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Joanna Lumley: 'Being patted on the bottom is not assault'

'In those days, there used to be men whose hands would linger on your waist'

The actress Joanna Lumley has spoken out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have “gone quite far now”.

In an interview with The Times Magazine, the Absolutely Fabulous star said that it was a “difficult” issue but suggested that certain actions were a product of their time.

Ms Lumley said: “In those days, there used to be men whose hands would linger on your waist. That always went on. As for being insulted, you learn graceful ways to get round it.

“This is not dissing the women who have had their lives wrecked, although why some took 50 years to say it, I don’t know. It’s difficult. Of course we want people who have been raped to be treated seriously at the police station, which I don’t think they were [back then], but I think it could have gone quite far now."

She added: “Being patted on the bottom, no. It’s not assault.”

Ms Lumley, who is 68 next month, began her career as a model in London in the 1960s, when many of the alleged offences are said to have taken place.

Asked whether she had ever suffered from “wandering-hand syndrome”, Ms Lumley said “it just became what men did”.

And she suggested that women should also take responsibility for men’s behaviour towards them.

Referring to a speech delivered by Sister Elizabeth at her convent school, Ms Lumley recalled: “She had never known a man in the biblical sense, but was tremendously wise and when we were in the fifth or sixth form, she said, ‘Don’t lead men on because they get to a point when they really can’t stop, and it’s not fair, so don’t do it and don’t be silly. They are different from us in that way’.

“I thought, ‘What a wise thing.’”

The glamorous actress, who recently played Aunt Emma alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street also said that while she views herself as a feminist in terms of “equal pay for equal work”, she also sees fundamental differences between men and women.

"This revolution was bound to come, that women are the same as men, but I don’t think women are the same as men.

“I just feel that we think differently, achieve things by different methods. I think women like chitter-chattering together and I don’t think men do. I think men like board meetings, and I am not sure women love them quite so much. I think women tend to use fewer utensils when cooking than men. I think women like buying new things rather too often while it is hard to get men to part with an old friendly garment."

She added: “But I don’t even think of myself as a woman, just a person. Not even a person: a pair of eyes on a periscope stick.”

A number of high-profile figures have appeared in court on historic sexual assault charges. Last summer former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, 84, was sentenced to 30 months for sexually abusing girls between 1967 and 1985.