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Life and legacy: Corinne Skinner Carter

Revered: Corinne Skinner Carter [right] and left, her new memoir

CORINNE Skinner Carter has been involved in many of Britain’s landmark television and film productions, from Empire Road to Lovejoy, but she is perhaps best known for her role as Audrey Trueman in BBC soap EastEnders.

Boasting a lengthy career as an actress and a dancer, the 80-year-old recently released her memoir. Penned by author Z. Nia Reynolds, Why Not Me? tells all about the actress’s early days in the Caribbean, her move to the UK, and a career that has spanned over 50 years.

Born into what she considers to be a privileged family, the Trinidadian says she had a very happy childhood.

“I was a lot better off than a lot of people and I had a lot of family,” Carter recalled, as we sat in her north London home. “That was how we lived in Trinidad at that time. Family was family and we stuck together.”

Almost immediately after school, her career took off, when she was photographed by and then danced for the Geoffrey Holder Company; the famed Trinidadian dance company owned by Geoffrey Holder (the brother of celebrated artist Boscoe Holder.)

“After school I started dancing and loved it. My grandmother was very upset because I had to go on the stage and she said, ‘nice girls do not go on the stage.’ She was very Victorian!”

Travelling around the Caribbean as part of the most famous dancing troupe, Carter became a celebrity on the islands. But her success looked to become short-lived when she fell pregnant; something that did not sit well with her young beau at the time.

“He started to talk about choosing – and nobody tells me to choose. He said ‘we’re going to get married, have a baby and you’re going to stop dancing.’ I said ‘no I’m not.’ He was bullying me and I was not going to get stuck like that.

“That is when I started to think about leaving the country altogether. I rang my father who was in the States at that time and he sent me the money to go to America. But I came to England instead, because all of my friends were here.”

Leaving her young daughter with her sister in Trinidad, Carter moved to England in 1955. Despite a burning desire to embark on a teaching career, she continued to dance for a further 18 years, until she decided it was time to hang up her dancing shoes.

“I just got to a point where I said, ‘I’m not dancing anymore, end of story.’ I wanted to go to drama school and apply for the stage. I was getting older and I decided to finish while I was at the top.” She laughed: “I wasn’t going to wait until I got too old and mi bust was hanging down.”

It was then that Carter was able to pursue a career in teaching – which subsequently aided her foray into the acting world.

“The teaching helped my acting. It gave me confidence, but also ensured I never had to worry if I was going to get the role, because I wasn’t out of work.”

Whilst teaching performing arts at Trent Park school in north London, Carter landed roles in the 1963 film Cleopatra and the 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die.
“They [the school] used to give me days off because I was acting,” she recalls. “Parents and children used to come to the school just to see me because they couldn’t believe I was off the telly and working at the school!”

Other appearances followed in programmes including Coronation Street and Man About the House. But it was landing the part of Hortense Bennett in the BBC series Empire Road that is widely considered to be the actress’s big break. Written and directed by black talents, and also starring black actors, Empire Road is fondly remembered as one of the earliest British TV shows to portray the life of a black British family.

“That [programme] really was a first. It was a great experience and I was very lucky to work with all of the actors involved.”

Empire Road saw Carter working alongside the late Norman Beaton and Rudolph Walker. As fate would have it, Carter and Walker would work together again over 20 years later, when the actress joined the cast of EastEnders.

In 2000, Carter was introduced as Audrey Trueman, the wife of Patrick Trueman (Walker), who was not yet in the show.

Playing the mother of doctor Anthony Trueman (Nick Bailey) and his wheeler-dealer brother Paul (Gary Beadle), Carter was only in the programme for 11 months, before her character, who owned the local B&B (bed and breakfast), was killed off in a storyline that saw her character die of a brain hemorrhage.

Though Carter explains that she and Walker worked together in preparation for their EastEnders’ roles, the actress’s character was actually killed off before her on-screen husband made his first appearance in the programme.

According to Carter, the decision to axe the Trueman matriarch came after she refused to endorse the back-story that was created for her character.

The actress claims that after being in the show for several months, she received a script in which her character was described as a one-time toilet cleaner, who had worked her way up to become the owner of a B&B.

Finding this back-story “degrading,” Carter expressed her views to the casting director. She believes that it was this exchange that led to her character being axed just a few months later.

“They wanted my background to be a toilet cleaner. It was degrading and I wouldn’t do it. I felt like it was a case of the black woman comes on the television and all she can talk about is being a toilet cleaner? Please!

“They [the producers] haven’t said it and they probably won’t admit it, but that’s why I believe I lost my job.”

She added: “They spent weeks choosing a husband who would go with me. They found Rudolph, but before he came I died. Is that logical? Why waste the time to find a husband to go with my character, when they could have chosen any guy after I died?”

Recalling how she found out her character would be killed off, Carter laughed:
“They said they had a ‘script they couldn’t resist, but unfortunately I die’. How did I die? I hit my head on scaffolding. At least knock me over with a car or something!”

The actress believes that the writers of the 26-year-old soap are not able to accurately portray ethnic families and resort to stereotypes when they are creating scripts.

“I have a bit of a problem with EastEnders and their black families, even though I was in one of them,” says the mother-of-two, whose husband Trevor died in 2008. “The first black family was really good, (the Tavernier’s) but they have some black families now that are yucky.

“If you can laugh and make a fool of yourself then it’s ok, ‘cause that’s all they think we can be. I don’t think they can relate to any ethnic people.”

It has been 10 years since the television star left Albert Square, and she has since starred in hit TV shows including Casualty, Doctors and The Bill. Some people might say it’s time for her to retire – but she isn’t one of them.

“I’ve reached the age now where everyone would say I’ve done it all. I would still like to do more but I’m not going to kill myself or worry about it too much if I don’t.”

Why Not Me is out not on Black Stock Books

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