Image of the gates of the Liverpool Cathedral

Alison Steadman OBE

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Alison Steadman for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University. 

Alison Steadman is Britain's favourite character actress with an illustrious career embracing theatre, film, TV, and radio. Over a period of four decades, she has created some of the most memorable roles on stage and screen, often deflating vanities with her hilarious and keenly observed performances. Two outstanding roles that immediately spring to mind are the loud and opinionated Mrs Bennet in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice and the monstrous Beverley in Abigail's Party

Alison Steadman was born in Liverpool, the daughter of George Steadman and Marjorie Evans. Like many Liverpool families, the Steadmans always enjoyed a good laugh and Alison certainly enjoyed making people laugh. From an early age she displayed a talent for mimicry and decided to become an actress when she was nine. 

Whilst at Childwall Valley School in South Liverpool, she closely observed comedians like Hylda Baker on television and took every opportunity to practice her talent; whether it was impersonating a Scottish neighbour when putting the dolls to bed or impersonating her teachers at school. 

After school, she joined the Probation Service as a clerical assistant, attending Liverpool Youth Theatre whenever time allowed. When she was 20, and on the advice of Liverpool Playhouse's Tony Colgate, she auditioned for the East-15 Acting School in Essex, and her impersonation of Cassius Clay won her a place. There, she met a young director named Mike Leigh for the first time.  

During her final year at East-15, she made her professional stage debut playing Sandie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at Lincoln's Theatre Royal. Thereafter, she gained further stage experience, including seasons at the Liverpool Everyman and Bolton Octagon Theatre. 

In 1973, she married Mike Leigh, leading to a creative partnership which produced some of Britain's most important theatre, TV and films, as well as two sons: Toby and Leo. 

The most famous collaboration with Mike Leigh was when she played Beverly in Abigail's Party, first in a theatre production in 1977 for which she won the London Evening Standard Theatre Award and the Plays and Players Award for Best Actress, and then in the definitive TV version the same year. 

So embedded in the British consciousness is this portrayal of the comedy of social aspiration that when she recreated the role at the National Theatre in 1999 in an abridged performance, the audience stood and cheered. 

Other film work includes A Private Function, Shirley Valentine, Wilt, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, and Mike Leigh's critically acclaimed films Topsy Turvy, Secrets and Lies, and Life Is Sweet, for which she won the US National Society of Film Critics Award. 

Alison has had a regular presence on television since the early 1970s when she featured in Z Cars. Her many credits include the afore-mentioned Pride and Prejudice, Nuts in May, Karaoke, Fat Friends, for which she was BAFTA-nominated, Adrian Mole: The Cappucino Years, Dennis Potter's Singing Detective for which she was BAFTA-nominated, the comedy The Worst Week of My Life, Fanny Hill, and News Hounds for which she won The Chicago Film Festival Gold Award for Best Actress.

From 2007 to 2010 she appeared in the award-winning BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey as Pamela.  

Over the years Alison has been greatly admired for her memorable stage work, demonstrating her versatility in for example her role as Mari in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, for which she won a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actress in 1992, The Memory of Water for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award, The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband, and Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane.  

On radio, Alison's talent for mimicry and character voices was evident in shows such as Castle's on the Air, The Worst Show on the Wireless, and Week Ending where her impromptu impression of Margaret Thatcher was particularly noteworthy. Despite her high profile and iconic popularity, Alison is often described as refreshingly down-to-earth, a genuine easy-going person without vanity. As journalist Lesley White puts it, There is nothing of the grandeur or self-conscious graciousness of the theatrical dames about her. 

She is the star who refuses to shine excessively in case she gets blinded to life's realities. It appears that this unstarriest of stars is never happier than when she's birdwatching, taking the dog for a walk or rambling with the London Wildlife Trust where she can meet ego-free people who are just interested in nature. 

Alison Steadman's great talent as an entertainer has been recognised through the many accolades and awards she has received over the years, not least when she was invested as Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Millennium Honours List for her services to British Drama. 

She has also received several honorary degrees, including from the University of Essex, of which her alma mater, the East-15 Acting School is now part. She has incidentally been back to East-15 directing productions in recent years. 

This much-loved actress who has brought so much pleasure to so many people, is a credit to her native city and we are delighted to honour her achievements today. 

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Alison Steadman, this most distinguished daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.