David Bailey, Woody Allen, now a Hollyoaks Twitter spat: why Lysette Anthony deserves better

Michael Hogan
·8 min read
Lysette Anthony in 1990 - Rex Features
Lysette Anthony in 1990 - Rex Features

The actress Lysette Anthony deactivated her Twitter account this week amid a furious racism row which erupted between the stars of soap opera Hollyoaks. A somewhat unlikely sentence to be typing but here we are.

Castmate Rachel Adedeji, who quit the show last year, labelled 56-year-old Anthony "actual trash” after a WhatsApp exchange was publicly shared. It appeared to show Anthony branding colleagues “traitors” for supporting Adedeji, who had slammed the show's response to the Black Lives Matter movement and accused the Channel 4 production of “behind-the-scenes” racism. 

Hollyoaks bosses have responded by announcing a step-by-step plan to “stamp out discrimination”. Filming in Liverpool resumes next month as lockdown is lifted. It remains to be seen how the soap can recover from the controversy.

It’s just the latest surprise plot development in Anthony’s highly unusual career trajectory. This twisting path has taken her from being David Bailey’s muse to hit BBC sitcoms; from strings of flops to acclaimed Woody Allen films; from a playing a pivotal role in taking down disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to a brush with homelessness. 

Lysette Anthony in 1990 - Getty
Lysette Anthony in 1990 - Getty

An English rose with a thorny life story, Lysette Anthony once looked destined to be the new Joan Collins - a sort of Transatlantic femme fatale, all gloss, glamour and bitchy put-downs. At one point during her “face of the Eighties” heyday, she was earning £32,000 per day for modelling shoots. Fast forward 30 years and she was struggling by on earnings of just £6,000 per year, racking up debts and claiming benefits. Now she’s a key figure in the implosion of one of TV’s “big four” soap operas. How did it come to this?

Anthony’s life has been a rollercoaster ride since the beginning. Born Lysette Anne Chodzko (her father was of Polish-Ukrainian descent) to a pair of impoverished actors, she had a bohemian upbringing and took to the boards young. She began appearing in her parents’ productions while still at primary school and at 14, became the youngest member of the National Youth Theatre. 

When her parents divorced, it left Lysette living with her mother Bernadette Milnes, who suffered from bipolar disorder with manic depressive and schizophrenic tendencies. She barely saw her father again. He sent her mother £1 a year for Lysette's upkeep and money was tight. 

Lysette Anthony, Sydney Pollack and Woody Allen in Husbands and Wives - Rex
Lysette Anthony, Sydney Pollack and Woody Allen in Husbands and Wives - Rex

Milnes worked in the Harrods china department between acting jobs, hiding when showbiz people came in so she wouldn’t get recognised. After living in their West London home for a decade, they still had no carpet or curtains. As  Milnes’ psychotic interludes worsened, sadly, she ended up being sectioned. 

At 16, though, came the breakthrough that would change Anthony’s life. She was discovered by a modelling agency scout and her elfin beauty saw her heralded by photographer David Bailey as “the face of the Eighties”. 

Bailey's portraits catapulted her to fame. She became a much-in-demand model, starring in Levi’s ads and one US perfume commercial which earned her $50k for a day’s work. She was once paid £650 just to say the word “Garnier’ several times. The campaign became long-running and with repeat fees, Anthony admitted “that single word paid my mortgage for a few years”. 

Her heart was never in modelling. “I was a terrible model,” she has said. “I once fell off a catwalk. I only ever wanted to be an actress.” She had such a quintessentially Eighties look that she was cast in a raft of music videos, including four for Canadian rocker Bryan Adams - notably Summer Of ’69 and Run To You - as his recurring love interest. With her porcelain features, perfect red pout and billowing hair, Anthony resembled an airbrushed Athena poster come to life. 

Lysette Anthony aged 17 - Getty
Lysette Anthony aged 17 - Getty

By age 20, she’d begun to carve out a career as a TV actress. In 1983, she appeared in the debut series of ITV favourite Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as Christa - the German typist who became the building site’s resident sex symbol and eventually, girlfriend of jack-the-lad carpenter Wayne. This would lead to Three Up, Two Down, the role which made her a household name. 

This none-more-Eighties primetime BBC sitcom about bickering in-laws forced to share a flat below their children saw Anthony play posh Cheltenham girl Angie. She married Cockney geezer Nick (Ray Burdis), much to the chagrin of her snooty mother (Angela Thorne) - who had a love-hate relationship with Nick’s rough diamond father (Michael Elphick).

Despite TV critic Victor Lewis-Smith’s infamous description of Anthony’s acting style as "like scoffing a whole packet of icing sugar - very sweet but rather nauseating after a while”, Three Up, Two Down had a soapy appeal, a will-they-or-won’t-they mature romance at its centre and ran for four series. Its success propelled Anthony across the Atlantic to seek her fortune. 

Lysette Anthony in Krull - Alamy
Lysette Anthony in Krull - Alamy

Over in Hollywood, she scored three major successes. She became a cult pin-up for sci-fi fans as Princess Lyssa in mega-budget fantasy flick Krull. She lent some class to blockbuster “talking baby” comedy Look Who's Talking Now as John Travolta’s predatory female boss. Best by far, though, was her role as aerobics instructor Sam in Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated 1992 relationship drama Husbands and Wives - widely considered one of the prolific New York auteur’s half-dozen best films. 

As the neurotic younger girlfriend of Sydney Pollack’s college professor, she might have been a plot device to represent his (and Allen’s) midlife crisis but Anthony more than held her own among the likes of Judy Davis, Mia Farrow, Juliette Lewis and Liam Neeson.

In an attempt to shake off her "English Rose" typecasting, Antony stripped off to pose for US Playboy - a move gleefully reported by UK tabloids. Casting directors took notice and she soon appeared nude in medieval mystery The Hour Of The Pig and erotic thriller Save Me. After some misfiring horror spoofs (Dracula: Dead and Loving It or Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde, anyone?), the film roles dried up and Anthony returned to Blighty. 

She spent the next two decades dividing her time between stage work and TV bit parts: playing Miss Scarlett in ITV’s adaptation of board game Cluedo, popping up in Poirot, Jonathan Creek, The Bill and Casualty, plus a leading role in mystery soap Night & Day (a plucky attempt to make a British Twin Peaks).

She often struggled to make ends meet during his period. not helped by two costly divorces and an acrimonious split from another partner, composer Simon Boswell - the father of her teenage son Jimi. Their toxic break-up culminated in a mud-slinging 2011 court case. 

As Anthony’s earnings shrank to £6,000 per year, she ran up credit card debts of £40,000, ending up on benefits and even homeless for a while. “I got incredibly thin because I couldn’t really afford to eat,” admits Anthony, who shrank to just 6½ stone. She has wryly blamed her financial troubles on her “expensive taste in husbands”. 

Lysette Anthony as Veronica Cray in Poirot: The Hollow
Lysette Anthony as Veronica Cray in Poirot: The Hollow

In 2016, however, she made her triumphant TV comeback as high-maintenance man-eater Marnie Nightingale in Hollyoaks. Anthony arrived wearing what was hailed as "the biggest hat ever seen in soap” - how camply Joan Collins-esque - and has since become a firm fan favourite, regularly nominated for “Best Soap Bad Girl” and “Funniest Soap Female” awards. 

A happy ending for the embattled actress? Not quite yet. Her chequered story took another dark twist in 2017 when she publicly alleged that disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had raped her during the late Eighties.

Anthony told Metropolitan police that she’d met the producer while starring in Krull and the assault occurred when he turned up at her London home a few years later. “Unfortunately for him, I kept records,” she said. “Nice British girls write diaries.”

Lysette Anthony in Hollyoaks - Channel 4
Lysette Anthony in Hollyoaks - Channel 4

She said the “pathetic, revolting” attack that had left her “disgusted and embarrassed”. Coming as part of a string of statements from courageous whistleblowers, it proved one of the turning points which helped finally bring Weinstein down. “To own up to the horror I’ve carried for all these years was not a minor thing,” she said. “I’m proud. I’ve done something important. This is the moment that something’s changed. Time is up and the truth will out.”

Lysette Anthony has been put through the wringer by the industry but somehow survived with her sanity and good humour intact. “There aren't many scandals and tragedies I haven't experienced, she once said. “But I'm through it. I've learned a lot. I'm pleased to say me and my boy are thriving. Peace at last.”

From Eighties pin-up to Noughties penury, it’s hard to think of another career quite like hers. Now she’s back in the headlines again, yet she once seemed destined for greater things than a Hollyoaks social media spat. Still, if the soap does implode, at least it might give her time to write a rollicking memoir.