How We Met: Maureen Lipman & Lesley Joseph

'We lived in a wedge-shaped room so tiny that our twin beds met at the head. It was a dump'
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Maureen Lipman, 63, is an actress and comedian whose film work includes Up the Junction, Educating Rita and The Pianist. Her extensive TV work includes Doctor Who, Skins and British Telecom's famous 'Beattie' advertising campaign. She lives in west London

It was 1965, my first day at Lamda [the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art], and we were all sitting in a circle in a studio. I remember seeing this little round person, because Lesley was much bigger than she would become, wearing a kilt and a black polo neck, which she would continue to wear for some time despite the appearance of several holes. She had masses of black curly hair and a sensual-looking face.

I don't remember thinking, "Hey, kindred spirit!"; just that she looked different and arty. We shared similar backgrounds, being Jewish and coming from outside London, but we were quite different. Lesley was tempestuous and fiery and our principal loved her, whereas he said I wouldn't come into my own until I was about 40. Our taste in men wasn't the same, either – she always seemed to have someone around, whereas I just yearned for people I couldn't have.

Lesley and I ended up sharing a series of flats, the first of which belonged to an eye doctor with an alarming habit of taking out one of his eyes and putting it on his cheek. He had made an extra bedroom by slicing off a piece of the kitchen, creating a wedge-shaped room so tiny that our twin beds met at the head. It was a dump.

We all lived near Lamda in Earls Court, so there were lots of late nights picking wax off wine bottles in low-down dives, eating snails and talking about life and art. Generally it would end up with Lesley in a heap in tears on somebody's floor with Leonard Cohen on in the background.

Not long after graduating, Lesley went off to the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and I went to the Stables in Manchester where I met Jack, my husband, and that was it: I was settled. Our lives went in different directions and we drifted apart slightly, even though she was there for things like my son's barmitzvah and birthdays.

I always kept an eye on what she was doing – she's a very good actress, is Lesley. Whenever we spoke, she would have great stories about what she had been up to.

There is a point as an actor when success hits, and whatever plan you had to remain the same goes awry. It is quite frightening to be known; you lose your grip on reality slightly. I think it happened to me during the BT years and to Lesley during Birds of a Feather, but we both came through it.

As the years have gone by, I've come to appreciate Lesley more, as she has suffered more hardships than I have. We look at each other now and both still think we're 21. But it doesn't matter – 63 is the new 59.

Lesley Joseph, 63, is an actress and broadcaster best known for her role as Dorien Green in the BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather. Her recent stage work includes Thoroughly Modern Millie and Humble Boy. She lives in south London

I wouldn't say Maureen scared me when I met her, but she was so confident, I was sometimes phased by her. Even then she seemed sure of the path she wanted to be on. We often say we looked like a cruet set in our drama-school days. I have a funny photograph of us in a Restoration comedy with her tall and thin, me short and round. There was a review that said something like, "Maureen Lipman appeared to be standing next to a wigged truck."

I think it was partly because we were both Jewish that there was a bond. We became friends and shared flats together for years. It felt like the world was ours and we did all those terrible things you do when you're young and think you are so fascinating and exciting, like getting on the Tube and staging a fight. You get to the top of drama school and you are kingpin; then you leave and go to the bottom again.

We were still living together when she got Up the Junction, which was a movie, and in those days, people just didn't get movies, not straight out of drama school. She had convinced them she was a Cockney and didn't know whether to carry on pretending on set or just admit she was from Hull.

Maureen's career was, until I did Birds of a Feather, much more successful than mine. She did amazing things like go to the National, which I have never done, and hit her mark much sooner than I did. But throughout, Mo has always been there.

If she believes in something, she will say it. She is very clear-cut about how she feels, so while she has said in the past that she is pro-Israel, I never think I know enough about the subject to say what I feel. I don't feel brave enough to do what people like Maureen or Joanna Lumley do.

Maureen is one of the most loyal friends in the world. She can have quite a sharp exterior, but inside she is marshmallow with a heart of gold. If she is on your side, she is there for life. I have lost so many friends in the business through illness that I sometimes wonder who am I going to be sitting with, talking about the business, when I am in my nineties, and I think, "Please God, let it be Maureen."

Lesley Joseph is in 'Home', part of the Peter Hall season, until 1 August at Theatre Royal Bath (01225 448 844, www.theatreroyal.org.uk). Maureen Lipman is in 'A Little Night Music' until 5 September at the Garrick Theatre, London WC2 (0844 412 4662, www.nightmusiclondon.com)

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