Theatre: Debut: A magnificent day on the flying trapeze

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The Independent Culture
The actor: Anna Carteret The place: The Scala Theatre, London The year: 1960

The role: Wendy in Peter Pan

THE FIRST major part I had, after a number of pantos - which I appeared in from the age of 12 - was as Wendy in Peter Pan, directed by Toby Robertson. It starred Donald Sinden as Captain Hook and Mr Darling, Pamela Lane as Mrs Darling, and Julia Lockwood as Peter. Our company manager was John Inman, who went on to be more famous than any of us.

I took over from Juliette Mills after she hurt her back on the flying harness. I was understudying and playing Tiger Lily. I came in for a Wednesday matinee at the half and they said, "You're on". I'd never flown before. They said: "Don't worry - when you go off into the bathroom to get into your nightie, you get hooked up. Just climb on to the mantlepiece, but don't jump or you'll bounce."

Anyway, I managed to fly upstage centre and I was so pleased with myself that when I landed on this mattress behind what was supposed to be an upstairs window, I got up and walked off. You could see my head poking up. Later, I had to fly and visit Peter up in his tree-house. My hat was covered with little bobbles that were supposed to be berries. One of these got caught on the wires, so I had to play the entire scene with my head to one side. I was laughing so much, I said, "Come along Nana, home", and the flying-crew who usually went into the pub next door got an emergency call to come back and fly me off.

It was fairly terrifying but a wonderful opportunity - it was like being in the West End straight away. I was only 17. The dancing training I'd received undoubtedly helped me take to the air - you have to arch your back otherwise you look like a sack of potatoes. We played London over Christmas then toured for 13 weeks.

After that, I wrote to all the repertory theatres. The only one that replied was Forbes Robertson at Butlin's in Skegness. So I went there for six-months. I learnt a lot - but it was strange. The plays were cut to fit the campers' schedules and the director ended up in a lunatic asylum.

Interview by Dominic Cavendish

Anna Carteret is in the RSC's `Richard III' at Stratford-upon-Avon, till Sat (01789 295623), transferring to the Savoy Theatre, London WC2 (0171-836 8888) on 18 Jan