Tracey Ullman was the first woman to be offered her own television sketch show – both in Britain and America – and has starred in film and television dramas alongside Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Grant. The Emmy-winning Tracey Ullman Show ran for four seasons in the US and provided the launch pad for the Simpsons. Tracey was born in Slough and as a child she would impersonate people and put on shows for the amusement of her mother after the death of her father. At 12 she won a scholarship to the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London and worked in repertory theatre and the West End in London before her television career took off. She was one of the stars of the BBC’s primetime sketch show Three of a Kind alongside David Copperfield and a young Lenny Henry. In 1985 she moved to Los Angeles with her husband, the producer Allan McKeown, where her uncanny impressions of Americans from all walks of life won her acclaim and awards in equal measure. After the death of her husband Tracey returned to the UK in 2016 and was soon back on our screens in a new sketch series, Tracey Ullman’s Show, which showcased her enduring talent for sending up the powerful and the famous, including Dame Judi Dench, Angela Merkel and Theresa May. DISC ONE: American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers DISC TWO: You Won't See Me by The Beatles DISC THREE: Nichols and May At Work by Mike Nichols And Elaine May DISC FOUR: That's The Way Of The World by Earth, Wind & Fire DISC FIVE: Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello And The Attractions DISC SIX: They Don’t Know by Kirsty MacColl DISC SEVEN: You and I by Stevie Wonder DISC EIGHT: This Is the Sea by The Waterboys BOOK CHOICE: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend LUXURY ITEM: Nuts CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: You and I by Stevie Wonder Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music radio, podcasts, hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island And for rights reasons the music is shorter than the original broadcast out you enjoy listening. I my castaway this week is the actor and comedian tracy omen she's. Arguably, the most successful british woman on comedies international stage and her creative adventures encompass too
continents and many disciplines. She was the first woman to be offered her own television sketch show, both in britain and america where she became the first non american female comedian to make it bake. She enjoyed a spell as a pop star and is shared the big screen with merrill streep Kevin klein, anti grunt. Her many accolades include a dozen american comedy of oats seven mps to buy this a golden globe. Thirty years after relocating to america, life brought her back to the uk unto the BBC, where she is Do you still to a kleptomaniac dame judy damage and sex? Angela Merkel, and the low inspiration move with the times she is, she says, still putting. the show she would act out ass, a little girl to entertain her mother after her father's death. She says I realized I used to do this and my mother's bedroom. It was six. I used to be everyone in my village f on at school and everyone in the news, and I'm still doing that same show. I think
we're doing it. My eighties artist in person and everyone around me in the nursing home tracey, ullman, welcome to desert island discs, though thank you very much, I'm so glad to be here. Lauren now see audiences if of course, long be enemies by your propensity for metamorphosis, which has been with you since your earliest days to what is it about becoming some one else that you love cautiously some sad. I don't like being me, sir, is just what I could do. I think when you're a kid and new good it. the pool or you can play the piano warrior. I could just impersonate people and I love people now we do see brilliant comic actors like Emma thompson Sharon, Horgan, phoebe, waller, bridge winning plaudits and and prizes on on both sides of the atlantic, but you know back then, when you first start out, the prevailing attitude was pretty much that women just weren't funny did it feel like you were blazing a trail. What each had to do back then, really all those girls have a fabulous career
didn't have to move to america to do it. So if I looked sad to look at american comedy, I realized that women had been given a shot in american comedy much more so than in english comedy and like lucille ball had her own show in the fifties, and then people like Carol Burnett had a wonderful variety show in the sixties and gilda Radner on Saturday night live the late great gilda radner. I saw some shows of hers on english tv in the early eighties. I thought wow. I wanted to that inner look at as she's on par with the guys she's not having to play a traffic warden or sexy girl in a bikini like on the bloody benny hill shows, which I found just so annoying. So I think america got started early or on that stuff, but nothing like english character actresses. You know to me like I was. I still want to be dandy, nicholls, patricia haze, peggy, Ashcroft, Joam, plough right, maggie smith. We still have those you are,
you don't like women. I've seen that when I can do maggie's voice, jeer well back to you tracy anti first disk. Now what is it and why are you taking with you to the island american girl? I love old song. comparisons. American, our minds me off, do my shows in america like the mid nineties and they so hard and because I did this crazy stuff at all. This make up almost cover my heading rubber, wigs you no voice filming. You know from five to midnight to the end of a week, and I would just go knots in the make up trail to this song and I'd be cut
glue and robert the exhausted. I would have lost nine pounds, and this just got me going american well tom, petty and the heartbreakers tracey ullman. This is might find it surprising that the starting point even feel funniest characters is quite a poignant one. You say I always look for the sadness in people. Why is that? I had this wonderful lady that worked at the bank
the midland bank, when I was a young girl and she spoke light, led array and she was marvellous. You know she lived with her mother and she drove a mo page and she had you know one of those. You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps you know one of those people and she just killed me and she's brave and she gets on with life under I, like I like bravery, this or people and inspire me. You recently played the feminist writer betty Friedan in mrs America. Acclaimed drama series would approach. Do you take to roll like that? They gave me a a a tough time. Given me, that part was the last to be caused, and somebody was
because they think you're just going to do an impersonation as de la perception of me as a wacky, zany comedian, you know- and it's not what I do it's know I started off as a character. Actress and going into comedy was just a fluke. Wasn't what I thought I would do and have never done stand up to told a joke to save my life. I was really glad they would acknowledge that I can play that person for real but interesting that are up for the fight and quite keen to pressure the bloody right, a solon that was pitched as girl on the brothel. I can be a part of this. I can do this too, under yup. I want to be taken seriously throughout your career, played such a huge range of characters. I mean ever. We age gender sexuality in an ethnic background doom. Would you feel comfortable taking on such a broad spectrum of roles today, not probably know it wouldn't be the rights of atmosphere No, I think, is the latest. It was just what he could do
Oh you're doing then you know it's under. It would be different. Now, if you ever regret it a character that you ve created no got regret anything don't apologize for anything really is pointless in a more onward I don't it's tank. Your next piece of music is never to what is it and why you taken it with you to the island. I was five when I went to a beetles call said let the house, without in my mother and her friend, Irene, had got tickets and out of Adam would who supposedly my boyfriend about time. You know, and we were terrified We sat like bitching the third row. My mother was there in a leather miniskirt going bonkers and I couldn't hear anything and people were throwing gongs gunk scene of his stuffed toys at the stage
but I knew it was magic and I knew I love them a nice having feelings at no five. You all should have. That was the beat of us. And You won't see me, sir Tracy. Let's go back to that little girl with a mom, and then let him any skirt. You were born in siren, nineteen. Fifty nine, you father, antonyms pollution, I think he'd been a lawyer and then served with the polish army before coming to the caf to be evacuated from dunkirk and he set up.
tat his own business in sly. What was it everything he did? Everything for the polish community and seldom furniture, the married Make a guy came up to me to play months and he said your dad sold me and my first beetles suit and some winkle pickers. You know if you wanted some, you went to entities store on channel street. He did very well. He was very eclectic condemn. I remember bits about him and he was wonderful, am very enthusiastic about me and would put me on the counter in his shop. They Tracy's going to be a star and make me sing little polish, so and it was just lovely and he met your mother Doreen while she was in the land army after they met. she worked with him in his shop, did they went well together you
She was a train seems to us and they work together and Juno's. They would get all these suits them from manchester than kits issued, make them all up and they they worked very hard and build up. this together. Sadly, you lost you dad when you were very young just six, and I know that his death was unexpected and very sudden what your member, by that time, Well, he had had an operation and then he came home and he was reading his story and his he became unwell? Then an ambulance came and then I think I knew that he passed away, but My family dealt with it in a way then, which you just wouldn't deal with a child with grief. Now it was sort of lay said for a while till they settled matters and things. Oh he's on holiday and- and I didn't go to the funeral and I think he would now and then it was
very much. You know you go to a new school, you just get a new uniform, you get a new doll and you carry on. Then nobody talked about it and it. You know not to blame my family, but grief was dealt with differently then, so it was difficult and and but of course I talked to my mother about it eventually, but it was just such a shock for her was very difficult for her. She was in her thirties for young, and I you know, as you get older, you realize how really hard it was Tracy it was hard for mother to keep the business going because she didn't speak population, didn't have your dad's connections in the polish community. Money was tight and the family moved house and you had to leave the private school at you attended up to that point, how bad things get for you. Our fortunes financial fortunes came and went showed what wash up in pubs and you work in hospitals, and it was this, how'd. You know when you run a girl
and nib woman on her own, and you know, benefits and also say yeah. It was blooming hard at one stage. I think she she was working in a food lab and she would bring food back home. She did she used to bring back food from this food label. It was, it was Brooke bond or something as you brought back this corn beef and we will eat in it. You know- and it was like fritters and sandwiches for a whole week and then she said. Oh okay said she looked at the label on a monday. She said it says unfit for human consumption like mom. You couldn't kettle to its ah alright jc time for disc number. Three. Now. What are we going to hear Why I'm, oh yeah, Nicholson, may at work. This is in may and the movie director MIKE Nichols who died a few years ago, they used to play in clubs in greenwich village, and they improvised, and you can hear them in this recording and they all just working up figuring out a sketch and
it's the joy of the work. I've done this many times. You just be bold and you say: let's try this and then it makes you laugh and you realize you've got a punchline and also it's a woman. It's a laying! May it's a woman being funny as funny as the guy. I want something a little too some education, but it's no one very much of a willing to make the sacrifices made. A school body how could you ask that we would do anything for you to be a professional mother. I want very much to be a registered nurse yeah same again, and may at work mike chemicals and delayed may Tracy omen Lou grief overshadowed your early childhoods. Your mother, Doreen and sister patsy had a keen sense of humor. What kind of things would you say to make each other laugh or one which sloughed impersonating people villa from work?
from school, so she was a good mimic too yeah, yeah and putting on shows in the bedroom. As I say, I'd stand on the windowsill and or hello everybody. I want you to know this is me, and this is mine the show and on the show he have to night Edith piaf, you know no one. I am and your stupid she got all she speaks french into and then I go. Nano is kathy kathy and I was you know donna doors and I just spent the body and then string silly shows dressed in her night dresses, and you know the three of you, your you, your mom and your sister. Was there a feeling of it? Being you know the three of you against the world a little bit
atlanta, yeah, very, very female upbringing I wished I'd had a brother. I wished, I had more male influence, but I miss that was always looking for a fella. Our sonos lord son, of an I'm, a grown up. Gonna have a son when I wanted a boy time for your next disc tracy. What have you chosen and why you taking it with you today? That's the way of the world earth, wind and fire. This is me at stage school and we had some very cool teachers. I lind assured and, lady from american vander? She would play of twenty five. That's where the world map was our jazz warm up, and this is like endorphin release american music to me every time I hear this song, I mean it
start stretching a moving and twentieth splits. That's the way of the world. swindon fire and I feel fully worked out after that. Tracy omen. So when you
Twelve. He won a scholarship to the italia, conti academy of theatre arts in london, and I think your headmaster at school had spotted your potential hadn't. He Ronald Harding, a member of the tweed, suits them perfectly polished english brogues and he was in. I was terrified of him. I didn't, and he just had this lovely suddenly he was a very clean. You know this childhood gun being encouraged to perform under you know you get five good teachers in your life, you lucky alone, when I was doing my show the trades union chauffeur fox in america years later he showed up and he was on a bus tour of california with some quiet people and we bought them all at the end of the show. The producers of the show heard he was in and we did a little bit with him and I dropped him off that night when his tweet sudanese brogue shoes and said. Thank you very much, Mr Harding. You know you made my life. Thank you. So was stage school, largely a positive experience for you. There were some brilliant teacher.
yes- and I you know when there were some odd children in showbiz elements I didn't like coming, I used to get sent an auditions. You know that line you all upon a wet then stage and some guy go. Yes, you stepped forward, you stepped forward, and you remember stepping forward. no. No, no, not you the little blonde girl next to you. How did you deal with that? And how did you deal with the rejection? Well, I just thought if I can't make it by the time on twenty I'll, become a travel agent and or try and go to university and be journalists, but did you believe you could make it as an actor people on the situation, comedies We knew it would be sort of like a darling. I I didn't know what to do the vicar came round and we are so terribly embarrassed. I thought you have to speak like that. If you want to be an actress- and you know it,
It's going to the royal shakespeare company or something long. You really have to speak like that, and I didn't want to do the voice. I forgot to thank all my colleagues could be pushed to be an actress of to do this, so I was a dancer inexact adults sort of okay, and so I can. I join doggie squaws second general. Should I do not suppose to mines in summer seasons and things. I'm just had a great law off, I didn't mean it take acting circe. I don't think I could be an actress actually yeah because of the maxim so you took it dancing. Job german valet company was putting on a revised gigi in berlin. I know gigi in german I mean not. Everyone can say that amazing living in west berlin, you know with the wall up and oh, we used to go out till ten in the morning. This is berlin in the seventies. You know we used to go to clubs where you sat on toilets and the rats ran around in cages around it was really wild. You know I went back when the wall was down
and it was not much fun. It anyways. I was a kid and it was fun it's time for this number five. What's next, I love elvis costello who loved Elvis costello. He was on the same level as me. I think brief. If a stiff records and that this is a song I did my courting to with my husband, Alan mcewen, and I remember him driving me to both in his black rolls royce. That was scratch down the side. Your typical He had the mv marks all the way down the sucked up. His rolls royce one pdf located yeah, and we played this album and the song that became ourselves every everyday. I write the book.
every day I write the book Elvis costello andy attractions,
tracey ullman in nineteen eighty one you performed in a play called for in a million upstairs at the royal court theatre in london. It was an improvised play about club acts, but did you enjoy about the experience? It was the perfect thing for me to do and because it was improvise, you could sort of alter it a little or just try something fresh and keeping spontaneity is huge for me, I'm not very good at doing theatre because I'd get bored after like two weeks. I cant do the same thing over and over again, it's frightening to me, but play. You could shift a bit and do little try little bits, and that was magic not long. After that, Tracy were offered your own tv series. A sketch show called three of a kind with Lenny Henry and David copperfield. That was a huge break, but I think he made it quite clear to the BBC commissioners that it had to be,
your terms, I said, I'm tracey, ullman, I'm not blonde. I don't have big breasts. I will not wear a bikini. I don't want to be the butt of sexual jokes. I don't want to be a sexy traffic warden. I want to do equal stuff with the guy and I wanted to write as well and get into the improvising in doing that sort of staffing. Gain control, because I knew my power was in creating good characters and being funny and feeding the power If you know the a audiences enjoying it. You know, though, that show you look back and you got as terrible as the worst jokes in the world on that show really may mainstream humor, like ah just going out to run the bath love two david walking across a screen with a bath league dinner me and Lenny. We were doing things like we disarm and and jelly this cup with wanted to be on reality, tv, and this isn't eighty one. We just wanted everything to be filmed where we want our wedding filmed and we want our life filmed and another
we were ahead of the curve, their berlin, what they think the great thing about three of a kind was. It was a really terrific, middle of the road family show, you know said it was this, like cool in a random review boss of stuff, but we were here, on a saturday night. What was the rush like when it was a hit when people loved it? You don't know. What's going to be a hit, you don't know you can think you've got a great sketch is going to be great. You work in a week. That's the funny thing! I like to just be so spontaneous, and on the night I mean I've done so crazy things at think. I boreal spectacles and an taken some spectacles from a make up girl. I had this incorrectly strong prescription, and I couldn't see- and I was twirling around and nearly vomited, and it was one of the best sketches I've ever done in my life cause it distracted me. This has that lovely laughter that was unexpected and stops the lines, and you just know that you've transported yourself in them and it it's a lovely feeling Tracy it's time for your sixth piece of music today. What are we going to hear and why you taking this with you
had a big hit with us, wonderful, wonderful song called they don't know written by the late great customer call, but I want to play her version today, because it's so beautiful simple and she was just a genius. This girl the hey, kirsty maccoll and they don't know which, of course, you covered tracey. Ullman are singing along then trying to hit that high note the baby get her. We. I could never get it either, so we used hers on your very yeah, it's kirsty, her fabulous tracey
you married the producer allen mccune when you were twenty three years old? He once said that you fell in love with him over the course of a train journey. Tell us about that yeah. It was like one of those sort of like you know, rom coms, where you don't like somebody who was very rude to me. I did a television, show, family's railroad to me and kept sort of insulting me and just being really off hand, and I remembered would know after we done. The shoot was and I met monitor. in station and it was just renamed birmingham to to london, and I saw him and I went out on a travel with you you're, not very nice person, you're very rude, and I didn't like how you spoke to everybody. Yesterday went oh shut up or buy your breakfast, and breakfast was like nine pounds and on british rail and and that just the hour literally in ten minutes, whatever it was from Birmingham to london. He just charm the pants off me and we were married three months later and for thirty to thirty years I like to laugh. He made me laugh and my life began when I met
allah mcewen: it really did. I learned how to base, in los angeles and after you married you both moved out there. Why did you feel at the time was right to start a new life in California? I was pregnant, actually, so on you I sort of calmed down a bit allen like being in america. I always loved coming to and from england, but I knew I never. No one offered me a job in a long time, but it was different in l, a is brooks who produced the mary, tyler Moore, show and taxi? Among other huge hits offered you your own tv program. He gave you some homework first, though, what did that involve? He said
to me. If you want to do the show, you need to understand the origins of comedy and tv shows in america and politics and everything, so he sent me to the museum of broadcasting in new york and he said no watch loads of old shows and I used to do as to go there every morning with my cup of tea and I was pregnant and I would watch live of course, the meteors wachtel, the lucille ball stuff stuff. I already knew, but things at your show of shows and imogene coca and Sid Caesar sketch shows in the fifties, at woody Allen and neil Simon used to write for- and I think that's something is really important. You have to do you can't just flyin, have a meeting and do show three weeks later you come so is a sketch show and you did impressions, but of course there was no end to that back then. So how did you come to research, all of those different american accents and inflections and styles of speech? I should call like a car dealership or
like a telephone exchange in brooklyn. How I'll remember talking to rouse Mammy you're gonna have to talk to my supervisor, and I would just say: could you just talk to me? rosemary. I'm like really want to talk to you, but you know how can I and then I would say to fox Would you send me on a tool I want to go to to lead to our high? Oh and I will just take pictures of people and end up in their homes at two in the morning. You know eating burgers them and taking photographs of, and ask him to, tell me about himself, and so I the equivalence in america that I'd found in you know in england go my life growing up and you know I met s of K, clark type in Detroit and I just loved it. The show also included an animation segment featuring for the first time, a certain yellow, all american family of five. Did you have any idea that the simpsons would have such a massive impact? I breastfed yellow people now and then but met graining, whose a genius came in and was the wheel. Felicia
I know he showed us he's drawings. I seeing the first picture of of mods with the blue hair. of course join. Can't mercosur and the show that the voice of Mine- and I am now doune castle and that's a who's on the show too. He he did homer. Remember the first recordings. I go upstairs to the booth and do these voices- and I didn't do it because I was always so busy doing other stuff, but I'm so very proud of it launching the simpsons. It was an extraordinary thing, alright time for your next piece of music tracey ullman. What are we going to hear and why I couldn't have played this a few years ago, because it's so poignant and intense for me, but epitomizes- my love for him at all, togetherness and how we conquered the in our way and for us with our elvenar our work and our energy love you outlines for you, we six again.
And May I guess even I stevie wonder: tracy when Alan died in twenty thirteen following a long illness and a couple of years later you came back here to the uk. Why was at the right time to come back it was called dignity to being a widow in london. Allen has given me the two incredible children mabel who has now given me an incredible grandson, Elijah and is about to have another one and my son johnny. They were both born in america
mabel loves living here, she's, very british and she's my powerhouse. She just kept me going and does walking around and talking to people you don't do that in l, a you're up a hill- and you know in your car all the time and the connection with people was crucial at that time it was the company. You see a lot more dignity it'd be in a widow and in london because of that, but to be among people yeah just just going down the market and talking to people is to deny that it's a better environment. If you're on your own, then it's very lonely in los angeles- and of course they were full of memories of of atlanta his dying, and I wanted to shake it off a little. The BBC's The europe, of course, freely series of Tracy omens show. Will you don't biplane to british audience after a while away in the states. Yeah near meant a lot to me to be to be good and ice
look to Alan all the time you know my trailers and you D, think of his eye. What about this sketch and drive home some knights and tell him about my day, and I felt he tells corny, maybe its spirit and energy, was there with me. Did you always know what he would say? Ye is funnier but or funny or energy, and it was lovely to bear to do it and feel happy and feel the joy of working and being other people and getting distracted and and knowing that I still wanted to do it, and I could do it without him, physically being there yeah. What about time away from work. I read a quote for me that a handspun scottish cashmere like heroin to me- oh god, I'm so boy I mean I just like I like to knit the offer the I like knitting. I like watching, unlike anything, about to tell a terrier regime's on BBC for ok, see you nothing to total sarian regime. Yet that's me anything about north korea, role in l, a cold war
watch love island, very eclectic, tracy, of course, before any of that, I'm about to cast your way to the island and from talking to you today I mean I can't help thinking that, unlike many of my, castaways you won't bologna cause you'll. Have all of these characters inside to keep you company keep popping out yeah I mean who? Will you definitely take with you? I would like to take Angela Merkel, because I think should be very sensible- should help me to understand the situation and would possibly be able to figure out who could come and rescue me know she might be able to get in touch with natal, where we'll go a more attractive. You see before you both head off. What's it going to be and why you know when you hear someone you just burst into tears, or you just think. Oh, my god, this is so act, it's about surviving it's about letting go of things in the past and letting go of pain, and it's got me through my grief,
it's about the last third of my life and being brave and pushing on I'm not looking back and its wishes to see the water boys won the war to boot, This is the sea, so the tracey ullman, I'm going to send you away to the islands, I'm giving you, the bible and the complete works of shakespeare to take with. You can also take a book of your choice. What would you like
area of adrian mole age, that he'd three court, because it's brilliant beacon You have a luxury item. What would you like? Well, steal from one of your past guests here, Julie cooper, loves animals. Like me, I love dogs, so much. I cannot we'll have a I'll get my life, so she said she would take nuts with her to the island, so she could take the monkeys to be her friend, and I just I was so brilliant. Not would be it make things complete for me to have a animal friend the island, where we will not. You are perhaps you know programme finally, which one track would you saved from the waves? If you are too, I think it would be you and I m, because it gives me such strength and love and completeness and oh just have alum with me. Tracy omen. Thank you very much for letting us here your desert island. Thank you, have had a wonderful
I hope the enjoyed my conversation with Tracy, I'm pretty confident that those notes are do the trick. He will make antiviral friends on the island. We ve cost many actors comedians away, of course, including don't fringe Cathy back an steve cuban tracy's. Three of a kind star salome henry is there to you could find all of those episodes in a desert. Island discs programme archive and through BBC sands- next time I guessed will be the entrepreneur and philanthropist Tom Lou bay. I do hope
Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.