Portrait: Lipman's test

Her mother's idea of good taste was to wear a green dress with eyeshadow to match. But today Maureen Lipman wears clothes with elegant ease (even if she can't resist the odd chicken costume)

In my early years I sensed disappointment. My mother, Zelma, had a nice blond boy whose hair she religiously twinkied, then she got a rather sallow, narrow-eyed, beige-haired girl, and she was mystified. She is the only woman I have ever met who is totally satisfied with the way she looks, and, to me, her bemusement conveyed the message: "You don't look like me, and I'm perfectly happy with myself. You look like your father." To this day, if someone gives me a compliment, I say, "Well, yes, I do scrub up nicely," because I have this belief that nothing about me is naturally good-looking, and I have to work at it.

To be a comedienne, you're supposed to have had a tough background, but the only thing I can really complain about is that my mother made me over- aware of matching accessories, to the point where I would just assume that if you had a green dress, you would get your shoes painted green, with eyeshadow the same shade. On my first day at drama school I was completely coordinated in green. Someone told me afterwards I'd looked like a blade of grass.

Zelma always had me "bandbox" neat. Every Yom Kippur I would have a nice new suit, but at the expense of several Saturdays in C&A or Hammond's of Hull, tearing each other apart. The suit I remember most clearly was navy - because navy's always best, isn't it? Navy and white you can't beat. It had a box jacket and pleated skirt, and I wore it with what we called my "dog's dinner" hat and patent shoes. But, like most of the clothes then - and often now, when I make mistakes - it wore me.

In the teenage years there was a lot of struggling in cubicles, and saying to assistants in bra shops: "She needs plenty of support," and me wanting to die. Then the Sixties bit, and I was on my own. I bought everything from Granny Takes a Trip, or Biba. My mother would come to meet me at Hull station, and she used to dread me getting off the train. But I was getting it together by now, because, bless her, she had given me a strong sense of fashion. On the whole, I do wear clothes well, and gradually, in my twenties, I developed my own style.

It's not just fashion; I love fancy dress. I'm incredibly happy in a chicken costume, I'm unable to resist something that makes me laugh. In America I bought a white cable-knit zip-front cardigan with fake-fur collar and cuffs, and pockets made like mittens. I thought, "Who will buy this if I don't?"

I've still got stuff from the Sixties that I can't bear to part with. I wore my wedding dress for my silver wedding anniversary. It was Gina Fratini, petrol blue, with a low neck and leg-of-mutton sleeves.

People used to try to persuade me to change my nose, but I wouldn't. I don't know if that was a bad decision. I should probably have had a different career if I had done. I've never been particularly happy with anything about myself: I had sticking-out-teeth, I'm short sighted, with not the best of noses. But I can put it all together into something interesting.

I have trouble with anything that takes any time. I hate sitting in the hairdressers, I never have a manicure, I stick to the grungy bits of make- up I've had in my bag for years. And I pay pounds 60 a month not to go to a health club.

In my forties I went through a good patch. I got that sort of glow you're supposed to get when you're pregnant (whereas, when I was pregnant I just looked like a distended emu).

For Aunt Eller in Oklahoma, I sponged the lines around my eyes so they looked sun-bleached, and I had broken veins and wonderful, grey hair. I loved playing the matriarch, but in real life I probably dress a bit younger than I should, and I may be about to become very neurotic. I shall start looking in the mirror a lot more, putting a lot more things on my face, and doing a lot more splashing of the breasts.

All the pictures of me as a child are tourist pictures. I'm astride a lion in Trafalgar Square, in Capri pants. Or at a birthday party, in a smock dress, blowing out the candles - ptthhhh! So I don't have an image of myself just being me. But occasionally, when I feel bad about myself, I try to think about the little girl in all the photographs, and to feel very warm towards her, because if you can do that, you're likely to feel better about yourself.

Maureen Lipman will be starring in a new stage- to-screen adaptation of `Oklahoma!', to be shown on Sky Premier, at 8pm on 24 September.

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