed by that. Oh, well. No, I didn't get to see the funeral episodes, either. I hear for those they brought on my poor mum as well as a sister I never even knew existed!" I told her the episodes were very good in that they really explained the essence of Cindy via her mother Bev and sister Gina-Cindy was never some brazen hussy out to destroy men, she was simply craving the love she sought and wasn't able to get from her roguish daddy Tom. I reckon he looked a lot like Ian MacShane-I certainly would have tried to bring him on as stunt casting if I was producing EastEnders.
"Oooooooh, good casting, Tim" Michelle responded. "And, yeah, I agree with that character assessment of Cindy. The press made her out to seem like this insatiable slapper because it suited their purposes but there's a reason she fell hard for both Wicksy and David. I strongly suspect they reminded her of Daddy!" She giggled a bit at this. A fellow attendee asked which actors did she like working with the most and which ones did she not like to work with-Michelle demurred on the latter, adding. "Oh, that wouldn't be nice so I'm not saying." I suggested Adam Woodyatt who plays Ian but Michelle sternly rebutted with "Absolutely
not, Tim. Adam was really good to be with-we had a great chemistry as actors as well and it showed."
She told us she loved working with Michael French(David) but was totally baffled by someone (probably me) who followed up by declaring that there are many on the net who are totally enthralled by the way David chewed on his toast. "That sounds rather kinky!" she exclaimed.
One bit of EE casting trivia probably none of us knew about was that
Michelle could have been an original cast member if Julia Smith saw fit to cast her as Punk Mary, Annie's mum. However Ms. Smith and
co-creator/writer Tony Holland both wanted Mary (real name Theresa) to be Walford's initial fish-out-of-water on EE so it was decided that Mary
hail from the North of England. "Needless to say I'd have been a very different Punk Mary!" Michelle surmised.
The Q&A session ended and Michelle went off to have photos taken
outside of Fiddlesticks by fans as well as by some of the British press. One of them was taken on top of a Britsh yellow taxi cab! She was asked by one compatriot to have her photo taken with some Union Jack bunting innocently put up by yours truly along with Debbie. She refused flat-out and I initially thought she'd rejected the idea as being too corny. I later found out it was because it is considered extremely dodgy to pose near representations of the Union Jack these days because it would be equivalent to supporting the BNP (British National Party), an extremely nationalistic, racist political organization! She's a smart cookie, that Michelle-don't mess with her, fellas.
Now, on to my campaign to get her onto Desperate Housewives, the phenomenally successful ABC TV series. The following is a letter I've dashed off to the series' creator/writer Marc Cherry:
Dear Mr. Cherry,
Your show is fabulous-the acting, the writing, the direction, the wardrobe, even the opening graphics and music are fabulous. May I be so bold as to how to make your show even more fabulous for next season?
Here's what you do: bring on Michelle Collins, an enormously successful actress in her own right back in her native Britain, where your show has just premiered to fabulous ratings, by the way. And who would she play, you might ask? Well, I propose to you that she play this character named Cindy Williams Beale, Edie Britt, Nicolette Sheridan's British cousin. Cindy is a desperate housewife trapped in an terrible marriage to a former London ladies' prison chief who, through his own barking mad ingenuity, found a truly unique way to keep the love of his life (Cindy) from facing 25 years in the nick.
OK, she had ordered a hit job on her "useless pillock" of a husband (Ian) but she DID call it off, albeit not in time! Ian MacShane, who just won the Golden Globe Award, could play Cindy's daddy Tom, a roguish ne'er-do-well who brings new sleazy romance into the life of Bree Whatsername, the fabulous one with the red hair.
Does this all sound good or what? And there's this thing called "synergy" which I'm sure you've heard about, Marc.
Think about it: a hugely popular character from one hugely popular show in one country (Britain) on another network finds herself on another hugely popular show in another country (US) on another network! Mind boggling!
And bring on Michelle Collins-you won't be sorry.
I look forward to your fabulous response.
Tim Wilson, Esq.
I look forward to that 10% commission someday, Michelle.
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