“THANK you, you’re such a dear.”

Fenella Fielding’s opening words set the tone for our interview.

Unfailingly polite, in a voice variously described as plummy, breathy and husky, the actress oozes effortless charm.

She was responding after I had congratulated her on being awarded an OBE for services to drama and charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours just a few days previously

“That was so nice, a lovely surprise,” she says.

“You just think anything like that is charm itself. I wasn’t expecting it, you never do really, do you?”

Fielding’s first show since the announcement will be in Darlington next week, when she will be reading from her recent memoirs, titled Do You Mind If I Smoke?

The book has been co-written with Simon McKay, from Newcastle, and came about following a chance meeting between the pair at the end of a pilates session.

“At the end of the class I was sitting on the floor changing my shoes and a chap came over the me and helped me to my feet. This tuned out to be Simon McKay,” says Fielding.

“We became friends and ever since then we’ve stayed friends and he has become part of my working life.”

They met in a Chiswick cafe once a week, chatting about the highs and lows of the actress’s life and career.

Fielding allowed McKay access to her diaries and the resulting memoir is a gossipy delight, presented in an easy-to-read conversational style.Chapter titles including ‘Innocence... Lost’, ‘Tarts and Gangsters’ and ‘Drink, Drugs and Psychiatry’ give the reader a tantalising glimpse of what to expect in its pages.

At the evening hosted by Darlington Film Club next Thursday, Fielding will be reading excerpts that cover her early life, including times she shared accommodation with various ladies of the night and brushed shoulders with camel coat clad gangsters in Soho nightclubs.

She will also talk about her involvement in the Carry On films and a little bit about Kenneth Williams – the subject she gets asked about more than any other – followed by a short Q&A with the audience.

Recalling episodes from her life is “rather nice,” says Fielding, adding: “It’s much more enjoyable recalling them than having to do them,” expressing surprise that audiences always appear “jolly pleased” to meet her.

Now aged 90, Fielding has revelled in a remarkably varied career, including appearances in classic comedies and on The Morecambe & Wise Show, to more heavyweight theatre roles in the likes of Hedda Gabler and Colette.

“I’m pleased to have done a great variety of different things,” she says.

“I’ve done wonderful plays by Ibsen and I’ve also done very funny films by (Carry On film director) Gerald Thomas. It’s been terribly enjoyable.”

A quick internet search of her name reveals that the word most often used by interviewers use to describe her is “vamp”, a moniker she appears genuinely puzzled by.

“If they thought of me as a vamp, it must be from films, not from me,.” she says “I think that’s what it is.”

And of course, it does apply to one particular film – Carry On Screaming (1966), in which Fielding play the definitive vamp, Valeria, opposite Williams, Harry H Corbett and other Carry On regulars.

It’s still one of Fielding’s best-known roles and her her most memorable line from it supplies the title of her memoir.

Another description often applied to her by interviewers is “national treasure,” something which she appears to feel more comfortable with.

“If they like to say that, then that’s jolly sweet of them. I think it’s a compliment, so I don’t mind it a bit,” she says.

But she is uncertain about how she would best describe herself.

“I’m not sure,” she says. “I suppose I must be quite good at what I do, but I don’t know what to say.”

On the evidence of my brief interview with her, I’d say she is the epitome of impressive and stylish excellence: the dictionary definition of class.

  • Fenella Fielding is appearing at The Forum Music Centre, Borough Road, Darlington, on Thursday, June 28, from 7pm.
  • Tickets £10, call 01325-363135.
  • ‘Do You Mind If I Smoke?’ by Fenella Fielding and Simon McKay is published by Peter Owen