Gallery: Julie Walters celebrates 30 years on the silver screen

She was expelled from Holly Lodge Grammar School in Smethwick 50 years ago, but today the world of television will come together to mark the rise to stardom of the Black Country’s own Julie Walters CBE.


Although first working in insurance and then as a nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Julie pursued a career in performing arts, studying drama at Manchester Polytechnic and later working for the Everyman Theatre Company in Liverpool.

Since then she has become a television and film icon, achieving six Baftas, a Golden Globe, two International Emmys as well as two Oscar nominations in a career spanning more than 30 years.

And today, to mark her success the British Academy of Film and Television Arts is holding a special Bafta Life in Television at its headquarters in London.

The event, which is the start of a new series of sessions celebrating leading figures in the world of television, will see Julie discuss her career.

It follows an announcement Julie will be the feature of an hour-long television special which will be broadcast on BBC Two over Christmas.

See also: No Hollywood facelift for Walters

The star, whose film credits include Educating Rita, Billy Elliot and Harry Potter, was born in Edgbaston in Birmingham, then raised in Bishopton Road, near Lightwoods Park.

Her end-terraced childhood home features prominently in her autobiography That’s Another Story.

When her autobiography was released, she signed a copy and sent it to Smethwick Heritage Centre, which in return sends her copies of its published magazines.

Workers at the centre even received a message last year from Julie via her agent ‘wishing them well’.

Development officer Chris Sutton said: “She is a living part of Smethwick’s heritage – we are enormously proud of her achievements. It’s great to have someone from Smethwick we can follow closely in their rise and stardom in acting.

“Interestingly, she always kept her local accent. She never changed it until she was acting in some of her Hollywood roles – that makes us especially proud.

“And it’s nice to know that she doesn’t seem to forget about us, I don’t think she is the kind of person who would.” Julie was born in Smethwick in 1950 and attended Holly Lodge Grammar School, renamed Holy Lodge High School, in Holly Lane.

She was the youngest of three children, the daughter of Irish Catholics Thomas and Mary Bridget. She admits she was not a good student, and her misbehaviour led to the school writing her parents a letter, asking them not to send her back.

Julie binned it, then told her parents she had decided to leave in order to find work, first starting at an insurance company and then as a nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

However, halfway through her training, Julie decided to leave nursing and study English and drama at Manchester Polytechnic, where her boyfriend was a student.

On leaving college, Julie went to Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. Julie first came to prominence playing the title role in Educating Rita in 1983, for which she won a Bafta and Golden Globe Award. Her award-winning performance came opposite Michael Caine, and was a role she had created on the West End stage only years before.

Two years later she played Adrian Mole’s mother Pauline in the television re-make of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. And then she was the lead role in 1987 comedy film Personal Services, where she played madame Cynthia Payne.  Around the same time she was also making her mark as the unforgettable Mrs Overall in the spoof soap opera Acorn Antiques in Victoria Wood As Seen On TV, which ran from 1985 to 1987.

Four years later Julie starred with Liza Minnelli in Stepping Out, a film she won a Bafta nomination for, as she did for acting in Wide-Eyed and Legless. Another nomination came five years later for her comedy performance in television show Dinnerladies. 

Back on the cinema screen, she won a Bafta for actress in a supporting role, as the ballet teacher in Billy Elliot.

Further success came when she played Molly Weasley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

She starred in Calendar Girls too. But she did not forget television, returning for My Beautiful Son, Murder and The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath.

Six years later in 2010 she won a Bafta for leading actress in the Channel 4 drama Mo, based on Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam.

In May this year she was awarded a Bafta Fellowship. Her next piece of work will be a new 10-part drama which is due to be aired next year.

She will take on the role of Cynthia in Indian Summers, which is still in the production phase. 

Set in 1932 and based in the foothills of the Himalayas, the show tells the story of the fall of the British Empire and the rise of modern India. 

See also: Henshall relieved Walters is lovely 

Cynthia is a 60-something widow at the heart of the community in Simla – a small Indian town in the north of the country.

Also involved in the show are Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who has appeared in the Inbetweeners and Anna Karenina, and Alexander Cobb, from Call the Midwife and Mr Selfridge. 

Julie also kicked off the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? In an emotional programme she almost broke down in tears as she learned of the poverty in which some of her ancestors lived. The actress travelled to Ireland to find out more about her relatives, discovering that her mother was born there before moving to the Midlands where the actress was born.

But it was her great-grandfather Anthony who became the subject of the most surprising revelations. He raised seven children in County Mayo, living in a large house and farming 43 acres of land.

Ten years ago she was granted the freedom of Sandwell alongside comedian Frank Skinner.

Her former neighbour, engraver Michael Warner engraved a box which the award came in. Recently, she backed an appeal to Black Country businesses to support talented local people.

She called on business people to donate funds to Smethwick Achievers, a charity that helps people from the town achieve their ambitions. 

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By Alex Ross

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