Popular in Poplar: Angela Lansbury at the Angela Lansbury Film Festival, Poplar, April 2014
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Angela Lansbury: “Peach queens are stars. I’m an actress”

The veteran actress best known for Murder, She Wrote had an emotional return to her East End roots this month with a series of screenings and a personal appearance.

As I looked down at the pavement, Angela Lansbury’s face looked back up at me from the slab. It’s a young face – this is the MGM starlet of the 1940s, not the veteran actress who went on to captivate the world with Murder, She Wrote – but still instantly recognisable. There wasn’t just one of her, either. The spray-painted faces were dotted around Poplar, making a bizarre sort of gingerbread trail through the East End of London.

At the end of the trail is the woman herself, being helped up on to a stage at a community arts centre as the main attraction of the Angela Lansbury Film Festival. “I’m not a public speaker,” she says, half laughing, half pleading, but goes on to speak eloquently and movingly about her father and grandfather, both of whom served as mayor of Poplar. Her childhood memories of the East End in the 1930s are vivid and detailed.

She cites her grandfather George Lansbury (an MP and leader of the Labour Party in the 1930s) as a great influence on her desire to perform. As a child, she was taken to hear him address a rally at the Royal Albert Hall and left wanting to imitate his style. Now 88 years old, she is still following his example, explaining that his enormous stamina is the reason she “never slows down”. Even though George Lansbury’s granddaughter hasn’t lived in the UK since she was a teenager (her family was evacuated to the US at the start of the Second World War), she has strong links with the area. The trail of faces leads past a Lansbury Estate and nearby are a Bruce Road and an Edgar Road, named after her twin brothers by her father when he was mayor.

Lansbury is back on the London stage for the first time in nearly 40 years to perform in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. She plays an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, who presides over a seance in a country house drawing room that goes comically awry. Coward’s play is ostensibly an ensemble drama but on the evening I was there, Lansbury had only to step on to the stage for the audience to break into rapturous applause. Everything from her energetic dance as she enters her psychic trance to the smallest roll of her eyes provoked laughter.

Coward was there at the beginning of her career, too. Lansbury’s first professional performance was at the Samovar Club in Montreal at the age of 16 (she lied and said she was 19 to secure the booking). Exploiting her talent for vocal mimicry, her act revolved around Coward’s song “I Went to a Marvellous Party”.

Lansbury has the kind of pulling power many younger and more ubiquitous actors can only dream of. Part of her fascination lies in the multifaceted nature of her career – few others have achieved such success on stage, on television and in films. From the outset, she played character parts, such as Sibyl Vane in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray, rather than being a conventional leading lady. “Peach queens are stars. I’m an actress,” she says, going on to poke fun at her Dorian Gray co-star Hurd Hatfield, who enjoyed being called a celebrity “only because he was no longer an actor”.

After three Oscar nominations, Lansbury finally received an honorary Academy Award last year. Revealing a rather competitive streak, she points out that she didn’t “win” it, because there were no other nominees. Then she laughs and says: “It’s nice to be recognised for hanging around as long as I have.”

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.