Penelope Anne Constance Keith, CBE, DL (born Penelope Hatfield on 2 April 1940) is an English actress well known in the United Kingdom for her television career.
Having started her television career in the 1950s, Penelope Keith became a household name in the United Kingdom in the 1970s when she played Margo Leadbetter in the sitcom The Good Life. This role earned Keith her first of two BAFTAs, the second being in 1978 for The Norman Conquests. One year after The Good Life's finale, Keith was the lead character in another BBC sitcom, To the Manor Born, a show that received audiences of up to 24 million. During the 1980s and 1990s, she appeared in six other sitcoms, in each the lead character. Since the 1990s, Keith has appeared rarely on television and does more theatre work.
Penelope Anne Constance Hatfield was born in Sutton, Surrey in 1940. Her father, who was a Major by the end of the war, left her mother Connie when she was a baby, and she spent her early years in Clacton-on-Sea and Clapham. Although not Catholic, at the age of six she was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Seaford, Sussex. It was here that a young Keith first became interested in acting, and she and mother would frequently go to matinees in the West End. When she was eight years old, her mother remarried and Penelope adopted her stepfather's surname of Keith. While she did not get on with her stepfather, her mother was a "rock of love" to her. Keith was rejected from the Central School of Speech and Drama, on the grounds that, at 5'10", she was too tall. However, she was then accepted at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, and spent two years there while working at the Hyde Park Hotel in the evening.
Like many aspiring actors and actresses of the time, she started her career working in rep across the UK, including Lincoln, Manchester and Salisbury. Keith's earliest appearances were in The Tunnel of Love, Gigi and Flowering Cherry. At the age of 23 in 1963, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company both in Stratford and at the Aldwych Theatre in London.
Her best known theatre appearance, in 1974, was playing Sarah in The Norman Conquests, opposite her The Good Life co-star Richard Briers. Keith would often film The Good Life during the day and perform on stage in the West End in the evening. In 1978, the year The Good Life ended, she married Rodney Timson, a former policeman. They had met while he was on duty at Chichester Theatre where Keith was performing. Timson, who is eight years her junior, had been married twice before. They adopted two children, who were brothers, in 1988.
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