Pam St Clement — the actress best known as Pat Butcher from Eastenders — tells Your Horse about fond memories of working with a cart horse on screen, supporting Brooke and growing up on a hill farm in Devon with two working Shires.
Where did your love of horses come from?
I loved riding as a child and was fortunate enough to go to a boarding school that had a stable within its grounds. My favourite was a little palomino. Our riding master wouldn’t let anyone who was a nervous rider on her as she had a wicked sense of humour and would play up like mad.
I don’t know where my instinctive love of horses and all animals comes from. Though how could one not love such a noble, beautiful and intelligent animal as the horse?
Did you have a pony as a child?
I was brought up on a hill farm in Devon and we had two working Shires called Duchess and Violet. So horses were an everyday part of my life, like the cattle and sheep.
By the age of 17, I wanted to be a vet. However, at that time, one needed not only the science subjects for veterinary college but also GCE Latin, which I dropped before A levels. It was some years before Latin ceased to be a requirement, but by then I’d take a different path.
Have you ever owned a horse?
No, I’ve never owned a horse of my own. It wouldn’t have been practical when I was away so much. My early years as an actress were pretty nomadic.
Why did you get involved with Brooke?
I knew of Brooke and the work they do for working horses, donkeys and mules, which culminated in a first-hand awareness of this while in Jordan. I’m particularly attracted to organisations that work with humans to improve the lives of working animals and vice versa.
Have you ever worked with horses as an actress?
Apart from the odd scenes in period dramas, in which I merely shared the screen with a horse, I’ve never worked with one. I do remember with fondness the mare who drew the cart that took Frank and Pat to their wedding at the registry office and back for a good old-fashioned East End knees up. She even knew her lines!
What did you enjoy most about Eastenders?
It was a gift to be given a character to develop over such a long time, never knowing what unexpected twists and turns the script writers would throw into your path. Also, it was exciting to be developing a series in the early days, when it was raw, edgy and centred around a community.
Do you wear big earrings in real life?
Not on a daily basis, it’s not really me! Sometimes I wear a pair of Pat-style earrings at an appropriate event though.
What has been your funniest moment on TV?
People still come up to me and say how much they laughed at the scene of Barbara Windsor and I in the ice cream van, and Frank, me and the revolving bow tie. Sometimes actors get the giggles on stage, called ‘corpsing’. It can happen for an unaccountable reason, or it can be set off by a particular actor — often a clever instigator of the corpse who is not a giggler. If I try to make other actors corpse, I usually end up in a state of near hysteria myself, which is pathetic.
The one thing that ‘corpsing’ can do in live theatre is potentially create an ‘us and them’ situation with cast and audience, even if the audience is not aware of it. There’s nothing that eases performance tension and heals more than a good old giggle during a rainy-day matinee in a provincial theatre. If it happens on TV, you merely do a retake (after a major telling off from the Director).
Pam is a supporter of equine charity Brooke. Main photo by John Cairns/Brooke