Heather Chasen

Heather Chasen was a skilled actor with a lengthy career spanning from the mid-40s. Her early days consisted of demanding rep work, which required stamina and enthusiasm. She acquired her considerable stage craft by being industrious, and remained a staunch theatre person despite television diminishing the nation’s engagement with live performances in theatres.

Heather could continue to participate in radio work during the 50s and 60s because theatres were ostensibly `dark` on Sundays, which allowed the BBC to take full advantage by pre-recording popular programmes for broadcasting at a later date. For example, Heather’s tenure on ‘The Navy Lark’ was twinned with West End performances in ‘The Mouse Trap’, ‘The Severed Head’ and ‘Jorrocks’, to name just three. She also travelled ten miles out of town for a day’s filming in Elstree: a `Danger Man` episode featuring an on screen helicopter ride. Later that decade, whilst still being regularly heard as a range of formidable individuals in the Navy Lark, be they Heather, Ramona, Russian Captain or the gin soaked Lady Todhunter-Brown, to name just four personas, Heather found time to become Sexton Blake’s Paula Blane, another strong positive female role model in the spirit of Steve in ‘Paul Temple’ or Pixie in ‘Norman Conquest’. Other cameo radio appearances were squeezed in over the years such as ‘Marriage Lines’ with Richard Briers and Prunella Scales.

Heather certainly engaged with film and television, yet enjoyed the interaction on stage more. Being able to combine radio, film, TV and theatre kept energy levels and motivation high. She was missing from the cast of the 1963 cumbersomely reimagined ‘TV Lark’, which drew universal condemnation immediately it went to air. Scripts were speedily realigned toward naval themes over the final four broadcasts until the original Series 5 ‘Lark’ re-emerged for a six episode run. Heather had been busy performing in ‘A Severed Head’, which she grew to dislike (“that damned play”), because it also prevented a major film role which she would have loved.

Heather was a lovely person, and a delightful conversationalist who had some wonderful stories to tell. Sadly, we never got her to talk at length about her time on `The Navy Lark`, despite trying hard for 25 years. There was always something more pressing to discuss. Despite sending her a couple of recording devices for her to press a switch and respond to some questions whenever she had a moment, the technology baffled her and those recollections were never recorded. What we do have is a wonderful legacy of recordings, including arguably her best characterisation, Ramona Povey. Heather told me that she decided she would play her as if it were a man in a drag act playing a woman playing a man. That’s just genius in itself….

Text © Fred Vintner, 2021.

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