Two decades before Kylie Minogue became the UK’s favourite Australian import, there was Annette Andre. Perhaps best known as Jeannie Hopkirk, widow of Kenneth Cope’s spectral detective in the adventure series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Sydney-born Annette first trod the boards as a dancer, aged three.
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“I trained with a ballet school out there,” recalls Annette. “¬Then I was asked to join the Australian Ballet Company which was an amazing company. I just started with them, a few rehearsals, and they called me into their office and said to me: ‘Sorry, we can’t have you.’
“And I nearly died. I said: ‘Why?’ ¬ They said: ‘You’re too young. You’re 15 and you’ve got to be 16.’ I went home and said: ‘I’m finished. I’ve done it. But don’t worry Mum, I’m still going to be kicking up my legs on the stage.’
“I did a bit of amateur theatre. It’s all good for the training. And then I got a job in a musical and I did that for a while. And then I went on from there. I had to knock on doors, and I had to force myself on to things. Radio was big time out there then. There was no television. So, radio was big, and theatre.
“And a nun from my old school was wonderful. She said: ‘I know a woman who runs a radio school. I think I can get you into the school if you’re interested.’ I said: ‘Yes.’ And that’s what I did. “I stayed there for six months and then started doing radio work. I did a lot of radio work combined with theatre, and then television started.
“I actually did the second play ever to be produced on television out there. It was a two-hander, for an hour, live. I mean, let’s throw the whole dishwasher at it. It was a lot of experience and a lot of training for me because you had to know how to do everything. With my ballet training I had all the theatre craft: I could fall, I could walk, I could sit, I could stand. I was very lucky.”
From there, Annette headed to Italy – the birthplace of her paternal grandparents – to film scenes for Taylor and Burton’s Cleopatra.
“I was just part of a whole lot of handmaidens. I was paid very well for it and we were on the isle of Ischia for two or three weeks or something with heavy makeup, and Richard Burton. I mean, what more could you ask for? He was there and we were here but it was wonderful. Again, it was more training and I was quite happy to do a little walk on for the thing. I think I might have had a couple of words in it that didn’t end up in the movie.”
Although she has never been able to spot herself in the film (“I’ve looked but the scenes go quite quickly”), Annette can be seen quite clearly in Panic Button, a comedy which she also filmed during her six months in Italy. Annette has fond memories of its stars, Maurice Chevalier and Jayne Mansfield.
“She was so sweet. Such a lovely person. Chevalier was lovely too. Absolutely lovely. I thought: ‘I’ve got a little part but you’re all being nice to me.’”
After an introduction by her Italian agent to the producers of a musical adaptation of Vanity Fair, Annette was invited to audition for the role of Amelia Sedley. Although she didn’t get the part (“The singing was too much for me. I could sing but the range was huge”), the producers felt that Annette was wasting her talent in Italy and offered her a smaller role. “They said: ‘That will get you to London.’ So, I did. I worked in that for three months or whatever it was. We did a tour before and then we were in the West End.”
While appearing in Vanity Fair, Annette was taken under the wing of Michael Aldridge who was playing the Marquess of Steyne. “I’d become very friendly with him and his family, and he said to me one day: ‘You need an agent.’ I said: ‘I know but how do you get hold of one?’ He said: ‘I have a very good agent. I’m going to introduce you to him. I’m sure he’ll meet you.’ Which he did. And I took my scrapbook in – because that’s really all I had – and went and met Julian Belfrage, who was an amazingly good agent. And he took me on. Just from my scrapbook and from the fact that Michael, I suppose, had said: ‘You know, we think she’s got talent.’”
Also in the production was Dame Sybil Thorndike – in her first musical role as Miss Crawley – and her granddaughter Laura Jane Casson.
“Jane and I were of the same age, so we became very friendly. I was looking for somewhere to live when we came back to London. Jane and her sister Penny had a basement flat in Chelsea, and she said: ‘Oh, you can come and stay with us.’ That’s what I did, and I think I was there for a couple of years. I got to know Dame Sybil quite well, and I would talk to her occasionally and say: ‘What should I do?’ and she would give me little hints and things.”
With an agent and accommodation in place, Vanity Fair was to prove a springboard to Annette’s career. “Julian got me to all sorts of interviews and auditions. I started getting work. Then I got a lot of work.”
Early British film roles included This Is My Street, The Heroes of Telemark, Up Jumped a Swagman, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, along with guest roles in TV series such as Emergency Ward 10, The Avengers, Gideon’s Way, and The Saint. Annette made five different guest appearances in the latter series, starring Sir Roger Moore.
“Roger and I got along like a house on fire. Because we both loved to laugh. We were always terrible because we could always find some way to ruin a scene. We’d break up laughing in the middle of it.
“The first episode of The Saint that I did – I’d never done anything like that before. Not where there are time limits and things. People would stand there with watches, they would look at you and would only want one take. I was so scared.
“The first scene was rather long, just me and whoever the other actor was. I had to deal with this director. He made himself known to me. And we started. And I was standing, shaking, and it was a long scene for this first one. And he says: ‘Action.’ So off I go. And I start and he says: ‘Cut.’ I think: ‘What did I do? I didn’t forget a line.’ He was awful to me. Really awful to me. And he said: ‘That’s no good.’ So I said: ‘OK, we’ll do it again.’
“I’m standing there, and I feel a hand hold mine. I looked up and it was Roger who said: ‘He’s not nice. Don’t worry about it.’ And Roger left me and walked out and had a word with him. I never had another bit of trouble from that director again. But he was not nice. Roger just stormed in and helped me out. It’s something that I would never forget. We had a lot of fun on that.”
Sadly, filming The Prisoner episode It’s Your Funeral was quite a different experience.
“I have to say I did not enjoy it at all. Because I read it and I’m thinking: ‘What is this about?’ I didn’t get on with Patrick [McGoohan] at all. He would look at you with great disdain and say something sarcastic.
“I’ve recently seen that episode in the last few months. I never thought it was very good, but I looked at it again and I thought I gave a pretty good performance. And what I think it was, is that I upped it in order to be able to work with him. And that took me by surprise when I thought about it. And I thought: ‘I really didn’t like him but maybe I ought to thank him.’”
Although Annette can be seen in the episode in the exterior scenes set outside well-known Portmeirion locations such as the Round House and the Hotel Portmeirion, I was surprised to learn that all her of scenes were shot, like many ITC shows, at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
“I never saw Portmeirion until about four-five years ago, when we went down for one of those events that they had. And I looked round and said: ‘We’re on the set.’ It was extraordinary what they’d done. Absolutely extraordinary. And Portmeirion – it’s an amazing place. It’s really quite stunning.”
It was while filming Cork on the Water, an episode of the BBC crime anthology Detective, that Annette was offered the part of Jeannie Hopkirk. However, she was initially reluctant to accept a regular role for fear of being typecast.
“They told me who was in it – and I knew Mike [Pratt who played Jeff Randall]. I’d worked with him before on This Is My Street, I liked him very much and he was a good actor. So, I thought about it, and I phoned them and said: ‘Yeah, OK, I’ll be fine.’
“I hadn’t met Ken before. But it was such a wonderful combination of people because we all just got along so well. And it was very good. We used to have actors coming from other sets, particularly Peter Wyngarde when he was doing one of his series there, who’d come on and say: ‘Can we just watch you for a bit and sit on your set for a bit?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because it’s hell over there and we like it here.’ And they’d just come round to get a little peace and quiet.”
I wondered if Annette had any favourite Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) episodes?
“There were a few episodes. I enjoyed the one we did where we were supposed to be in Monte Carlo [The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo], because it was a bit sort of glamorous. There were several of them actually, because I think they were well written.
“On the other hand, it was very hard work when you’re doing a full series. You know you’re just jumping and then you’re recording or filming the odd scene from another episode so it’s all go, go, go.”
Sadly, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) didn’t do as well at the time as ITC boss Lew Grade would have liked, and the show was cancelled after just one series. However, reruns from the 1970s onwards have brought in new generations of fans, and it is now considered one of the company’s finest shows.
“I mean, I’m amazed. I think if Mike were here, he’d be absolutely stunned because none of us had ever thought ahead. We didn’t have anything like we do today. There was no merchandise, no photograph selling, nothing like that. Had we known – gosh – I’d have kept all my scripts and this, that and the other. But it kept us going for a while and it’s still going.”
Although she never got to work with her co-stars again, Annette is still in touch with Kenneth Cope and has fond memories of Mike Pratt who died in 1976.
“He smoked too much, he stayed out late, he worked hard, he got drunk. But on the other hand, he was a lovely guy. I really liked Mike.”
In the 1970s, as well as appearing on television as Sally Woolfe in the first series of The Brothers, and making guest appearances in the likes of The Persuaders!, Man at the Top, and Return of the Saint, Annette worked extensively on stage both in the West End and in fringe theatre.
One of her favourite roles was as Miranda in the two-hander The Collector, the second play to be performed at The King’s Head Theatre, the UK’s first pub theatre. It then became the first play to be performed at the Bush Theatre over at Shepherd’s Bush.
In 1980, Annette travelled to Australia to introduce her baby daughter to her family. Although planned as a holiday, Annette ended up spending almost four years there, appearing on television in Prisoner: Cell Block H, the police drama series Cop Shop, and the Dynasty-style soap Taurus Rising, as well as a national tour of the play Whose Life Is It Anyway?
In 1984, Annette returned to the returned to the UK and, thanks to a recommendation from her friend and former housemate Sue Lloyd, was cast as Sarah Alexander, David Hunter’s (Ronald Allen) mistress, in Crossroads.
“I was very surprised because it wasn’t my favourite series, I must say. But when you got to work in it, they worked very hard. They really did. And the scripts had gotten a bit better by then and the sets weren’t shaking as they had been.”
Annette’s stay at the Crossroads Motel was followed by two and a half years in the West End, opposite Richard Todd in the long-running play The Business of Murder. Then, in 1987, Annette received a telephone call that was to change her life when American writer/producer Arthur Weingarten – who had written on shows such as The Addams Family and The Six Million Dollar Man – rang to offer her an audition.
Not only was Annette successful in getting a part in Maigret, a 1988 television film starring Richard Harris as Georges Simenon’s eponymous detective, she also gained herself a husband. “In fact, Arthur popped the question 11 days after we met.” After a period of living together in London, Annette and Arthur moved to the United States, where she took time out from acting.
“We were living in places where it was a bit out of the way. Well certainly the first 15 years, we lived on top of a mountain up in New York so we weren’t very get-at-able. And when we moved down to California, I knew they wouldn’t even begin with me there because I was – I don’t know what age – but I was older. It’s hopeless to even attempt to try to get anything in Los Angeles. You’ve got to have your face done and your lips blown up and everything.”
Instead, Annette and Arthur worked as volunteers with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna’s Born Free Foundation, giving talks on captive wildlife and inspecting zoos.
“Arthur would write an article about them which was usually pretty damning. I enjoyed my talks. It was very rewarding, particularly talking to children. It was something we were both passionate about, and it just made you feel better to think you were at least trying to help animals which were in need of help.”
Annette, who had always toyed with drawing and design during her free time, took up painting during her time in New York. Joining a local art group, she learned how to paint with oils, finally getting to use the set of paints that Sue Lloyd had given her years before.
“When we moved to California, I met up with another art group and made a lot of friends there which was great and kept me in the loop as it were because you need to go and refresh with things and you need people to talk to so you can swap ideas.”
After Arthur’s death in October 2021, Annette moved back to London, the place where she truly feels at home. Now living in south-west London, just 15 minutes away from her family, Annette has not only picked up her paintbrushes again (“I left off painting. The pandemic threw me into a bit of a fit”) but is looking forward to returning to acting.
“I used to come to the UK every year and stay with my family for a month or two. The last time I did that before I moved over here was in 2019 and, just before I left, my agent phoned me and said: ‘I’ve got two movies for you.’ And I said: ‘Great. When are they?’ He said: ‘They’ll be sometime March or April time.’ And then the pandemic hit about two months later and that was it. But I’m ready. I’m hoping that I will work. I’d like to very much, so I’m just waiting.”
For more on Annette’s career, to see some of her paintings and to buy signed photographs and her autobiography, Where Have I Been All My Life?, go to annetteandreofficial.wordpress.com