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The Independent Culture
In Japan, where they do these things properly, certain artists are designated living national treasures. Betty Marsden should be one. Noel Coward declared that she made him laugh more than any other actress, she worked alongside Alastair Sim as far back as 1939, and she's currently previewing in Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell (right) at the National Theatre.

Her name may not be famous but her voice is. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of classic radio comedy will instantly recall the lovestruck quivering of Dame Celia Molestrangler in the fabled screen partnership with "ageing juvenile Binkie Huckerback" or the stentorian tones of cookery expert Daphne Whitethigh. Round the Horne was the finest radio comedy ever made and Betty Marsden played all the female roles "many, many times". One of her partners in crime was the irreplaceable Kenneth Williams. "He was frightful," she announces, a wicked gleam in her eye, "he was always goosing me. We used to laugh so much we couldn't look at each other at the recording sessions."

Having appeared in the original production in 1951 which scandalised the post-war public, the ebullient Marsden is delighted to be at the National playing a different role - "a great big dyke, darling" - in the revival. It also stars June Brown (aka EastEnders's Dot Cotton), Judi Dench and another actress who at 83 gives a performance much praised by Marsden. "She's a lovely old lady. Hah! I love the way I say `old'. I'm 76. Yes, you can write that down. I don't give a bugger, dear."

`Absolute Hell' is at the National Theatre,SE1 (0171-928 2252)

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