Monday, 4 March 2013

TV stars pay tribute to Blandings pig actor The Empress after she dies

By Peter Coulter, BBC News, Belfast

Stars of the BBC comedy drama Blandings have been paying tribute to the programme's pig star, The Empress, who has died.

The Middle White sow, died last week just before the final episode of the series was broadcast.

The pig had been living with her co-star Queenie, within the grounds of Crom Castle, where the programme was filmed in Lisbellaw, County Fermanagh.

The TV series is based on the celebrated stories by PG Wodehouse.

The BBC and Mammoth Productions confirmed that the pig had passed away.

'Poor old Empress'
Actor Timothy Spall who plays Lord Clarence Emsworth in the show told the BBC he was "very upset to hear of the passing of the poor old Empress."

"That was her stage name, I never knew her real name, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a lot of affection for her," he said.

"She was by far the most flatulent member of the cast and believe me, she had a lot of competition.

Actor Timothy Spall has paid tribute to The Empress.
"At least she had a late life in showbiz which she enjoyed very much when she managed to wake up and I believe she had a luxurious life after her showbiz debut, as she stayed living in the castle. "

Noel Johnston had been looking after The Empress and Queenie on behalf of production company Mammoth.

"I acquired The Empress, I got her pig number and everything sorted and brought her over from Lancashire. She was with us for a fortnight getting settled in before she began filming.

"I looked after the pigs with my wife and three sons. We had become very attached to her," he said.

Mr Johnson explained how that the family fed the pig as normal in the evening and she seemed normal but said the following morning they discovered she had died.

"We called the vet and he said that he believed that she had suffered a massive heart attack," he said.

"She was such a gentle pig, she was amazing really, she did everything that she was told. It's such a shame she died before the final episode was broadcast."

Mr Johnson said it would be very difficult for the production company to replace her.

"She was such an odd funny looking pig, if there is a second series they will struggle to find a pig like her," he said.

Delightful pig
Mr Johnson said The Empress enjoyed sleeping up to 20 hours a day.

"She loved her food but she also loved her sleep. You could hear her snoring from 50 yards away," he said.

"As soon as you opened the door, she was up like a bolt because she knew the food was coming.

"The pigs kept surprising us, the other pig from the programme, Queenie, had ten piglets while we were filming which was a bit of a surprise as no one realised she was pregnant," he said.

Queenie will continue to live with the family within the grounds of the castle.

BBC executive producer Kristian Smith said: "We were very lucky to have found such a characterful and humorous pig.

"She captured the spirit of The Empress of Blandings perfectly. We are saddened to hear of her death, She was a delight."

The Empress starred in BBC comedy Blandings alongside Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Mark Williams and Jennifer Saunders.

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