Thursday 23rd October 2003
All content © New Journal Enterprises, 2003.

Connie Booth, Michael Palin and Trini Lopez in American Friends (1991)

Connie Booth
Don’t mention the classic comedy series
Connie Booth is best known for her role as Polly in Fawlty Towers.
But Sean Smith finds she has left acting behind to become a phsycotherapist in Kentish Town

ACTRESSES are the last people to hide away from media attention but Connie Booth has made avoiding the spotlight a fine art.
In the 20-plus years since she co-wrote Fawlty Towers with her now ex-husband John Cleese, few have got close enough to acknowledge the role Ms Booth played in creating one of the greatest British comedies.
Her career in the limelight was not a one-trick pony either. After leaving behind a blossoming career on the New York stage she forged respectability in movies after appearing in Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, which included roles in Nairobi Affair (1984), Hawks (1988), American Friends (1991) and the critically acclaimed Leon the Pig Farmer in 1992.

Since Leon little has been heard of Ms Booth – even the official biographer of the Fawlty Towers series failed to persuade her to say a few words, despite detailed contributions from the rest of the cast.
But her withdrawal from public life – primarily at her Highgate Wood home which she shares with her husband the New York theatre critic John Lahr – has been fruitful.

After five years studying at London University Ms Booth qualified as a psychotherapist (ironically the same profession as John Cleese’s third wife) two years ago and has been practising in the area.
Her latest project in Kentish Town involves group sessions with single mothers who are finding it difficult to cope when their children leave them to go to school.

And like many an actor before her, she has found solace in therapy – but as a practitioner not a patient.

“It is the most frightening thing in the world putting yourself out there,” she says. “You learn so much from the people that you work with. Sometimes someone will tell a story with relevance and it will spark a memory – and I think that’s an advantage to everyone.”
Born in 1944 in Indianapolis her father was a Wall Street magnate and her mother was an actress. She followed her mother onto the stage and by the time she met Cleese, while working as a waitress in New York, she was considered a star in the making. After marrying Cleese in 1968 she moved to London, picking up bit parts in Monty Python and on television.

They had a daughter, Cynthia, in 1971 and soon after wrote their first short film together – a romantic adventure called Romance With A Double Bass, which was notable only for being the pair’s first collaboration with Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers).
In 1978, before the second and final series of Fawlty Towers was finished, the pair divorced amid rumours that she had received a derisory payment for her work as writer and one of the lead characters.

Her refusal to be associated with the comedy hit went as far as refusing to have her picture taken after our interview because the BBC were showing re-runs of the series. “It might give people the wrong idea (about her work),” she explains.

But her latest project in Kentish Town – which she was instrumental in helping set up – has allowed her to draw less on her famous past and more on her own experiences as a single mother in a foreign country.
“I think a lot of these mothers suffered from being quite isolated,” she says. “Mothers without extended families, mothers from different ethnic backgrounds who have the difficulties of a new culture find that normal problems with a new baby can be quite frustrating.
“I think there is a sense of shame because in our culture there is a feeling that if you have a baby as a mother you should know what to do and mothers can feel quite overwhelmed with all the new experiences a baby brings.”

She adds: “We can all feel we are not doing a good job as a parent, we can feel ashamed. Working with mothers is about support and sharing and developing in a group.
And the group sessions appear to be mutually beneficial. “It’s a real learning curve. They teach me so much. I think things being aired and discovered are crucial,” she says.