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The Review - FEATURE
Published: 23 October 2008

Corinne with Norman Beaton in Empire Road written by Michael Abensetts
Corinne and the killing of Audrey

The busybody mum of Dr Truman in EastEnders was but a brief episode in a distinguished acting career, writes Angela Cobbinah

SHE has performed alongside screen legends like Elizabeth Taylor, danced with Frankie Howerd and taken the bow at the National Theatre in a career that stretches back more than 50 years.
So Corinne Skinner-Carter finds it surprising that many people only remember her for her short-lived role as Audrey Trueman in EastEnders.
“It amazes me considering I’ve been around for so long,” she says from her home in Bickerton Road, Archway. “On the other hand, I’m glad they remember me at all,” she adds with an easy smile.
Audrey turned up in Albert Square in 2000 as the busybody mum of the Trueman brothers but met an untimely death 34 episodes later after hitting her head on a piece of scaffolding outside the Old Vic.
In the topsy-turvy world of EastEnders, Audrey’s freakish demise might be considered a normal turn of events. But Corinne suspects darker forces were at work.
“I received a script and it was all about how Audrey’s first job in England had been as a lavatory cleaner, how she had worked her way up from that to become a B&B owner,” recalls the longtime Arsenal supporter. “I didn’t think it was appropriate and I told them so – she may have come from the bottom but not from the bottom of a toilet!”
The offending reference was dropped. “But not long afterwards I was called in to be told about a fantastic development in the script – Audrey was going to be killed off,” she laughs.
Corinne arrived in England from Trinidad in 1955, intending to train as a teacher. But having worked as a dancer with Trinidad’s top choreographer Boscoe Holder in the Caribbean, she decided to join his London group instead.
After extensively touring Europe and appearing on Cool For Cats, TV’s first music show for teenagers, Corinne began to get parts in films. “If a film required a black dancer, then I would be in it.”
Among her credits is Hollywood blockbuster Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor. Filming took place in Italy and Corinne remembers Taylor being “quite pleasant” but preoccupied then, as now, with her make up. “She would take all day to put it on.”
She also appeared in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die and in Up Pompeii with Frankie Howerd: “Frankie was great to work with.”
Then, by now married with two children to the educationist Trevor Carter who died earlier this year, she decided on a change of direction, going back to her original plan of training to be a teacher but taking acting lessons at the same time.
After landing a part in the Horace Ove movie, Pressure, her big break came in 1978 with the role of long suffering wife Hortense in the BBC’s Empire Road, a comedy drama set in a racially mixed neighbourhood in Birmingham. This was a bold attempt to reflect modern-day Britain.
“Empire Road was a black show with white people in it as opposed to Love Thy Neighbour which was a white show with black people in it,” says Corinne, who appeared on the front cover of Radio Times as part of the publicity for the series. “It attempted to show how it really was for black and Asian people, not what white people thought it was like.”
Despite its popularity, Empire Road was pulled after 26 episodes. “Nobody could understand why – people were clamouring for it.”
Nevertheless, it turned Corinne into a celebrity, particularly in Hackney where she worked as a supply teacher at Southwold Primary School in between shows. “Word got around that Miss was on TV and there would always be crowds of children waiting for me at the school gates to get my autograph.”
Since then she has been regularly cropping up on our screens, doing the rounds of the soaps and detective dramas and landing lead parts in series like South of the Border and Rides. She was also part of the explosion of black film and theatre that was bidding to carve out its own cultural space. She worked with most of the black theatre companies of the day, starring in key productions such as Trevor Rhone’s Two Can Play in 1983 and James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner in 1987, and regrets most have been shut down for lack of funding.
“I love the theatre,” declares Corinne. “You can’t beat it for immediacy or atmosphere it’s just that there are not enough parts open to black and Asian actors.”
Despite her impressive record, she does not believe she has done as well as she could have. “When it comes to black performers there is a glass ceiling in this country – it’s not sour grapes, it’s a fact. If you really want to make it big you have to go to America.”
She adds: “It is not as bad as it used to be and these days young actors are getting better parts. We can be doctors now, not just nurses. But there is still a long way to go.”
Now retired from Southwold, where she taught happily for 20 years, she has no intention of giving up acting as well. “Life would be dull without it, besides, actors never retire, they just die,” she laughs.

* There will be a requiem mass for Trevor Carter at St Augustine’s Church, Highgate N6, on Saturday at 12pm

* Black History Month continues with a debate on African States and the Legacy of Colonialisation. The British Library, November 1. 2-6pm; free, but tickets must be reserved. 01937 546 546.

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