Dressed in purple from head to toe, Corinne Skinner Carter, 82 year old veteran of Eastenders and Empire Road gazes at her rapt audience.“I haven’t retired, if you got a job for me, I’m ready. After you retire there’s just death. It’s not morbid, it’s just life”, she says.
Carter, who is mostly known for playing the role of B&B landlady Audrey Trueman on Eastenders and appearing in the first black soap on British TV “Empire Road”, is reminiscing about her acting career and personal experiences as she moves through the pages of her recently written memoir: “Why Not Me? From Trinidad to Albert Square via Empire Road.”
The actress is presenting and signing copies of her book as part of Black History Month Celebration.
Carter was born on the island of Trinidad, in what she describes as “A privileged family. Dancing was her first passion and she danced for the Geoffrey Holder Company , the famous Trinidadian dance company owned by the brother of celebrated contemporary painter Boscoe Holder.
“Dancing was a big part of my life before becoming an actress. Every film between 1955 and 1972 that called for a black dancer, I was in it” she says. But her grandmother disapproved: “‘nice girls do not go on stage’ she used to say.”
In 1955 she moved to the UK to train as a teacher, while still pursuing her acting aspirations and her career as a dancer. “I trained as a teacher, and I haven’t stopped acting since then” she says laughing. Carter taught English to children from the West Indies in Hammersmith before becoming a performance arts teacher at a Hackney primary school.
“I taught for 20 years and all my acting was done in-between teaching. I never rested” she says. “When I left college and I auditioned to go teach, I said to the interviewer: ‘You see, I can’t be here all the time, because if anybody calls me for a film, I’m ready to go’. I was the first ethnic minority teacher in that school.”
“If my Grandma was alive, I think she would have been very proud of me teaching” she adds.
In 1958 Carter landed her first role in the BBC play ‘The Green Pastures’ and throughout the 60’s she appeared as a dancer in films including ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘James Bond: Live and Let Die’. She remembers: “Geoffrey Holder did the choreography for Live and Let Die. He had a snake phobia. And in this film there were a lot of snakes. He threw himself into a coffin full of snakes. After that he ran away. I said: ‘Geoffrey, they’re artificial’, he said to me: ‘It doesn’t matter, a snake is a snake.’”
Her breakthrough role came in 1978 when she was cast as Hortense Bennet in the TV drama series ‘Empire Road’.
“It was the first UK series for blacks and written by blacks. This particular film portrayed us in a normal life. Before that there were very few black people portrayed in films and the ones that were, would always just sit on the floor or do rubbish jobs,” she says.
Through the 80’s and the 90’s Carter worked mainly in television. In 2001 she got her biggest role to date as Audrey Trueman in Eastenders.
After her husband Trevor Carter died, Trinidadian politician Claudia Jones, who started the first black newspaper in the UK, told Corinne: “people should leave something behind. So, she convinced me to write this book.”
When asked which of her three passions she loves most, the actress replies: “I think of all three I enjoyed teaching best. When it comes to acting, I prefer the stage. You get a more immediate reaction which I like best of all.”
She also advises young aspiring actors not to rely solely on acting. “Don’t just go and only do acting. There comes a time when you’ll be starving.
“Work, that’s your bread and butter. Acting is the jam. Unfortunately you can’t live without bread and butter.”