Samuel West says mum Prunella Scales still recognises family as she battles dementia


Samuel, known for playing Siegfried in All Creatures Great and Small, says mum Prunella Scales, who famously portrayed Sybil Fawlty, is battling dementia but in good spirits

When your parents are about to hit their nineties, any child might think about preserving their precious memories. And that’s even more important for actor Samuel West, whose famous mum Prunella Scales is battling dementia.

Prunella, 89, is best known for her role as Sybil in Fawlty Towers, while husband Timothy West, 87, has been a star of stage and screen for more than 50 years, including roles in Coronation Street.

Son Sam, much-loved as Siegfried in the hit Channel 5 series All Creatures Great and Small, which returns on Christmas Eve for an hour-long festive special, says that between his hectic work schedule he’s been interviewing both his mum and dad so their stories won’t ever be forgotten, even as Prunella’s memory continues to fade.

As fans of their Great Canal Journeys will know, the actress was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and Sam says he’s thankful the progression of the disease has been slow. “My mother’s quite deaf now which makes conversation difficult, but she’s in good spirits actually,” says Sam.

Prunella in 1980 with children Sam and Joe


Getty Images)

“You can never quite tell with dementia what sort of personality it’s going to leave a person with, but on the whole she’s quite cheery. At the moment I’m interviewing them both about their lives, because I want to write a book.

“I interviewed my dad twice a week for the first 10 weeks of lockdown.

“I’m interviewing mum too, but you have to be more patient as she has almost no short-term memory at all.

Prunella with family in 1975


REX Shutterstock)

“She still recognises us and she knows I have two children, so that’s really good.”

But he says his mum can still remember details from decades ago. “We did a poetry project in lockdown in which they got her to record a poem which it turned out she’d learned when she was a child. She recited it all in one take.”

Sam’s close relationship with his parents is something he strives to replicate with his daughters, age six and three, who he shares with partner, playwright Laura Wade. Which is why, after he snapped his Achilles on the last day of filming All Creatures in July, he says he got depressed because he couldn’t be the dad they needed during the summer holidays.

The cast of Fawlty Towers, Prunella Scales as Sybil, John Cleese as Basil, Connie Booth as Polly and Andrew Sachs as Manuel



The 55-year-old says: “It happened when I went for a run after hitting a ball in a game of cricket. In the last shoot they filmed me from the waist up because I had a plaster [cast] on.

“I woke up the next morning, with the children going, ‘Daddy’s home! Oh, he’s cracked’. I was boring because I couldn’t play football. Your children, not taking pity on you, but being disappointed in you, is a hard thing.

“I actually got quite depressed in August about not being able to walk properly. I realised how difficult it is for people with disabilities to get around London.”

Sam’s grandfather was actor Lockwood West who starred in films such as Bedazzled and Jane Eyre.

Samuel West has followed in the family tradition


Getty Images)

He says he grew up seeing how hard it was for actors to make a decent living, but that following in his family’s footsteps became “difficult to avoid”.

He made his London stage debut in 1989 aged 22, and took the part of King Caspian in the BBC Narnia series The Voyage of the Dawn Treader before being nominated for a BAFTA for his part in Howards End in 1992.

Timothy and his son Samuel West


Popperfoto via Getty Images)

Sam has been with Laura since 2007 and was 48 when they had their first daughter. Does he regret not having children earlier? “I wasn’t really ready,” he admits. “Although I’d met some wonderful people and could have sure had some very happy times making babies I just wasn’t in the same position as I was with Laura.

“I’m very lucky in that respect, although if I was a younger dad I probably wouldn’t have broken my Achilles tendon!”

Sam says he’s glad his daughters were not around in the 1930s when All Creatures is set, despite the apparently simple and idyllic life of James Herriot.

He says: “Particularly for girls I’m much more pleased that they’re alive now. My older daughter has grown up with a really strong belief that strong is the new pretty, and she’s allowed to do anything she likes.

“She’s very conscious about gender inequality, she actually wrote to Lego the other day to complain that one of her magazines, Lego City, didn’t have enough girls in it.”

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It’s a glimpse of the concern for the world beyond acting which has been a part of Sam’s life. A member of the Socialist Workers Party while at Oxford University, at the same time as Boris Johnson was also a student there, he continues to be outspoken about politics and recently about the failures of the Tory government.

He says he only saw Johnson once, “at a party, and if I’d have my life again I would have certainly challenged him to stick to journalism. I think he’s clearly unsuited to public life. I hope people finally begin to realise what a practised and habitual liar he is”.

  • The All Creatures Great and Small Christmas Special is on Christmas Eve at 9pm, Channel 5.

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