Actress Maureen Lipman - why her Jewish faith is more important than ever

Actress Maureen Lipman - why her Jewish faith is more important than ever

Maureen Lipman’s son, Adam, swears the family always had a Christmas tree each year. “But we never did,” insists his mother. “He has False Memory Syndrome! 

“We’d go to a friend’s house on Boxing Day that always had a tree so that’s what Adam must be remembering.”

As the annual festivities roll round for another year, Maureen is contemplating family and her well-documented Jewish faith. “My late husband Jack (Rosenthal) and I never did anything in terms of décor but we did do presents and always had a traditional Christmas lunch.” 

Christmas, says Maureen (70), is too hard to ignore if you have small children, “Although I can still hear my mother saying: ‘For heaven’s sake, how much have you spent on those children?’ And she was right; you do have to be careful.”

Celebrating Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, was very important.  “Jack and I used to have people round every Friday, then the tradition faded. But when he developed myeloma – a cancer that attacks the blood cells – it was reinstated. He liked the feeling that the family was coming home. I’ve carried on since he died and the mess it leaves seems to take all weekend to clear up, but I wouldn’t miss it.”

Family is hugely important to Maureen. There’s her daughter, Amy, and son Adam and his wife Taina, who have two children. “Taina is Romanian so they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.” Then there’s Maureen’s partner, Guido, a Sephardic Jew, who has three daughters and eight grandchildren!

Maureen goes to the synagogue, although not necessarily at Christmas. “As I’ve grown older, my religion has become more important. I put my head above the parapet on Israel because somebody has to. But I don’t want it to define my life. The best way I can say it is: who knows Judi Dench’s religion? My raison d’être isn’t being Jewish, although I make no apology for it. I’m an actress and I want to play lots of different parts.”

What changed her career was playing the archetypal Jewish mother, Beattie, in all those British Telecom TV commercials. “It totally rewrote my professional life, opening lots of doors and closing others, but I’m never going to complain. It’s been a fantastic career and still is.”

This Christmas, Maureen is playing the Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty at Richmond, then it’s back to Hull to play Margaret in Richard III... 

“Retire?” asks an outraged Maureen. “Certainly not while I still have a functioning brain!

  • Words and interview by Richard Barber
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