Interview with Lorna Lewis (Pet Simpson)

Treading the boards

"I think I started out acting by copying my sister, whatever she did I wanted to do. In a sense she in fact brought me up. I was born at the beginning of the war and my mother sent us to Ireland when I was still a six-month-old baby and my sister was six years old. From then on she was always responsible for me and I think that psychologically I always needed to do what she did. Funnily enough she married someone called Michael and so did I! She also wished to be an actress and tried to go to RADA, but unfortunately was turned down. I however was more fortunate and got through my RADA audition. Before my RADA audition I had gone to Teacher's Training College as my father insisted that I do this training before becoming an actress. But by this time I was an American citizen, so I thought that I would not be allowed to work over here. My father is English and my mother Irish. He had worked for an American company and we were sent to the States in 1948, in fact I grew up over there."


Television vs Stage

"Physically I am really more of a stage actress. I have a large face with big bones; small people come up better on television and films than large people do. On the stage these features are right because they carry and you can see, even from the back row, for example, whether I am sad or happy. In fact I have a very moving and movable face, indeed too movable because with the camera up close it's distracting. The people who are best on TV are those who are very still whereas I was too busy acting as I had done on the stage. I think that had I done more television work then I would have learned. I have a feeling that I was just beginning to learn when Survivors finished. I think I probably prefer stage to television, because you get this instant feedback from the audience."


Getting the part of Pet

"That is a very interesting story. I had watched the first series and thought it was very interesting. I remember saying to my daughter Tiffany's nanny that I would love to be in a series like that. Up till then I had been doing a little work, in Windsor and a small part for Terry Dudley in Doomwatch. When I saw that Terry was producing Survivors I wrote him a letter asking if there might be a part in it for me. He replied saying that they had just finished making the first series but if they did another one then I should get in touch again. When I realised that they were indeed going to do a second series I telephoned and managed to get an interview. Terry was charming, and he said that they were indeed going to do another series and that there was a new character in it. At this point he asked his secretary to bring in some coffee but he couldn't find a spoon to stir it with. He ended up by stirring his coffee with a pencil. Anyway, we chatted a bit more and he said that I could probably do the new part to which I replied, 'Yes, and I'm sure a thousand others could do it too!'. He said that was true but he wouldn't be interviewing a thousand people for the part. Finally he said that they would think about it and let me know. When I got home I wrote him a letter and I just happened to have this little gold spoon, which I parceled up and sent it with the letter in which I told him that I hoped that the next time he needed to stir his coffee he wouldn't have to use a pencil! I think that that must have done the trick as he wrote to me thanking me for the spoon and offering me the part of Pet! So that's how I got the part!"


My first major TV

" It was the first major television that I had done and I was with many people, such as Denis who had done so much more than I. One mistake that I would make would be to look in the wrong direction. It seemed obvious that if someone was looking up towards me then I should look towards them, but this wasn't so since it all depended on the camera angle. I remember that the director Terry Williams nearly had a coronary once because I was looking the wrong way, and I could hear him shouting out about it! I was so mortified about it."


"It didn't seem to me that there was much background to the character, except that she was Denis' significant 'other'. There was not much explanation as to where she had come from. So I made Pet's background my own background in the sense of 'what would I have done in these circumstances?'. Pet's father had been the proprietor of the 'Continental Cafe' in Worcester, so she didn't come from a high-class background and probably hadn't been grandly educated."

The Witch

"The story was interesting, although a little bit corny. The problem was that it was not very well acted, certainly not on my part. I remember running through the woods and shouting 'Mina, Mina!', and also the reaction of the man in the caravan that Denis remembers in his interview. I think it could have worked better for me if I had had a clearer idea of what I was doing. Also, the way in which the script was written didn't really give you much of an indication of what to do or where to go. I had not yet seen the script of Jack's first story for me, Birth of a Hope, so I didn't know who I was. Had I done that story first I would have realised that Pet simply would not have behaved in that fashion towards Mina. She comes over as far too sharp and most out of character. Terry Dudley told me that Jack in fact created the character of Pet from Cherry, who was Robin David's wife on the farm we used in that second series."


Birth of a Hope

"I remember the arrival of the new people, Greg and the others. I remember running out to him and saying 'Are you well?'. It was rather good that they made the episode out of sequence, as that gave us all time to get to know each other before actually getting to the first story."

The Chosen

"I think I look the best in this story, which was actually filmed in the studio. We did some location shots, which were filmed. This was directed by Eric Hills. I did however think that the continuity wasn't all that good for this episode. We did some scenes on location, when we were on horseback, and it was absolutely arctic and our faces were frozen stiff. After filming this we went through a door in one of the army huts. The pick up shot for this was done in the studio in London, and had us coming through the door. The problem was that I looked absolutely brilliant! Suddenly my hair looked fine and my face was unfrozen! Philip Madoc was in this episode and I remember that he and Denis would tend to lark around a lot. He had a wonderful and a great commanding presence. I think that Terry Dudley had got Roger Parkes to write a somewhat larger part for me in this story because up till then I had spent a lot of time leaning against the stove in the kitchen and simply reacting to events instead of being an instigator. I also got to do some riding, which I love."


Face of the Tiger

"John Line had such a lovely voice. I remember that I actually cried during a speech he gave while I was sitting at the end of the kitchen table. I cried at what he had to say, and I was relating to him as a character. It sometimes does happen that you can respond in this way, as the character would have done."

New Arrivals

"I seem to remember that Roger had written some dialogue that wasn't really well suited to Pet. That is often the problem with different authors. They may not have a particularly clear idea of what a character would say. I seem to remember having a bit of a discussion about this with the director, Terry Williams. He told me just to get on with it! In this story there was a confrontation between Pet and Mark Carter, who had a degree in agriculture and had just arrived in the community. He was intolerant of those who were already there. The problem was that I don't think that Pet would have confronted him. Charles, on the other hand, might well have confronted him as his nose was out of joint."


Over the Hills

"I remember mostly the scene in the kitchen when I had to seduce Ian. I had wanted to make the scene more suggestive than it actually turned out, but as the episode was broadcast before the watershed they wanted it toned down. I also remember the party on the lawn and that there were problems with Tanya and her dress."


New World and beyond...

"The balloon was quite exciting. I had no idea that there was even going to be a third series.  I think I would have preferred to have stayed at Callow Hill for the third series. You should have been able to follow the developments taking place in the community; crops, buildings and starting civilisation again. There was one story about producing methane gas (By Bread Alone) but there should have been more."

Series Three

"The character of the series changed a lot for the third series, becoming basically cowboys and Indians. I suppose they no longer knew what to do with it by then. The third series really consisted of people chasing around the country side and it lost the whole purpose behind the show. I really don't know why I didn't play a larger role in the third series. I could only assume that they had looked at the viewing figures and had decided that Pet wasn't very interesting and therefore decided that she wasn't needed. I have subsequently met people who would have wanted Pet to play a larger part. This series seemed totally disjointed to me. There were no rehearsals in London at all for these episodes, we would go straight to the location."

A New Series?

"I'm not sure if a new series would work. There are so many young people watching television today who have never seen or even heard of the series that there would have to be a lot of explaining for them to be able to understand it. Also, there is so much violent and tragic news on TV today that no drama could equal it. Drama today has to be far more escapist and I fear that something like Survivors is more relevant today than it was twenty years ago, but any new series would have to be written properly. It would have to be written about people who care."

[N.B. Lorna's recollections are taken from an interview conducted by Kevin Marshall in the mid-1990s.
Thanks to Bob Meade for providing a copy of the text]

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Page Last Updated: 10th February 2003  All text Andy Priestner   Screen Captures BBC