Miriam Margolyes has opened up about her early professional life in an excerpt from her upcoming memoir. Among other huge revelations, in what’s sure to be an explosive read, the actor discussed sexism and maltreatment she allegedly experienced from the men of Monty Python.
Miriam’s book, This Much Is True, details her career highs and lows. It includes racy jobs, ones she despised, and will feature many A-list actors and, more importantly, her experiences with them.
One issue she addresses, in particular, is the gender inequality she experienced in university and the entertainment industry—which is not surprising as it's only been a year since the BBC's top earners featured four women for the first time.
Discussing her time at Cambridge University she says, “The three years I spent at Cambridge gave me everything I have. That was a time once I was absolutely alive, once I absolutely grew to become myself. But I lost my smile a bit once I carried out within the Footlights revue of 1962.”
Footlights is the famous amateur dramatic group that has spawned countless internationally renowned stars. The excerpt, shared by the Daily Mail, paints a very unsettling picture of Footlights during her time in Cambridge. Sadly, some of its best-known alumni left a bitter taste in Miriam’s mouth.
“I did not just like the Footlights boys and they actually did not like me. They made that apparent,” she explains.
Miriam continues, “When I say ‘they’, I check with a most distinguished group: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Humphrey Barclay (later Head of Comedy at LWT), Tony Hendra, and Tim Brooke-Taylor.”
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The star says she feels that the famous comedy group seldom made space for all sorts of funny women. “If you consider it, the Monty Python exhibits did not function, humorous ladies, solely the occasional dolly chook. And I definitely wasn’t that,” she says.
The actor explains that she believes a lot of this is to do with the outdated attitudes from the elitist private schools these men attended before going to university. “At that point, and the entire time I used to be at Cambridge, a lady couldn’t be a member of the Footlights Club. Girls weren’t welcome: we attended solely as company."
She adds, "These chaps wished to sleep with ladies, not compete with them. I used to be neither ornamental nor bedworthy, and they discovered me insufferable."
The sexist behavior Miriam says she experienced has left her with a firm dislike of the comedy world, which is largely male—a dislike that doesn't sit well with her. "I really feel awkward, admitting to such bitterness—it appears absurd, I ought to have gotten over it. But I have not. The remedy I obtained from these Footlights boys was diminishing, pointed, and vicious. On reflection, it’s they who diminished themselves."
Despite acknowledging their comedic genius she says, "John Cleese, Bill Oddie, and Graham Chapman had been complete s***s—and they’ve by no means apologized. The just one who did was the late Tim Brooke-Taylor."
Miriam says that luckily, she hasn't crossed paths with the individuals who caused her such stress. "All the perpetrators went into mild leisure and I went into drama, so fortunately our paths had been seldom to cross. But practically 60 years later I’ve not forgotten.”
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Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.
Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.
Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.
Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.
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