Biography

NB: This is the first draft of the biography - I'll try to get it finished as soon as possible.


Charlotte Coleman was born on April 3rd 1968, the daughter of actress Ann Beach and TV producer Francis Coleman. She grew up in Islington, along with her sister Lisa (later a star of the BBC's Casualty), who was two years younger. Charlotte was a pupil at St. Michael's primary school, Highgate, where she is apparently remembered for wearing lots of different funny ties and shoes.

Her first profesional acting job was at the age of eight in Sourthern TV's Worzel Gummidge. She was cast as Sue, one of two young children who befriend the scatter-brained scarecrow portrayed by Jon Pertwee.

While by no means a "wild-child", Charlotte took full advantage of the freedom afforded by her new sideline. "My childhood was a bit mad. I did not take school seriously. I was working on a film set and thought that was normal. I had no fear of authority and just did what I wanted all the time. That's all I knew. I was spoilt rotten. I wish now someone had controlled me a bit at the time." It's also said that her multiple ear piercings had to be filled in with wax for her role in Worzel.

Soon after the final series of Worzel Gummidge, Charlotte was cast as the central character in another children's comedy series, this time for Thames Television. In 1981 she starred in an episode of Dramarama entitled "Marmalade Atkins in Space", based on Andrew Davies' book "Marmalade and Rufus". The success of this pilot led to a full series 1982, Educating Marmalade, followed in 1984 by the final installment, Danger - Marmalade at work.

With all this work behind her, Charlotte had still not had any formal acting tuition, having "flirted" with the Anna Scher acting school. Years later she would claim that she "really wanted to be a furniture designer. I only went to Anna Scher's drama school because I didn't fancy going to Brownies." At 14, she left the family home in Muswell Hill to move in with a friend, and was expelled from Camden High School for Girls for smoking and drinking. She used her earnings from Marmalade Atkins to send herself to secondary school, but chose the controversial (i.e. progressive) Darlington Hall which was reportedly going through a discipline crisis of its own - she left after a year. Some side-effects of this sporadic schooling never left her; even at the age of 23, Charlotte confessed to a complete inability to spell.

In 1991 she commented on her teenage years: "I hardly ever lived at home. I wish my parents had been more authoritative. My relations with them were abysmal for years - but they are brilliant now."

For five years, no acting work came her way. The first part to break this drought was Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale, a 1989 British/Protugese co-production. But it was her appearance that same year in the BBC's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit that thrust her into the limelight for the first time. She won a Royal Television Society Award for her role as Jess, a character close to the heart of writer Jeannette Winterson.

Despite the acclaim that her role in Oranges had garnered, still the offers of work failed to flood in. As she told The Sunday Telegraph in 1990, "I didn't work again until this summer." What it eventually led to was the British film Sweet Nothing, the story of a group of homeless people who shun life on the streets for the companionship of a self-built shanty town. Charlotte played a dreadlocked latter-day street urchin. "Usually, homelessness is treated with pity," she noted, "but this drama has optimism and strength."

After Sweet Nothing, she immediately began work on the six-part ITV sitcom Freddie and Max, which premiered in November the same year. Charlotte co-starred with Hollywood veteran Anne Bancroft, commenting that "it was weird to go from making a film with a message and no stars to a comedy with a big name actress." The basic outline of the show- about a young PA editing the memoirs of an ageing artiste - reflected the real-life situation. Charlotte would get the star to tell her old Hollywood stories, and recalls Anne Bancroft admiring her dress sense. "That's lovely, is it Armani?" "No - it's Oxfam."

The series was her first experience of recording in front of a live audience, and she admitted at the time that she "learned to lighten up a bit." Despite the writing talents of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais the series was not a critical or popular success, and only was not re-commissioned.

 

Under construction - to be continued.

 

Ms Coleman, however, can certainly act, as she proved with her performance as the oppressed daughter in TV's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and she is about to give that rich skill its first full airing on the London stage.

She plays a fun-loving student on a Bristol housing estate rocked by racial killing in Roy MacGregor's new play, Our Own Kind, opening at the Bush Theatre on Tuesday.

"It's about what happens as the result of a terrible incident, about people having to confront things they would rather not face. The girl is part of a family who love each other. It's the first time I've played anyone nice."

The role may give the actress fresh scope from the intense kids she has played on TV but yet again it casts her substantially younger than her years. With her diminutive figure and wide-eyed face, she has had to become used to that syndrome.

"I know I don't look 23 and it can be dangerous. If you are treated like a 16-year-old then you start to behave like one. On a long shoot people react to you as though you are the character. It's a bit of a drag. But you have to be realistic. I don't want to knock it. I have been ridiculously lucky."

While lessons were neglected, her career continued with TV films like Sweet Nothing and Inappropriate Behaviour and the short-lived series with Anne Bancroft, Freddie and Max, leading eventually to Oranges.

"People did start to behave differently to me after that. People who had been rude became polite and treated me like an adult. But a lot was expected of you. It's actually very easy to be good in something that is so well written and so well directed. I felt a bit of a sham.

"I still feel a bit negative about it all. I long to know more about the process of film-making, and not just the acting side. I missed my education and still feel I'd like to go to college.

"I never went to drama school and I never had to play bit parts. I can't believe this life is going to last."

1992 saw Charlotte make guest appearances in two perennial British TV favourites - highbrow crime drama Inspector Morse (which had been filmed the year before) and police soap The Bill.

In 1995 came The Vacillations of Pioppy Carew (as Mary) and Oliver's Travels (as Cathy).

In 1998 she starred in SImon Nye's comedy drama How Do You Want Me. "It's the first time I've played someone of my own age who is sensible, ordinary and heterosexual! I always get cast as daffy people and I've played a huge number of murderers - perhaps it's something to do with my audition technique..."

 

 

Charlotte died on November 14th 2001.


Sources:

The Evening Standard (Thursday 29th March 1991).

Jane Furgusson of the Sunday Telegraph (1990).