Best known as potty chalet maid Peggy in the long-running sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, an unexpected 1986 chart topping single presented the actress Su Pollard with the chance to become a bona fide pop star.
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On New Year’s Day 1980 a new sitcom called Hi de Hi introduced the world at large to the peculiar talents of actress Su Pollard. She had previously starred in the 1979 sitcom Two Up, Two Down with Paul Nicholas but with an audience barely making it into double figures, Hi de Hi was her real breakthrough. She burst onto the scene as chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw and has continued bursting all over the small screen whenever and wherever the chance presents itself ever since.
I can’t have been alone at the time in thinking that Su Pollard’s interpretation of the role of Peggy was inspired. On paper at least, the role was a small one and the part fairly undemanding. In the large ensemble cast of Hi de Hi, Su’s contribution could well have been lost amidst all the various exaggerated comedy stereotypes and countless catchphrases and pratfalls. What she did though was to build the role in a careful considered manner so that eventually, some eight years later, the final episode of Hi-de-Hi! (as it came to be called) finished with Peggy becoming the focus of the show and finally winning her long-coveted yellow coat.
Peggy Ollerenshaw grew in stature to become a whirling dervish of comedy during those eight years. The frequent on-screen description of her as being a bit ‘potty’ seemed well observed. Gauche, demented, outrageous and gushing with no sense of shame or reason, Peggy was a tour de force of acting that required an actress with boundless energy and verve. Or so I thought…
It gradually dawned on me, as well as many other people I’m sure, that Su Pollard needed no acting ability at all to play the role of Peggy. What we saw on screen was very much Su Pollard’s own character dressed up in a pinny and handed a trolley load of cleaning products to push about. With each demented maniacal appearance on Pebble Mill at One or Whose Baby? it became clear that Su was even more demented and maniacal in real life than she was in Hi-de-Hi! and that Peggy was simply an extension of Su Pollard; an over-eager, maniacal, puckish hobgoblin of comedy filled with boundless energy and annoying to the very core.
It was inevitable I suppose that someone as enthusiastic and as energetic as Su Pollard would eventually pursue a musical career. Like a hyperactive terrier with a mad dogged look in at least one of its two wonky red eyes, Su was always going to pursue a recording career even if all common sense and reason would argue against it. Her first single Come To Me (I Am A Woman) was released in 1985 and enough people bought it to see it hang around the crepuscular nether regions of the pop charts, reaching number 71. An achievement buoyed no doubt by the aforementioned appearances on Whose Baby?. That might have been that. The single was inoffensive enough. A typical 1980s ballad thick with saccharine sentiments and gloopy 1980s synthesizers, it is fairly restrained by Su’s standards and did not immediately suggest that her recording career would go on to become anything other than one obscure seven inch single.
Four months later though, the theme song for Desmond Wilcox’s documentary series The Marriage gave Su a second chart single and this time it would prove much more successful. Starting Together was written by Bill Buckley, then best known as a presenter on the amusingly-shaped vegetable and talking dog extravaganza that was That’s Life!. Talking dogs had not been that lucky for Su Pollard in the past, she once famously came second on Opportunity Knocks to a performing Jack Russell terrier. This though was her chance to become a chart star at last. The single climbed to number 2 in the charts, sandwiched somewhat incongruously between Billy Ocean at number 1 and punk-goth group The Damned at number 3. Ah, the 1980s.
An inevitable album followed some months later, the eponymous debut Su was released in the nation’s record shops just in time for Christmas and after selling many dozens of copies, was freely available in the nation’s charity shops by January. Where the first two singles were restrained, on the album Su really goes for it with ill-advised and irrepressible gusto. Like an over-eager stage school pupil desperately trying to win the lead role in Annie, Su warbles and trills all over the place, not just hitting a note but kicking it repeatedly until it falls unconscious on the floor in a mess of blood and treble clefs.
Su Pollard sings as she speaks on this album, breathless and gushing with high-pitched histrionics simply imploring you to be drawn into her gasping pleading earnestness. The orchestration is so 1980s it’s painful at times. The keyboards, drum machine blips and all-engulfing electronic synthesizers are layered on thicker than the cream on an obese five-year-old’s birthday cake. The hit single Starting Together is awarded the honour of being the first track on the album, and sounds exactly like the TV theme it is. Also sounding like a TV theme is the track Alright, Ok, You Win, a demented up-tempo tune in search of a demented quiz show which it could grace. Or as it grows ever more up-tempo and demented, perhaps a ZX Spectrum game.
The same over-orchestration and shrill breathless vocals are applied to all the other songs on the album, whether they needed it or not. And normally they don’t. Su is equally at home murdering pop classics such as You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling or the Holland–Dozier–Holland penned Band of Gold, as she is murdering songs especially written for her and her breathless warbling charms. Bill Buckley contributes another song, Falling For You, and further manglings of John Denver’s Perhaps and Neil Sedaka’s You Never Done It Like That complete the study in nonsense that is Su.
Thankfully Su Pollard was barred from all major recording studios after this effort and has troubled the pop charts no further. She can still be seen popping up unexpectedly on television even now, wearing the same bright yellow clothes, bizarre head dresses and garish tights that she wore in her 1980s heyday. It remains very much a trademark look that no-one has ever sought to copy. Here to remind us what we are missing by keeping Su Pollard under lock and key is her version of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. While it pales in comparison to The Righteous Brothers’ original, it is a great improvement on Paul Shane’s much more notorious version:
More Pollarding action on the official Su site: