After a long successful acting career, with a current TV series, Great Canal Journeys, alongside her husband Timothy West, Prunella Scales CBE, aged 87 has retired. The retirement has been forced by her battle with the progression of Alzheimers.
Prunella Scales was born in Surrey in 1932, and was educated in Eastbourne. She started her career in acting in 1951 as Assistant Stage Manager at the Bristol Old Vic, and progressed into acting roles, with her early work including Pride and Prejudice, Hobson’s Choice and Room at the Top. Throughout her career, Prunella had been cast in comedy roles, and her big break came in the early 1960’s with the sitcom Marriage Lines, opposite Richard Briers. Roles in BBC Radio programmes followed including After Henry, Smelling of Roses and Ladies of Letters, together with television work for London Weekend Television, including a series Mapp and Lucia and as Queen Elizabeth II in Alan Bennett’s A Question of Attribution, which earnt her a BAFTA Award nomination.
In 1973 she was cast with Ronnie Barker in One Man’s Meat, and then in 1975, the role for which she became a household name, Sybil opposite John Cleese’s Basil in the popular sitcom Fawlty Towers, alongside Andrew Sachs as Manuel. The programme ran for 12 episodes, 2 series and is still broadcast.
Prunella continued to perform in films, on television and on stage, notably her appearance with her husband Timothy West in the farce What the Butler Saw in 1987, and for ten years with Jane Horrocks in advertisements for Tesco.
In 2014 Prunella was diagnosed with Alzheimers, but she continued in her professional career. She and her husband discussed practical measures in a BBC Radio 4 programme about age and dementia, and in 2018 Timothy admitted that her condition slowed them down, but not so it closed up opportunities.
To prove this point, Timothy and Prunella launched on the series of TV programmes, Great Canal Journeys. It has been widely viewed and praised for introducing a new audience to the fun of boating, and to the extraordinary and scenic canal network. The couple and their family, Samuel, Joseph and Juliet, have passionately enjoyed canal journeys in their own narrowboat for decades, and the programme sees Timothy and Prunella, occasionally joined by their family, taking canal, barge, and narrowboat trips in the UK, Europe, India and Egypt. It has also been a bittersweet series, as Pru’s mental decline has accelerated and deafness encroached, and now the time has come to end their part in the programme.
Prunella Scales was appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1992. She was an ambassador of SOS Children’s Villages and supports the Charity’s annual World Orphan Week, and is a patron of the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham.