ATV Icon: Pauline Quirke

Actress Pauline Quirke is probably best remembered for her role of Sharon in the classic 1990s BBCsitcom Birds of a Feather alongside actresses Lesley Joseph and Linda Robson. Quirke’s association with Linda Robson – which saw the duo appear in a series of Daz adverts in the 1990s – goes further back that the sitcom though.

The pair have worked together on several projects across the years such as the 1970s children’s series Pauline’s Quirkes and the 1980s comedy/drama series Shine On Harvey Moon. Although Pauline Quirke is probably most associated with comedy thanks to her role in Birds of a Feather before and after the sitcom she had starred in many dramas.

Some of her earliest roles on television came in the early 1970s in shows such as Softly Softly [a spin-off from police drama Z-Cars], Dixon of Dock Green, Crown Court and Children’s sci fi series The Tomorrow People. In the mid 1970s she appeared, as already stated, alongside Linda Robson in the short-lived children’s series Pauline’s Quirkes but from the mid 1970s she once again moved towards more serious dramas. In 1977 the actress played Pearl in two episodes of the BBC period drama The Duchess of Duke Street, the BBC’s answer to the highly popular LWT drama series Upstairs, Downstairs which had finished a few years earlier. The Duchess of Duke Street was created and produced by John Hawkesworth who had produced Upstairs, Downstairs for LWT and revolved around a Victorian Hotel.

It aired between 1976 and 1977 for two seasons and one of several dramas’s “inspired” by the success of the LWT drama. ATV’S The Cedar Tree created by Alfred Shaughnessy, who also worked on Upstairs, Downstairs, followed an aristocratic family between the wars was another such drama seemed to be “inspired” by the LWT series. Eventually in 1979 LWT followed up Upstairs, Downstairs with spin-off series Thomas and Sarah.

In 1979 the actress was amongst the cast of LWT comedy series Lovely Couple which also starred Maggie Jones [better known as the formidable Blanche Hunt in Coronation Street] and David Hodge [an actor who had appeared in the Carry On films/ATV series Carry On Laughing]. Quirke played the character of Carole Richards in the comedy. Around this time the actress appeared in a number of shows such as The Further Adventures of Oliver Twist, The Story of the Treasure Seekers and the 1980 film The Elephant Man.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Pauline Quirke appeared in the BBC medical drama Angels which was produced by Julia Smith – who would later go on to create EastEnders – and many episodes were written by Tony Holland. Angels was originally a drama series that followed the professional and personal lives of training nurses but such was the popularity of the series that the BBC quickly expanded it to become a twice weekly soap – perhaps experimenting with the format to see if viewers would take to it. The drama ran between 1975 and 1983 and amongst the cast were several actresses who Smith and Holland would later cast in EastEnders when it launched in 1985 such as Shirley Cheriton, Kathryn Apanowicz and Judith Jacob. In the medical soap the actress played Nurse Vicky Smith. When Angels ended in 1983 the BBC asked Tony Holland and Julia Smith to create a new soap which would eventually become EastEnders. The success of Angels led to the corporation launching a new medical drama in 1986, Casualty.

In 1984 Quirke joined the cast of Central Television comedy/drama series Shine On Harvey Moon in the role of Veronica appearing in the series in 1985 as well and reprising the role in the 1995 revival by Meridian. The series was set in the East End of London shortly after the Second World War and revolved around former army soldier Harvey Moon being demobbed but his family think he was killed in the war. Upon returning home he discovers his family is in all kind of trouble. The Central comedy starred Kenneth Cranham as Harvey Moon with Maggie Steed, Linda Robson and Elizabeth Spriggs.

The 1995 revival by Meridian Television was set in the 1950s with actor Nicky Henson taking over the role of Harvey. In all there were five seasons and 35 episodes of the series of which two seasons have been released on DVD. Other roles for the actress in the 1980s included Girls On Top, Distant Voice – Still Life, the 1980s BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit and Getting It Right.

1989 saw the launch of the sitcom that Pauline Quirke would be most famous for – Birds of a Feather on BBC One. The sitcom revolved around sisters Sharon [Quirke] and Tracey [Linda Robson] move in together in Essex after their husbands are sent to jail for an armed robbery they committed. Their next door neighbour is sex-obsessed Doreen [Lesley Joseph] and there is an underline rivalry between Doreen and the sisters as Doreen tends to look down her nose slightly at the duo.

Doreen was married throughout the series to husband Marcus [Stephen Grief later Nickolas Grace] but was forever cheating on him with various ‘toy-boys’. The series ran between 1989 and 1998 across nine seasons and 102 episodes which included several “specials” and the series also featured a few Comic Relief sketches as well – such was its popularity.

The popularity of the series also led to actresses Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson continuing their on-screen partnership in a series of adverts for Daz throughout the 1990s. In 2009 it was rumoured the BBC were considering reviving the series with actresses Lesley Joseph, Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson approached to reprise their roles. As yet there have been no further details on any possible revival but given the success of the series and its remaining popularity its still possible the BBC may revive it at some point. The BBC has recently revived several comedies for “one-off” returns such as a recent Christmas Special of To The Manor Born and a BBC Two special of Allo Allo.

Following the conclusion of Birds of a Feather the actress was in much demand being a familiar face on television and an audience favourite. Subsequent roles included Real Women, a BBC drama about several friends who are reunited. The drama starred Pauline Quirke alongside Frances Barber, Debbie Arnold and Jane Gurnett and a sequel was produced in 1999 by the BBC which saw all four reprised their respective roles. Another BBC drama for the actress was police procedural series Maisie Raine where Quirke played the title role; DI Maisie Raine – an unorthodox detective whose methods don’t always go down well with her superiors. Two seasons were produced by the BBC in the late 1990s and saw Quirke appear alongside Dean Lennox Kelly and Rakie Ayola.

In 2000 Pauline Quirke and Warren Clarke headed the cast of BBC Sunday drama Down to Earth, an adaptation of the series of novels by Faith Addis although later seasons moved completely away from the novels. Pauline Quirke played school-teacher Faith Addis with Warren Clarke playing her husband Brian. When Brian loses his job he decides to leave the hustle and bustle of the city for a quieter rural life; setting up a farm. Although Faith is initially against the idea she decides to support her husband and agrees to move with him. The idea doesn’t go down too well with their teenage family but the family move and the drama follows their trials and tribulations as they try and set up their own farm despite having no previous experience in farming.

After two seasons actor Warren Clarke decided to leave the series and was killed off, at the start of the drama’s third season. Pauline Quirke left Down to Earth as well at the same time as her character, Faith, sold the farm to newcomers Matt and Frankie Brewer [Ian Kelsey and Angela Griffin]. At this point the drama moved away from the novels by writer Faith Addis. Ian Kelsey and Angela Griffin themselves remained with the series for two seasons before departing. The fifth and final season concentrated on the characters played by Denise Welch and Ricky Tomlinson in a series that bared no resemblance to the first season five years previous. The declining ratings and the fact the drama had moved so far away from its original course saw the BBC cancel the series in 2005.

Down to Earth was just one of several roles on the BBC that Pauline Quirke had during the early part of the 2000s. She returned to comedy for the short-lived 2001 comedy Office Gossip. The drama saw Quirke as Jo, a single mother who works as a PA to company boss Rod Battle. Her relationship with boss Rod becomes the source of office gossip just as friend Simon’s relationship with his boss Maxine becomes a source of gossip.

Alongside Quirke in the short-lived comedy were Pippa Haywood, Daniela Denby-Ashe, Neil Stuke and Robert Daws. Office Gossip only lasted one season of six episodes on BBC One in 2001. The following year she appeared in another BBC comedy, Being April, which also lasted 6 episodes. Actress Rakie Ayola was amongst the cast of the new comedy and had previously worked with Quirke several years before on Maisie Raine. Also in the cast of Being April were Nicholas Gleaves, Nitin Ganatra, Amita Dhiri and Souad Faress.

Quirke’s other roles in this period included guest appearances in the revived Randal & Hopkirk Deceased and Murder in Mind, both BBC dramas. Quirke also had roles in Carrie’s War and North & South. In 2005 she had an extended guest role in ITV cop-drama The Bill as Cath Wilson a woman wrongly accused of child murder and serving time in prison for the crime. The following year she appeared in BBC One medical drama Casualty and then in 2007 in psychological ITV drama Cold Blood which first series aired in 2005. The drama revolved around serial killer Brian Wicklow [Matthew Kelly] and Quirke played DC Hazel Norton in several episodes of the 2007 instalment of the drama.

In 2009 the BBC cast Quirke alongside Mark Wingett [who was best known as DC Jim Carver in The Bill] in their new five-part daytime drama Missing. The drama was set in a missing persons unit headed by Quirke’s character, DS Mary Croft, and was part of the BBC’s season on Missing people. To tie in with the drama was Missing Live which was similar in premise to Crime Watch in which the show appealed for information but on missing people instead of crimes. Missing Live was something of a successful tie in with the drama as it did reunite several people with their families. In the drama DS Mary Croft is not without loss herself as she believed her sister had died in a fire years before but during the course of the five episodes she is reunited with her. The drama proved to be popular enough for the BBC to order a second season – comprising of 10 episodes – for 2010 with another season of Missing Live once again to be tied in with the series.

The second season of Missing launched on Monday and will conclude its run next week. Starring alongside Pauline Quirke, as mentioned, is Mark Wingett but also Pooja Shah [EastEnders], Roy Hudd and Adjoa Andoh [Casualty/Doctor Who].

2010 also saw Pauline Quirke appear in several episodes of E4’s critically acclaimed and award winning teen-drama Skins. Although the drama relies on new talent for the younger characters it has a history of casting established actors in the older roles with Harry Enfield, Nina Wadia, Maureen Lipman, Sally Phillips, Morwenna Banks, Sarah Lancaster, Geoffrey Hughes, Josie Lawrence, Peter Capaldi and Bill Buckley amongst some of the actors to have appeared in the drama so far. Quirke appeared in several season four episodes of Skins as DS Blunt, a police officer investigating the death of a teenager at a nightclub where drugs were being dealt.

Pauline Quirke has shown her worth as a credible and versatile actress who is able to play any role she is offered from comedies such as Birds of a Feather and Office Gossip to serious and dark dramas such as Cold Blood, soapy drama such as Angels, “feel good drama” Down to Earth and more recently dramas such as Missing and Skins. Pauline Quirke is without doubt an icon of British television and a much loved actress for a variety of roles across the years.

Update: in 2011 Pauline joined Emmerdale as Heather, the mother of gay 20-something Jackson. Jackson fell in love with village ‘chav’ Arron. Jackson was left confined to a wheelchair after a car crash. Unable to move from the neck downwards Heather and Arron helped Jackson take his life.