March 12, 2009
Sheila Hancock realised that her husband John Thaw would not survive. “I knew he was going to die,” she reflects.
The couple discovered he had cancer some nine months before she was, sadly, proved correct. “John did his usual – he was going to be all right – and he was, up until about three days before he died he was absolutely amazing.
“There comes a time after about three months when people say, ‘How are you?’ And if you keep saying, ‘I feel awful,’ then they get bored with it and are thinking, ‘Oh, shut up.’” Actress, campaigner and writer Sheila, 76, wrote best-selling book The Two Of Us about her relationship with the Manchester-born star of Inspector Morse, The Sweeney and many other productions.
She talks about their time together as the latest subject for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories (ITV1, Sunday, 10pm), a series which has attracted a peak audience of over five million viewers.
Former newspaper editor Piers asks: “You must miss him dreadfully?” Sheila replies: “I don’t miss him dreadfully, no, it’s six years now.
“I had this terrible seizure in Venice. We’d been to Venice many times and we’d never seen the real bronze horses, just the replicas.
“I used to try and drag him up the stairs to see the real horses but he said, ‘No, let’s have a coffee in the square.’ And this time on my own I saw them and I was gutted that he was never going to see them. So I had a bit of a do then. But on the whole, no. I’ve made a good life for myself. I’m very lucky.”
Asked how volatile their relationship was, she replies: “Very. John was an alcoholic; I’ve made no secret of that.”
Sheila believes he was probably an alcoholic when they first met. “I think so but it hadn’t really done him a lot of harm. He was a drinker. My first husband was a drinker, my father was a drinker. I like drinkers, I really do.
“But there is a fine line between being a fun drinker and being a boorish alcoholic.” She adds: “But I like tempestuous, you see.”
Sheila also talks about her own personal battle with cancer, when she coped without relying on John. “I cope very well on my own – when I got cancer I was devastated, but I though, ‘I’m going to fight this bloody thing.’ John could have supported me more but it wouldn’t have made any difference. I still had to do it on my own.”
She met John when they were cast together in stage comedy So What About Love? At first, she tried to get him thrown off the show. “I did, I’m afraid. He was very poor in it at rehearsal, he really was. He hadn’t done a lot of comedy.”
Sheila recalls the first meeting. “I was wearing – John often reminded me of this, and I wouldn’t wear it now – a full length red fox fur coat with a mini skirt. I came into the theatre and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, darling,’ and put down these bags. I looked across and there was this creature sneering towards me.
“I thought, ‘Right!’ So I went over and said, ‘So you’re John Thaw?’ And he didn’t even answer, he was so rude. All leather jacket and stubble. He just ignored me.
“We rehearsed for a week and he was absolutely awful, so I had a quiet talk and said, ‘Can we replace him?’ And they said, ‘No, there’s nobody available.’”
This fourth show in the six-part series also features filmed contributions from friends and family, including her daughters Joanna and Melanie Thaw.
“When I see what good mothers my own children are I feel really ashamed – they spend time with their kids. I was here, there and everywhere. I neglected them badly and when I was married to John it was a really obsessive marriage and they kind of came second a lot of the time.
"So I wasn’t a great mother but I’m glad I’ve got them now, I really am.”