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Educating Rita

In the meantime, Walters was enjoying success away from Wood. 1979 saw London's arty ICA embrace the Liverpool avant garde, Ken Campbell's Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool putting on the monumentally excessive The Warp, as well as an adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Come November the theatre would present Snoo Wilson's Flaming Bodies, Walters appearing as Irene Goodnight alongside Miriam Margolyes. The same year would see Walters remain on the hard-hitting fringe when she starred alongside Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea in Mike Leigh's Ecstasy at the Hampstead Theatre.


The next year, 1980, would bring Walters' biggest stage hit yet. This was Educating Rita, again penned by Willy Russell, where Walters starred as a brash and earthy Scouse hairdresser who discovers a passion for education, hoping to better herself and escape the financial and intellectual poverty of her surroundings. A cash-strapped professor, played by Mark Kingston, agrees to be her tutor in her Open University studies and he helps to expand her mind just as she destroys his pretensions and draws him out of his dusty academic hermitage. Commissioned by the RSC and premiered at their Warehouse Theatre in June, the play would be a mighty hit, transferring to the Piccadilly in September.


Sticking with the Everyman writers who were serving her as well as she was serving them, Walters would, in 1981, rejoin Postlethwaite in Alan Bleasdale's Having A Ball at the Lyric in Hammersmith. And it was with Bleasdale that Walters would enjoy her first dramatic TV hit, 1982's Boys From The Black Stuff. This would spring from a Play For Today screened in 1980 called The Black Stuff where Walters would play the tough, long-suffering wife of Bernard Hill's Yosser Hughes, a desperate scally dealing with life on the dole in the early years of Margaret Thatcher's worker-unfriendly regime. It was powerful, painful, angry stuff and, expanded into a series, it would be immensely popular, launching the catchphrase "Gi's a job", and earning Walters her first BAFTA nomination.

With Boys From The Black Stuff and the Wood And Walters show, 1982 was a real turning-point. It would get even better the following year when Educating Rita was adapted into a movie, with Michael Caine taking the place of Mark Kingston. The film was a screaming hit, and both leads were Oscar-nominated, Walters finding herself on a list including Meryl Streep, Debra Winger and Shirley Maclaine. Maclaine would win it for Terms Of Endearment, Walters having to make do with a Golden Globe. Throughout the Eighties, Walters would continue to balance her work in film and TV, and onstage. 1984 would be a typical year, seeing her in She'll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas, where a disparate group of women would bond on a survival course, then the TV series Love And Marriage. Onstage there'd be Tom Stoppard's Jumpers at Manchester's Royal Exchange, directed by Nicholas Hytner. Here Tom Courtenay would be a philosopher lost in a maze of words and ideas, Walters playing his wife, a neurotic former singer grieving for the romance and sexual relationship they've lost. At the end of the year, at the Cottesloe, she'd be directed by the renowned Peter Gill in Sam Shepard's Fool For Love where Ian Charleson would play a mysterious drifter in a New Mexico hotel room, Walters being his lover and, perhaps, his sister. The production would then move on to the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue.


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