She is best known for playing the devious schemer Sable Colby in Dynasty and The Colbys, but actress Stephanie Beacham, 74, is telling me how honest — and polite — she is in real life.
And why that makes her, and all similarly courteous baby boomers, such a target for the terrifying Covid-era phone scammers.
‘Sixty per cent of Brits say there have been more cold calls than before the pandemic,’ she marvels.
Fraudsters have certainly been emboldened by it. Earlier this year health minister Lord Bethell warned of a ‘massive sudden increase’ in phishing calls and texts.
Actress Stephanie Beacham, 74, is heading a campaign urging Brits to tell scammers to ‘Push Off, Politely’, in the hopes of giving people some protection. Pictured: Stephanie Beacham in Dynasty with Joan Collins
According to new research commissioned by Santander, Brits receive 150 million suspicious calls every week, while one in ten people are targeted at least once a day.
‘Lots of people are alone at home, and, therefore, more likely to talk,’ adds Stephanie. ‘If someone picks up the phone, not having seen anybody all day, they get utterly pulled in.’
Part of the problem, she says, is that we value good manners over our own safety, with 47 per cent of us saying we don’t hang up on suspicious callers and one in five feeling it would be rude to do so.
‘Whether it’s because of this amazing English politeness, or a fear of authority, people think: “Oh no, it’s the police, it’s the bank, it’s HMRC,”’ she grimaces. ‘I’ve been having a lot of calls from “the HMRC”.’
But now Stephanie is fighting back. By heading a campaign urging Brits to tell scammers to ‘Push Off, Politely’, she hopes to give people some protection.
She has a personal reason for getting involved, too.
‘A very close family member of mine was done for over £35,000 very recently and she’s no fool,’ she explains. ‘She was told by someone claiming to be from her bank to transfer her money into a new account because of suspected fraud. And she went: “Oh my goodness, OK, yes.”’
Stephanie said a close family member was done for over £35,000, after someone claiming to be from her bank told her to transfer her money into a new account because of suspected fraud. Pictured: The Chelsea pensioners back Push Off Politely
And yet the woman who had fabulous on-screen cat fights with Joan Collins’s Alexis in Dynasty, all big hair and 1980s shoulder pads, doesn’t strike you as a victim.
In her 2011 memoir, Many Lives, Stephanie describes how she lived in a commune ‘as part of a radical social experiment’. She got a scholarship to RADA when only one in 200 girls was accepted each term. Later, while she acted at the RSC and the National, she brought up two daughters as a single mother after her marriage to actor John McEnery ended in 1979.
But like many women of her generation, Stephanie grew up fearing the powerful figures in society. ‘I was brought up in the 1950s and never mind what we all became when we were in our 20s, we were brought up to think a policeman is a policeman, a doctor is a doctor, and we respected that. Any authority figure, I’m terrified of.’
How to spot a suspicious call
- The call is out of the blue
- A caller puts pressure on you to act now by telling you that you could miss out on a reward or that your money is at risk
- You are asked to share security or PIN codes that are used to access your bank account or which you use for making your payments
- Callers encourage you to download software or an app onto your phone, tablet, laptop or computer
- It is suggested that you should lie to your bank about why you are making a payment
As a child in Barnet, North London, she and her two sisters were sent to convent school by their parents who wanted them to learn French and deportment. She jokes she almost became a nun.
‘I think you’re “got” very young. That’s when the nuns got me. It’s not a bad place to be except it’s very guilt-ridden. But it has a much deeper influence on you than what happens to you later.’
‘Although we were such a free generation, we were still 1950s girls, which means today we still have that politeness in our DNA. I would never not pay my taxes. I’m incredibly honest out of fear. God would know, and so would the Inland Revenue,’ she smiles.
For all her success, Stephanie has a natural affinity with the underdog and has been active in raising awareness for the deaf community. She has been deaf in her right ear since birth and has 80 per cent hearing in her left.
She’s been open about having skin cancer, too, and talked about sexual harassment in Hollywood, where she says she was blacklisted for refusing to pose nude.
Now she’s bravely taking on the phone scammers.
So what are her top tips to see off the fraudsters? Always be overly cautious if someone calls, she advises. ‘If you hear a voice you don’t know, saying they are from so-and-so, tell them to push off,’ she says in forthright tones.’
During Covid, criminals targeted us with phishing emails and phoney websites too. There are texts from fake parcel companies and fake test and trace agencies.
Stephanie (pictured) was recently scammed after reading about fold-up canoes on Facebook and spending £120 on an order from China
Stephanie howls with laughter as she explains how she was scammed recently.
‘On Facebook I read about these wonderful fold-up canoes made from plasticised cardboard.’
She bought two for £55 each plus postage. ‘Then a parcel arrived from China with two folded-up paper masks — for which I paid £120,’ she laughs, abashed.
Slim and glamorous in a denim shirt, she is talking to me from her Spanish holiday home, at the base of the Pyrenees. She’s spent most of lockdown there.
‘My partner [anthropologist Dr Bernie Greenwood] is even older than I am at 82. Until we could both get jabbed, we didn’t want to be around people.’
Her next film is Renegades, which also stars Patsy Kensit, but she would love to film another series with Joan Collins.
‘I still think it’s a shame when they remade Dynasty [in 2017], they didn’t bring us in as two older dowagers. Because hell’s bells, we’re still pounding away!’
They certainly are. But heaven help fraudsters trying to target the newly money-savvy Sable and Alexis. You sense they’d get very short shrift.
STEPHANIE BEACHAM is supporting Santander’s Push Off, Politely campaign to empower Brits to hang up on scammers; santander.co.uk/security