Bromley star Linda Regan-Murphy
PUBLISHED: 11:51 24 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:51 24 October 2015
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
She has survived cancer and a kidnapping at knife point, appeared in everything from Macbeth to Quadrophenia and Hi-de-Hi! and writes successful crime novels. Meet the unstoppable Linda Regan-Murphy.
Actor-writer Linda Regan-Murphy not only lives in the oldest house in Bromley, but so once did Enid Blyton, HG Wells and Shelley. It’s also a house this South Londoner used to play in as a child. “It goes round, just like a beehive. It was the fun house to us,” she smiles.
“People have said they feel presences in this house. I haven’t, but I believe there are some very good vibes from past writers who lived here.”
When Linda and her husband, the actor Brian Murphy, were looking for a house to buy together 20 years ago, they weren’t planning to live in the area at all .
However, Linda’s beloved dad had just died and she wanted to be near her mum, so when they drove by and saw the ‘For sale’ sign the rest, as they say, is history.
Born in Brixton, where she now sets her crime novels, the family moved to Rochester when Linda was two, settling in Bromley when she was five.
“I love this area because it’s home, it’s the memories. My parents lived opposite Sundridge Park and I used to sneak across the golf course with our dogs when it was closed. I was tiny but very naughty, my girlfriends all say they were scared of me at school because I didn’t care what I did. We’ve all grown up together and are real soulmates, the Bromley convent ‘boater brigade’.”
Indeed, this diminutive, pretty blonde – an unlikely pensioner – still has a naughty twinkle about her, still adores dogs (and teddy bears, she has nearly 200, all with names) and it’s no surprise to learn that comedy is in her DNA.
“I come from a theatrical family. My dad was a comedy magician, he also had a comedy show band, did toastmastering and was a variety agent. Mum, who is Irish, was a nurse – god only knows what they had in common.
“I worked with my dad a lot, we did after-lunch talks and shows and both belonged to showbiz charity The Grand Order of Water Rats – I’m a Lady Ratling and Daddy was a Water Rat. He was my pal and I was devastated when he died.”
Linda’s first job was passing up the puppets to her father in his Punch & Judy booth at holiday camps when she was just three years old.
She thinks it was her total familiarity with that world that many years later helped get her a role in the hit BBC sitcom Hi-De-Hi!
“It certainly all felt very familiar to me. It was set in the 50s and 60s and that was mine and my dad’s time, plus the writers had been Redcoats, so there was that authenticity to the writing.
“My role (as April, the lovestruck Yellowcoat) started very small but I was told if it worked they would write my character up – which they did.”
As well as learning about puppetry and the art of balloon modelling (“dad had big hands so my tiny fingers came in very useful for the intricate bits”), working with her father also gave Linda an early edge over her peers.
Leaving school at 16, she went straight into stand-up comedy and when she joined The Swan theatre at Worcester Repertory Company, was amazed when the other actors were quite nervous about playing in front of an audience.
“While I was just so impressed that they stayed in their seats and listened! I was used to clubs where everyone rattled glasses and shouted while you were performing, and I’d had to deal with that at the age of 16.”
While Linda still loves live comedy best and is aware that people tend to see her as a light performer, she has done her fair share of drama. During a year at the RSC (“when I had Shakespeare knocked into me”) she had the privilege of being in Trevor Nunn’s company, with David Suchet as her head of workshop. She went on to play Lady Macbeth at Wimbledon Open-Air Theatre, a part she’d always wanted, and did Extremities after Helen Mirren. After the RSC she took the lead in Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen in the West End for 18 months, while a highlight of her career was bringing life full circle when she did Once A Catholic in Bromley, “playing the naughty girl who got expelled.”
Linda also portrayed Marilyn Monroe in a “really dark play about the end of her life” and not only found that unsettling from a personal point of view (strange people at the stage door, being sent even stranger letters), but in later years one of her books is about a psychopath who preys on Marilyn Monroe lookalikes.
Her rich theatrical life and Brixton roots imbue her novels with a real sense of authenticity and her actor’s eye for detail and characterisation has caused many reviewers to comment how well her books would translate into film or TV.
That hasn’t happened yet, but it can only be a matter of time, with titles such as Passion Killers and Dead like Her (the Marilyn book) to choose from, not to mention her latest, Guts for Garters.
Despite being on the dyslexic spectrum and not encouraged at school, Linda says she wrote from a young age. Ironically, her very first novel nearly didn’t get published at all and in fact came from a very difficult point in her life. In 2005, Linda was kidnapped in a car at knifepoint and had to jump from the moving vehicle to escape.
“That changed my writing from that point, it became darker and darker and I wrote Behind You, which became a thriller. However, I was so embarrassed by it that I threw it away. Brian rescued it and sent it into Crème de la Crime worldwide search for new crime writers and I only won it! They took 12 people and gave us all an editing contract for a year and then published six of us – and I was one of those six.”
Soon after, Linda was diagnosed with cancer – which she believes was triggered by her terrifying kidnap ordeal – but, ever the trouper: “I decided I’d fight it and not go down with it.”
With a combination of courage and rare, if enforced, time off she took the brave decision to take an MA in creative and critical journalism at Portsmouth University, Brian’s home town so he could come with her and explore old haunts while she had her treatments. Ever practical.
“They took me because I was a published author, but I hadn’t got one O-Level to my name. On the first day, we had to fill in these forms and I was told I hadn’t finished mine because I hadn’t filled in the bit about qualifications. But I hadn’t got any! I had such a lovely young class, all less than half my age. It was their peer support that got me through, and we’re all still in touch.”
Even in hospital Linda was brave, encouraging those with her in the same “dark, frightening tunnel” and reviving her old balloon-making skills to create Mickey Mouse figures for the children’s ward. And still she worked – though her heart sunk a bit when the first role she was offered after her cancer journey was Holby City, although fortunately as a barmaid not a patient.
There’s a lot of steel and courage behind the blonde, sweet exterior, and also a rock-solid marriage to the actor still remembered best for his role as the henpecked husband George Roper in Man About the House and spin-off George and Mildred, with co-star Yootha Joyce.
“We crossed swords the very first time at Thames Studios where Brian and Yootha were very much the VIPs,” Linda smiles. “I was doing a Play for Today with Penny Irving (later also in Hi-de-Hi!) and we went up to the canteen for lunch in costume – we were playing hookers.
“We had to walk through the VIP area where Brian was being entertained with Yootha by head of Thames, so we tottered past with our trays of self-service beans on toast while they were drinking Champagne and Brian did a double take and said ‘they’re pretty – who are they?’ And we said “hello, we’re downstairs in drama’.”
“I then saw him at a first-night party after a show he’d been in and went up and told him how I’d enjoyed his performance and that I was going to be working with him soon in a play called Wife Begins at 40. We were booked to do the play in Eastbourne in 1990 and I was talking to the producer on the first day when Brian came rushing in and the producer said “hello Brian, would you like to come and meet your new wife?” All Brian said was: ‘I need a cup of tea.’
“Comedy is a bit like dancing, you just synch, and because comedy is in both our bones we just went ‘wow’ – he said he hadn’t worked with anyone since Yootha where he’d felt that connection and I knew how he was going to time something before he’d even said it, which I’d only experienced with my dad.”
When the season ended, Linda was convinced Brian was going to ask here out – but he just said ‘you know where I am if you want me.’
Time to take fate in hand. Knowing that Brian was rehearsing The Invisible Man at Stratford, when her girlfriends asked her to join them for a night out at Walthamstow Dogs, on her way up Linda decided to stop by at the rehearsal rooms.
“Brian was looking out of the window. He came out and asked what I was doing there and I said I was just passing and wondered if he might like a cup of tea at my house some time.
“He said alright, shall I come over today? So I never got to Walthamstow Dogs and he moved in that night! That was 25 years ago.”
It’s a great story, told by a great storyteller in book and on stage and screen. And like all the best stories, it has a happy ending.
Find out more
Linda Regan’s latest book, just out, is called Guts for Garters and introduces a tough girl-gang who run the streets in South London. It is out in paperback and also as an e-book, and published by Accent press.
On the acting front, Linda has been busy in TV and commercials, and has just finished a spell in the afternoon soap Doctors for the BBC.
My favourite Kent
Places: I worked all the seasides with Daddy when I was a child and I am so delighted that Margate’s Dreamland is back up and running. But I love all of Kent.
Eating out: I’m taking Brian to The Black Horse in Detling for his birthday, it’s just lovely there and he can fly his remote-control helicopter (my present to him) from the big hill there.
Because I can take my dog and the food is so excellent, I also love The Blacksmith’s Arms near Sevenoaks, and The Crown at Chislehurst. Neither of us cook, I’m a vegetarian and I always think I could be doing something else with my time than cutting up onions.
Churchill Theatre is a favourite and if I want to see something I will travel as far as Tunbridge Wells. We don’t go up to London very often.