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Penelope Keith
Born Penelope Anne Constance Hatfield
2 April 1940 (1940-04-02) (age 69)
Sutton, Surrey, England
Occupation Actress
Years active 1950s–present
Spouse(s) Rodney Timson

Penelope Anne Constance Keith, CBE, DL (born Penelope Hatfield on 2 April 1940) is an English actress.

Having started her television career in the 1950s, Penelope Keith became a household name in the United Kingdom in the 1970s when she played Margo Leadbetter in the sitcom The Good Life. This role earned Keith her first of two BAFTAs, the second being in 1978 for The Norman Conquests. One year after The Good Life's finale, Keith was the lead character in another BBC sitcom, To the Manor Born, a show that received audiences of up to 24 million. During the 1980s and 1990s, she appeared in six other sitcoms, in each the lead character. Since the 1990s, Keith has appeared rarely on television and does more theatre work.


Early life

Penelope Anne Constance Hatfield was born in Sutton, Surrey in 1940.[1] Her father, who was a Major by the end of the war, left her mother Connie when she was a baby, and she spent her early years in Clacton-on-Sea and Clapham. Although not Catholic, at the age of six she was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Seaford, Sussex.[2] It was here that a young Keith first became interested in acting,[1] and she and mother would frequently go to matinees in the West End. When she was eight years old, her mother remarried and Penelope adopted her stepfather's surname of Keith. While she did not get on with her stepfather, her mother was a "rock of love" to her.[2][3] Keith was rejected from the Central School of Speech and Drama, on the grounds that, at 5'10", she was too tall.[4] However, she was then accepted at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, and spent two years there while working at the Hyde Park Hotel in the evening.[5]

Like many aspiring actors and actresses of the time, she started her career working in rep across the UK, including Lincoln, Manchester and Salisbury. Keith's earliest appearances were in The Tunnel of Love, Gigi and Flowering Cherry. At the age of 23 in 1963, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company both in Stratford and at the Aldwych Theatre in London.[2]

Early career

Keith started her television career in programmes such as The Army Game, Dixon of Dock Green, Wild, Wild Women and The Avengers.[2] In the early 1970s, she appeared in The Morecambe & Wise Show, Ghost Story and The Pallisers. Her film appearances during this time included Every Home Should Have One, Take A Girl Like You, Rentadick and Penny Gold. In 1967, she had a minor role in Carry On Doctor, but the scene appears to have been cut from the final edit.[2][6]

Her best known theatre appearance, in 1974, was playing Sarah in The Norman Conquests, opposite her The Good Life co-star Richard Briers. Keith would often film The Good Life during the day and perform on stage in the West End in the evening.[2][7] In 1978, the year The Good Life ended, she married Rodney Timson, a former policeman. They had met while he was on duty at Chichester Theatre where Keith was performing.[7] Timson, who is eight years her junior, had been married twice before.[7] They adopted two children, who were brothers, in 1988.[1]

Television fame

Penelope Keith became a household name in 1975 when the BBC sitcom The Good Life began. In the first episode she was only heard and not seen in her role as Margo Leadbetter, but as the episodes and series went on the scope of her role increased. In 1977, Keith won a BAFTA award for 'Best Comedy Performer' for her role of Margo Leadbetter. Following the success of The Good Life, each of the four main stars were given their own programme, and from 1979 to 1981 she played Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born. Both roles shared similar characteristics, being formidable but likeable ladies who do not tolerate low standards of behaviour or service.

Following To the Manor Born, Keith has appeared in six other sitcoms as the main lead: Sweet Sixteen, Moving, Executive Stress, No Job for a Lady, Law and Disorder and Next of Kin. She has also had roles in The Spider's Web. Keith won a second BAFTA award as 'Best Actress' in 1978 for The Norman Conquests. In 1988 she hosted one series of the ITV panel show What's My Line?, following the death of its original presenter Eamonn Andrews. She had a featured role in the 1998 ITV serial Coming Home.

Recent years

In recent years, Keith has regularly appeared on stage across the country, including a role in Noel Coward's Star Quality and in 2004 she played Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Savoy Theatre. In 2006, she appeared at the Chichester Festival in the premiere of Richard Everett’s comedy Entertaining Angels, which she later took on tour. In 2007 she played the part of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest on tour, which transferred to the West End in 2008 at the Vaudeville Theatre. She has also done voice work, and has voiced many adverts including ones for Pimm's, Lurpak, Tesco and most famously, The Parker Pen Company, which was named one of the 100 Greatest Adverts in a Channel 4 programme. In 1997, she provided the voice of the narrator for Teletubbies, and also starred in the radio adaptations of To the Manor Born. In 2003, she appeared opposite June Brown in the TV drama Margery and Gladys. In 2007, she starred in a one-off To the Manor Born Christmas Special[8] and in 2009 presented Penelope Keith and the Fast Lady, a one-off documentary for BBC Four about Dorothy Levitt, the Edwardian motoring pioneer.

Keith and her husband Rodney Timson live in Milford, Surrey, and she has a great passion for gardening.[4] In 1984, she had a rose named after her.[2][9] Penelope Keith has been President of the Actors' Benevolent Fund since 1990, taking over after the death of Lord Olivier, and is president of the South West Surrey National Trust.[10] On 2 April 2002, she began a one-year term as High Sheriff of Surrey,[11] being only the third woman to hold the post. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1990 New Year Honours,[12] and was promoted to a Commander (CBE) in the 2007 New Year Honours for "charitable services".[1][13] Keith is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey.[14][15]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Good Life of Penelope Keith". BBC. 29 December 2006.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Edge, Simon (26 October 2007). "Return of Lady Penelope". Daily Express.  
  3. ^ "The Good Life of Penelope Keith". The Lady. 2001.  
  4. ^ a b "UKTV Personalities".  
  5. ^ "A Celebration of The Good Life". Orion Books. 2000.  
  6. ^ "Carry On Online".  
  7. ^ a b c "I'm Bossy Like Margo But Not Posh". Daily Express. 30 December 2006.  
  8. ^ Roche, Elisa (25 October 2007). "To the Manor Reborn". Daily Express.  
  9. ^ "Classic Roses".  
  10. ^ "The tale of five gardens". National Trust magazine. Summer 2007.  
  11. ^ London Gazette: no. 56531, p. 4283, 9 April 2002. Retrieved on 2007-11-30.
  12. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 51578, p. 10, 30 December 1989. Retrieved on 2008-04-17.
  13. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58196, p. 8, 30 December 2006. Retrieved on 2008-04-17.
  14. ^ London Gazette: no. 57207, p. 1979, 16 February 2004. Retrieved on 2008-04-17.
  15. ^ "Actress honoured for charity work". BBC. 30 December 2006.  

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