Timothy West and wife Prunella Scales are British showbiz royalty, with one of the longest-standing marriages in that fickle business, having been partners in life and love for more than 50 years.
Timothy is one of Britain’s most popular stage actors, but it’s his television work in Edward VII in the 1970s and recently in Coronation Street and EastEnders that has made his face instantly recognisable.
The son of actors, Timothy met Prunella in 1960 when they were both in the television show She Died Young. To say that show business runs in the family is something of an understatement, as son Samuel is a well-known actor, and both Samuel and his brother Joe have appeared in the couple’s highly successful television series Great Canal Journeys, where Timothy and Prunella sail England’s, Europe’s and India’s inland waterways.
But in 2013 their fairytale hit a roadblock when Prunella started to become vague and hesitant, a stark departure from the quick wit she was famed for in her hilarious performances as Sybil in television’s Fawlty Towers.
Prunella was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease but thankfully in her case the dementia was initially slow moving, although in 2018 it has progressed to the point where she can no longer remember her wedding day, her sons’ birthdays, or a night at the theatre that happened half an hour ago.
Making these programs has enabled Timothy and Prunella to stay together and, with the help of Timothy’s daughter Julia who travels with them as carer and hairdresser, they can travel the waterways and film new episodes despite the progression of Prunella’s dementia.
At the beginning of the first series of Great Canal Journeys, Timothy was upfront about Prunella’s illness, which has led to many carers of people suffering dementia to reach out and contact the couple. Today, Prunella has little short-term memory but they cope by simply living in the moment.
We have to take each day as it comes.
Both Timothy and Prunella have toured Australia several times in different shows, including a tour of Prunella’s successful one-woman show An Evening with Queen Victoria in 1983.
When she visited Melbourne on that tour, Prunella told me that she adored traditional English church music, and was keen to discover what Melbourne could offer to delight her musical soul.
In 2018 Tim bravely faces the challenge of seeing Prunella gradually slip away, but they have found a way to create a fulfilling life from difficult circumstances.
“It needs much more preparations and support, but we can do it, and Pru is insistent that we should,” he told The Irish News.
“I miss an awful lot about our early life together, but you mustn’t think about that. We have to take each day as it comes.”