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"I'm going in on a wing and a prayer!"
'Put the dinner on, I'll be home in 20 minutes!" It's not the catchiest catchphrase anyone ever had, but it's the first thing that springs to mind whenever I hear the name Sandra Dickinson. She uttered the line in her trademark high-pitched voice to her then husband, actor Peter Davidson, in a 1980s TV advert for non-stick pans and, unlike the pans, it kind of stuck.
As Sandra, 57, chats about her new role in Cole Porter nautical musical Anything Goes, which sails into the Alhambra next week, her famous cartoon-like American accent is peppered with giggles.
She's stepping into the shoes of glamorous Evangeline Harcourt, replacing Angela Rippon on the UK tour, and has just three days left to rehearse before her opening night.
"I'm going in on a wing and a prayer, " she laughs. "There'll be lots of grinning and bearing on my part until I manage to keep up with the dance numbers! Thankfully I don't have too many of those.
"It's very daunting to be joining a company part-way through a tour but I guess it's a compliment that they think I can do it. At least that's what I tell myself as I try to learn my lines and all those songs! It's a terrific show, once I get the hang of it all I'm sure I'll love it!"
Anything Goes is a hedonistic pleasure cruise packed with classic numbers like You're The Top, It's De-lovely and Gabriel Blow.
It really is 'anything goes' as luxury ocean liner the SS American sets sail with stowaway Billy Crocker chasing debutante Hope Harcourt, fiance of foppish Sir Evelyn Oakleigh and daughter of Evangeline.
So what does Sandra make of Evangeline? "Erm, I'll tell you when I start the show!" she laughs. "No, really, she's a great role, she's snooty but fun. She doesn't care whether her daughter is happy or not - she's too busy preparing to join the 'royalty' she's about to marry into. She ends up having her own little romance too with Whitney, played by the lovely Barry Howard, and of course everyone sails happily into the sunset. It's great fun, a celebration of the golden age of the American comedy musical. Cole Porter is the best songwriter in musicals and this is full of his best songs."
Sandra shot to fame playing Trillian in 1981 cult TV series The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy but says her big break was in a beef-burger advert directed by Alan Parker.
"When I first came to Britain I couldn't work as an actress without an Equity card so I got a job on the telephone switchboard of an advertising company, I thought it might be a way in to the business and luckily for me it proved to be just that, " she says. "I was spotted by a producer who cast me as a gangster's moll in the burger advert, it ran for three years and won a gold award. It got me noticed over here, everything I did afterwards stemmed from that ad, but I've been haunted ever since by the dumb blonde tag it stuck me with!"
She may have a reputation for playing dumb blondes, but in reality Sandra is a university graduate who studied at Central School of Speech and Drama after coming to live in London in 1969. Her TV work includes The Two Ronnies and Two Point Four Children, she co-wrote and sang the theme tune to 1980s children's show Button Moon and has voiced characters in animated movies, but she's also taken on heavyweight roles in plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Orpheus Descending in London and on Broadway. More recently she played the Baroness in the West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and she's just played her first screen villain, in new comedy horror movie Stagknight.
When she's not acting, Sandra runs the Close-Up Theatre School she founded in London with her fianc, actor Mark Osmon.
"It's for six to 16-year-olds, " she says.
"I'm doing a lot of the teaching, it's hard work but I love it. It's important for kids going into this business to cut it on stage, that's the foundation of everything. But even if they don't want to be an actor, drama is good grounding for other school subjects, like English literature. When I was a little girl I used to burst into tears if I had to speak in public, but these kids are gaining so much confidence and motivation from drama. It's very fulfilling watching them progress."
Anything Goes runs at the Alhambra from May 15-20. For tickets ring (01274) 432000.