Katy Manning talks Jo

Katy Manning is returning to our TV screens to play companion Jo Grant in The Sarah Jane Adventures. She told us what it’s like to be back

It's Smith and Jones! No, not Smith and Grant - Jo left to marry a Professor Jones, remember!

Australian readers: if, of late, your country feels just a little less cheery, then do accept our apologies. It’s our fault, for tempting away Katy Manning. Until recently, the actress who played dizzy Pertwee-era companion Jo Grant had dwelled down under for decades, but now she’s back home. We suspect the mean enthusiasm level of the UK has risen by a good 5% since she set foot on British soil.

“I didn’t have coffee”, she enthuses, fresh from a script readthrough, “Because I didn’t want to get over-excited. I get a bit over-energetic – Lis knows that! It’s like a kid on cordial if I get too excited!”

She’s not kidding – we suspect Sunny Delight runs through Katy Manning’s veins. There’s good reason for her bubbly demeanour today though, since she’s been given the chance to portray Jo on-screen for the first time in 37 years, in a two-part story for The Sarah Jane Adventures, scripted by executive producer Russell T Davies. So, how does it feel?

“Beautiful!” beams Katy. “It’s just joyous. It’s kinda like, ‘Is this really happening, or am I having a flashback?’ It’s really nice. When I walked in, y’know, I was nervous as… And then to walk into here and have everybody being so sweet and smiley and cuddly… Everybody was so very lovely today, and made me feel very, very welcome.”

The only fly in the ointment, it seems, is missing out on blagging a free flight back to Blighty.

“When this happened”, Katy confides, remembering the day the phone call came from Russell T Davies, “I’d just moved back. I spoke to Russell, and he was guiding me to the theatre, because I’d got lost in London! He said, ‘Is it alright if I google it?’ So we spent most of the conversation with him going, ‘Turn right there, at so-and-so!’ He said, ‘We thought you were still in Australia – we were gonna bring you back’. And I said, ‘Bummer!’”

Asked if she felt slightly wistful seeing fellow dame of Who Lis Sladen (also present) return in the new series, or wondered if and when it’d be her turn to be asked back, Katy breezily dismisses the notion.

“Oh no, no, no – truly! I’m one of these people that go through life just taking what comes, dealing with it as it happens. It would never cross my mind. And Lis was the perfect person to do this spin-off series, truly.”

“Oh, you can stay Katy!” Lis smiles.

“No, but I mean it”, Katy continues. “I get on, I do my thing, and it’s lovely to see – I love everybody to be successful. And then to be asked to do this…” She’s struggling to put what it means to her into words. “I’ve been so homesick for so many years, and I don’t think that anything nicer could have been offered to me.”

“It’s a gift”, adds Lis. “It’s a lovely episode.”

“It is an absolute gift”, Katy agrees. “I tell you, when I was reading the script and I got to that scene with what’s going to be now my seventh doctor, including the CDs, so I’ve worked out – I’m an old Doctor-hag! Well, even in just a read-through where everybody’s sitting around, I felt that me nose started to run! And when I read it at home… suddenly you look at all the people in your life who you’ve lost, and that were such an important part of both our lives, y’know? And it’s just lovely. It’s an absolute joy. It’s the best gift anybody could give somebody, coming back.”

“And it’s a fantastic episode,” adds Lis. “We’ve never had so many special effects, have we? It’s very big.”

“And I love these people!” Katy declares, gesturing expansively at young co-stars Anjli Mohindra (Rani) and Danny Anthony (Clyde) “They’re just gorgeous! I’ve been going around slapping everybody for being so cute!”

Sadly Matt Smith couldn’t attend Monday afternoon’s read-through at the BBC’s Upper Boat studios, but Katy is thrilled by the prospect of working with him.

“He’s an absolute doll! I’ve watched Matt, and he is sensational. I really got back into Doctor Who when it restarted. Y’know, when Christopher Eccleston walked out of that box…”

At this point Katy makes a noise that defies transcription. “Hubba hubba!” might be the nearest approximation.

“… And then you’ve got the lovely David, and now that Matt. Ooh, what a little darling he is! And as an actor, y’know, lovely actor. You get it straight away. He’s really got some interesting stuff going on there.”

“I think he’s lovely”, chips in Lis, “Because he looks sort of young/old – the French have a certain name for it. And I think he’s got Jon Pertwee’s chin!”

Don’t forget to read our report from the script read-through.