Maureen Lipman will not be getting an Uber. “All my f***ing socialist friends say, ‘Let’s get an Uber’; I say, ‘You get an Uber’, I’m not setting foot in an Uber, because it’s terrible for the drivers, it’s terrible for the roads. Undercutting of that kind shouldn’t be allowed. This is our heritage, these cabs,” the Financial Times reports.
Lipman’s vitriol for Uber is not just a rage against modernity and leftist anger about drivers’ working conditions. It is also an attachment to London’s traditional black cabs and their drivers. That is down to her late husband, Manchester-born playwright Jack Rosenthal, who died in 2004.
In 1979 he wrote The Knowledge, a television play about four Londoners “doing the Knowledge”, the long tortuous path to becoming a London black cab taxi driver. GPS has disrupted the Knowledge — why bother memorising 25,000 streets or the best route from Manor House to Gibson Square when you have a sat nav? From this week, The Knowledge will be performed on the stage for the first time. Lipman, who starred in the original ITV drama, is directing. Best known for playing Joyce Grenfell in the biographical show Re:Joyce! on stage and TV, and Beattie, the Jewish grandmother proud of her grandson’s “Ology” in the 1980s TV commercials for British Telecom, Lipman finds directing less neurotic than acting. “You’re not a pupil [as a director]. I was never good with authority.” On the downside, however, she has to be the grown-up. “As an actor, a lot of the time you’re a kid.”
Lipman describes The Knowledge as Rosenthal’s “love story to London”. It was “outside [his] comfort zone, it’s not autobiographical, it’s not about a part of the world he grew up in, it’s a form of work that he [didn’t] really know.” A northerner like her husband (Lipman is from Hull), she moved south to pursue her acting career, and he followed her. She had worried that he would not take to the capital; as it turned out, she needn’t have fretted. “He said a week after living here, he loved it. He never stopped being northern because you don’t. He adored London.”
As for the play, which was adapted for the stage by Simon Block: “I know it sounds stupid, but I don’t think [Rosenthal will] let me f**k it up. I don’t think he will. And every major decision I make, I just feel as though right, look, I had 35 years of this man, I must have some element of his taste in me.” Does her current partner get jealous? “He’s not a jealous man; he’s got no personal vanity. He’s quite secure in his own skin — but you know, he would just like me to be sitting beside him, watching Last of the Summer Wine.”
There has been no attempt to update The Knowledge for the Uber age. Yet there are parallels, Lipman says, between 1979 and now. Terror threats from the IRA then put the capital on high alert. This summer, Lipman was caught up in the attacks on London’s Borough Market when police instructed her fellow cast, crew and audience to remain in the nearby theatre where she was performing in Lettice and Lovage.
“In 1979 Margaret Thatcher was just in, and now we’ve got another woman prime minister. You had the Ayatollah. You’d got the Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin and now we’ve got the Syrian migrants. You look at TV and films, the same kind of futuristic dystopia.”
‘The Knowledge’ runs from September 4 until November 11 at the Charing Cross Theatre in London: www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk There are discounts for genuine London cabbies.
- Maureen Lipman brought the ‘taxi-classic’ The Knowledge to the stage.