Actress Prunella Scales is best known for her role as Sybil Fawlty in the classic 1970s comedy series, Fawlty Towers. CHARLENE MITCHELL talks to her about her latest role in Gertrude's Secret at the Beck Theatre

Prunella Scales will always be remembered by the British public as Basil Fawlty's long-suffering wife Sybil in the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, and more recently as the forever complaining Dotty Turnbull in the Tesco adverts.

But many film and television fans may be unaware that the actress has more than 40 years experience on stage, and seasoned local theatregoers will be delighted to hear she is playing Gertrude, the lead role in Gertrude's Secret, which comes to the Beck in February.

The show, which has received rave reviews from the national press as well as television and radio, is touring some of the biggest and most prestigious theatres in the country.

"Gertrude's Secret is a programme of monologues and I'm in one of them. Some of them are quite frightening and some are very funny," explains Prunella.

"The play is full of mystery, comedy and some of the monologues are very painful. It's right across the board.

"It's a very gifted cast, not all of whom are known to the public, but it's a highly entertaining evening. West (the writer) has a very shrewd ear for dialogue."

Prunella also starred in the stage show An Evening with Queen Victoria, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

"I did the show for many years all over the world and I loved it because we learnt more about Queen Victoria from every audience," she reveals.

"I have done more theatre than I have done anything else because when I went into the business, there wasn't much television. I love theatre because I like what you learn from different audiences.

"In fact, my favourite medium is live theatre as long as it's a good part and a good play. It depends entirely on the writing."

Before her rise to fame on British television screens in the 1970s, Prunella's first career break came with the early 1960s sitcom Marriage Lines, starring opposite Richard Briers.

Two series of Fawlty Towers were to follow in 1975 and 1979, and, although only 12 episodes were made, it is arguably one of the BBC's best ever comedies.

But despite her love for John Cleese and Connie Booth, who co-wrote and played the main characters in the hit sitcom, Prunella admits it was not the happiest time of her life: "It is still very funny now and I think that is to do with the talent of the writing. It's not for one particular period - it's a classic and I am very proud of it.

"It was very pressurised because we had to do one episode a week but in our business you were always lucky to be working.

"I had young children so it was a time of anxiety and I can't say I look back on it as an incredibly happy time, but it was an exciting time. There were some very gifted people in it and it was a very happy production.

"John and Connie were under great pressure to do more episodes but they very courageously didn't. I think they felt that was it."

The actress, who was nominated for her role as Queen Elizabeth in the 1991 television play, A Question of Attribution, has also starred in the BBC Radio 4 sitcoms After Henry, Smelling of Roses, and Ladies of Letters.

Aside from her theatre, television and radio performances, Prunella has become well known for her part as the 'shopper from hell' in the Tesco adverts.

"If it's a well written commercial and you are not being asked to say any lies, one is very grateful for commercial work," she muses.

"The Tesco adverts were very well written and I hope I would be brave enough not to accept a badly written commercial.

"I believe in a free market but supermarket chains are inevitable in today's society."

Prunella, who is married to actor Timothy West, was born with the surname Illingworth but decided to change it to her mother's maiden name when she started working as an actress because it was shorter.

And the 76-year-old hopes to carry on working, simply because she loves it. She says: "I don't think you do retire in this business."

** Gertrude's Secret comes to the Beck Theatre on Monday, February 2. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets cost £15. For more information and to book, call the Beck's box office on 020 8561 8371 or visit .