As we all try to wash the horror of the Jimmy Savile/BBC/Senior Tory/Penn State/anyone ever involved with anyone under 18 who also worked as a politician/teacher/vicar/light entertainer/Balti proprietor scandals from our souls – we should celebrate the showbiz gems (who are the most unlikely to ever let us down by turning out to be filth monsters).
And my favourite British actress of the 80s (I will still watch anything I know she’s in) is the adorable Katy Murphy.
Katy in the 80s specialised in playing brittle, funny, tough-talking, youthful, Glaswegian, working-class-girl-about-towns. She was very good at snappy put-downs and sarcastic under-cuttings – but the best thing about her was the vulnerable, soulful, puppy-dog eyes that made you realise that the tough facade was only there to protect her from harm. And anyone who harmed her was wrong.
Her break-through T.V. role was as the secretary Miss Toner in John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti in 1987. I was ten at the time, and the only thing I really remember from the series is her boss Richard Wilson wearily saying ‘Miss Toner’ whenever she thwarted him with a bit of cheek. It brightened up – what was – the rather tragic story of an aging Scottish rock band on a comeback tour, which contained at least two suicides along the way.
Then Katy was in a weird BBC sitcom called ‘The River’ being romanced by the gorgeous David Essex… It wasn’t funny but the love aspect was appealing, and the lead actors made it believable.
Her next big t.v. role was in ‘The Steamie’ – a comedy-drama about women in Glasgow, in the 50s, in a laundry, with songs. It stayed on the right side of sentiment and remains a classic.
We were in 1990 by the time of John Byrne’s sort-of-follow-up to ‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’. Taxi drivers were furious at their depiction (I can’t remember why), there was a lot of country and western, and no one knows what the ending meant (someone either got shot, or shot himself, or shot someone else, or didn’t). Katy is an aspiring musician who mostly looks like a 30s paper boy, and is moody about the state of her non-career. Real life singer Eddie Reader played the singer in her band (it was a duo).
In 1991 she was in ‘Spatz!’ A children’s ITV show I might have been a tiny bit too old for (14) but I loved it anyhow. It was a sitcom set in a 50s-style American diner. Katy was a waitress. The plots revolved around the staff being late, being incompetent, and wanting to leave. The star was Vas Blackwood, who also played Winston in The Lenny Henry Show, a hugely under-rated, but brilliant actor.
In 1994 she was in ‘Taking Over The Asylum’, with a then un-famous David Tennant. TOTA was like a slighly less baroque John Byrne series written by Donna Franceschild, who I remember yelling ‘Loonies are here’ or something similar at the Baftas much to the bewilderment of most of the audience, who clearly hadn’t watched the show yet. It was about a saleman who starts to run a radio station inside a psychiatric hospital. There was a sad ending (or at least a sad revelation) that played out to ‘Let it Be’.
There were many other roles in series’ or one-off plays. She was in the lesbian coming-of-age drama ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’, and a violent lesbian road-movie called ‘Butterfly Kiss’. She was in Agatha Christie’s ‘Poirot’ and the long-long-running medical soap ‘Casualty’, but I sort of lose sight of her till the last few seconds of the British Horror Film ‘The Cottage’ in 2008. I think she did something to her hair.
By the magic of IMDb I’ll be doing some catching up.
UPDATE : She had a leading role in 1990s police surgeon drama Dangerfield! Sadly I didn’t watch it as a protest against the rise of waterproof nylon padded jackets in prime-time drama shows.
(I know absolutely nothing about her private life… Tutti Frutti, Your Cheatin’ Heart, The Steamie, Butterfly Kiss, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Taking Over the Asylum and The Cottage are all on DVD and are well worth buying.).