Looking great at 56: Dempsey and Makepeace actress Glynis Barber

Glynis Barber
Glynis Barber
Have your say

Age-defying actress Glynis Barber is back in the theatre. She tells Catherine Scott about life after Dempsey and Makepeace and how she stays looking so young.

FEW people who remember the 1980s can forget Dempsey and Makepeace.

She, Makepeace, played by Glynis Barber, was the squeaky-clean English Lady-turned-cop with the immaculate bob; he, Dempsey, played by Michael Brandon, was the laid-back working-class New Yorker.

Between them they made up the crime-fighting duo in the hugely-successful programme which ran for three series and attracted up to 20 million viewers at its height.

The chemistry between the two, the “will they won’t they” intrigue, kept audiences gripped as much as the plot lines.

This was accentuated by the fact that in reality Barber and Brandon did end up together – and still are an item.

“I really didn’t like him one bit,” says Glynis, referring to the moment she met the man who was to become her husband of 21 years and father to her son, Alexander.

“I didn’t know Michael at all, so I didn’t know that he was already practising his character and I just thought he was completely obnoxious. I went home and told my then boyfriend that he was a ‘nightmare’.

“He was really loud, yelling at the top of his voice. He fulfilled all my worst expectations of a loud, brash American.

“If someone had said then I would end up marrying him, and we would still be married, I wouldn’t have believed them.

“There were quite a lot of people who laughed when we said we were getting married.”

More recently Glynis has been back on our screens appearing in Emmerdale and EastEnders, although now she is back to her first love, the theatre, touring in Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings which comes to Sheffield next week.

“It’s five years since I was on stage but I have always loved theatre and always loved Ayckbourn,” she says.

She spent two years as Glenda Mitchell in EastEnders, something she found a bit of a challenge.

“I have worked very hard in my life but I have never ever worked as hard as I did on EastEnders.

“People don’t realise but that timetable is brutal. You work every day... you are literally up between 5am and 6am every morning and because of where I live I often didn’t get home until 9pm. Then you’ve got 15 scenes to learn for the next day.

“The thing that’s amazing about EastEnders I think is that the standard of the work is so high. The people are great, but it’s tough.”

She left the soap earlier this year and decided to go back into theatre.

Glynis was born Glynis van der Riet in Durban, South Africa. At the age of five she moved to Johannesburg with her mother after her parents divorced. It was about that time that she decided she wanted to be an actress, after seeing The Parent Trap, starring Hayley Mills.

But as an extremely shy child, Glynis didn’t do much about this ambition until her teens, when classmates would put her name forward for school productions. She then joined a speech and drama group and discovered literature.

When she was fifteen, she was so inspired by one tutor, that she sat down and read the entire works of Shakespeare in a fortnight.

Her mother and stepfather agreed that after she had finished school, she could go to London to study drama. But when Glynis was seventeen her mother died and she was forced to delay her plans for a year.

However, at the age of 18, supported by her stepfather, she left South Africa for London and enrolled in the Mountview Theatre School.

After graduating she stayed in UK working in the theatre as an assistant stage manager and it was during this time that she married her first husband, actor Paul Anthony Barber, whom she met at drama school.

After treading the boards with some success, Glynis’s television break came when was cast in the cult show Blake’s 7. She was then asked by the BBC to do Jane, a series based on the wartime comic strip.

“Because of Jane I very nearly didn’t do Dempsey and Makepeace, and life would have been very different,” explains Glynis.

“I’d been asked to audition but didn’t know if I wanted to do something so commercial. I was still rather naïve and I don’t think the producers could quite believe my attitude.

“Anyway I didn’t hear whether I’d got the part and then I was asked to do a second series of Jane.

“The producers then called me and said I couldn’t take Jane because I’d got Dempsey and Makepeace. I said I’d already accepted Jane and so they ended up delaying filming until I’d finished Jane. Michael was already in England waiting to film Dempsey and Makepeace and he had to wait for me, which is probably another reason we got off on the wrong foot.”

It was about this time that Glynis started to get interested in health and wellbeing.

She is a yoga fanatic, recently hosting her own show, Anti-Aging Secrets with yoga guru Howard Napper and make-up professional Jemma Kidd. The accompanying DVD is out now.

“I’d always been quite active as a child, but when I came to London although I joined aerobic classes I was eating a lot of junk food as I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t have a healthy lifestyle.”

It was while at an aerobics class that she got talking to someone who made her think about her lifestyle and what she was putting in her body.

“I liked reading about supplements; I found it exciting and I became very interested in lifestyle. It became a real passion with me which I haven’t lost.”

She stopped eating red meat, went organic at a time way before it was fashionable or easy, and took up yoga.

Whatever it is she is doing, Glynis, who will be 56 later this month, hardly looks any older than she did in her Dempsey and Makepeace days. “People do say it’s all down to your genes, but I truly believe that 75 per cent is lifestyle.”

She says she doesn’t follow any sort of restrictive diet. She exercises regularly but otherwise it is everything in moderation.

“It isn’t about diet, it is about changing your lifestyle. It is so important to stay active and to have proper relaxation away from the stresses of our lives and don’t smoke.

“People ask me all the time what do I use on my skin, what is my secret. It’s really not that complicated.

“It is hard for woman, ageing, especially if you are an actress, but I honestly have to say that I feel great as I’m ageing. I feel very creative and confident. I do take supplements and I drink green tea because I like it.”

But when it comes to her family, Glynis hasn’t found it quite so easy to pass on her healthy ways.

“My husband is American. They have to have a fizzy drink with every meal – that’s what I’m taking on – and a man who loves takeaways.”

Meal time must be very interesting in the Barber/Brandon household.

“I’ve gone on at my son for so long about eating healthily I am just noise to him. He loves pizza and custard creams.”

However Glynis does have one vice.

“I am a great believer in chocolate – I have a piece of chocolate every day of my life.” There might just be hope for the rest of us.