First tango in Selfridge’s
Amy Beth Hayes chats about playing the lovely Kitty Hawkins, and her tantalising dance debut in the second season of Mr Selfridge
It's 1914, and for the American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, business is boomiung at his famous Selfridge & Co department store on London's Oxford Street.
As the store celebrates its fifth year of trading, rumours of a coming war in Europe are gathering pace. Harry tries to prepare his staff for the potential changes ahead, while making sure his profits stay high. If war does arrive, he knows the business must do its bit on the home front, and work to keep British morale high.
Dark days lie ahead for both the business and the nation, but Harry is determined to see them out with his trademark flair and passion. In the last episode of Mr Selfridge, Harry wanted to reassure the staff and the public that he wasn’t going anywhere. Kitty (played by Amy Beth Hayes) had the idea of holding a tango demonstration for the staff, to thank them for all their hard work.
It wasn’t quite murder on the dance floor for Amy. But there was plenty of tango terror.
Former shop assistant Kitty, now promoted to head of beauty, was under the spotlight when she danced at a Selfridge’s staff party in last week’s episode.
“It was absolutely terrifying because I’d never danced before,” explains Amy, who took on the tango at Delphine’s Club.
“I met with executive producer Kate Lewis and she said, ‘Do you dance the tango?’ And I said, ‘No.’
“Then she said, ‘Right. But you can dance?’ And I said, ‘No, never. I’ve never had any dance training whatsoever’.
“So I went out and had a few tango lessons. I was very lucky to have an incredible dance partner called Amir Giles, who is one of the leading tango guys in the UK. He worked with me and taught me the routine. I was very lucky to have him.
“I think he was even more terrified than I was because he had never acted before and had to say some lines.
“So we were bonded in mutual fear and terror and went through that together.
“But it was a good experience.|I wouldn’t have changed it.
“In fact I loved it so much that I’ve carried on doing it. I’ve got a bit of tango fever. It’s unleashed something.
“I have classes once a week and have been meeting lots of nice new people who are part of the tango community.
“I’ve always wanted to have a go at ballroom dancing but I found the thought of turning up to a class not knowing anyone quite overwhelming.
“They say most dances are for people who are in love. The tango is for those that have survived it. It is supposed to be more of a realistic, mature, assured, confident dance for worldly people.
“You can see it has a real definite story to it. There are lots of different tangos you can do and each one has its own style and story and I am drawn into that when I watch it.”
Kitty has done well since we last saw her.
“She has been promoted to run beauty, which was emerging as a major change in the face of shopping. So it’s an exciting position for Kitty and a challenge
she relishes. She’s found her calling in life and is very good at it. She knows how to sell beauty products and Mr Selfridge recognises that.
“Kitty has also matured and is much more of a woman of the world now. At least that’s how she sees herself.”
Her initial first series rivalry with Agnes (Aisling Loftus) and Doris (Lauren Crace) is now long in the past.
“She’s got bigger fish to fry now. Kitty has been given a big promotion and that takes up a lot of her time and energy. She’s less concerned with trivial, petty arguments. But she’s still got a sting in her tail.
“I got some amazing feedback after the first series. I was surprised that so many different types of people loved it, including the number of men who have really got into watching Mr Selfridge and are hooked.
“It was fantastic coming back to film the second series. I just adore this job. It’s a nice feeling to be here with the family of people I work with. And I get to leave the store a bit this time, away from the counter, including those dance scenes in Delphine’s.”
Journalist Frank Edwards (Samuel West) also takes Kitty to the club on a date.
“Frank maybe misreads Kitty and has bitten off more than he can chew. He realises there’s a lot more to her than he thought. I think they’re really quite suited to each other. They’re both very strong and don’t like dishonesty. They also stand up for what they believe in, in their own different ways.
“Kitty is quite clever and streetwise and Frank is as well. They’re both masters at flirting. So they’ve met each other’s match. Things are bubbling along with her and Frank but I don’t know where it’s going to lead them.”
So where does that leave store loading bay worker George Towler (Calum Callaghan) , to whom Kitty finally gave some encouragement in the first series?
“In the beginning she didn’t even consider George. But he showed his mettle in persevering and every woman loves a trier – if you keep going for long enough you might get a date out of it. So I think she liked that perseverance and was touched.”
Young men working in Selfridge’s flock to join up to fight when war is declared in 1914.
“I don’t think any of them really contemplate what might happen. They were all so excited to go and thought it would all be over by Christmas.
“So those scenes of them going off are very poignant looking back. It’s all so innocent. I started off playing one scene a little bit sombrely. But then Kitty wouldn’t have known what was going on when a man appears in the store banging a drum.
“That touched me because I thought, ‘They’ve got no idea what that means – it’s actually the death knell for thousands of young boys.’
“It’s been good to delve further into all the characters and see how they have changed five years on in a very interesting period of history that’s obviously tinged with a lot of tragedy.”
When she’s not filming, Amy is a regular visitor to the real Selfridges in Oxford Street.
“I was always in there anyway,” she smiles. “Obviously you look very different on screen with the costume and hair in a period drama, but I have been recognised in Selfridges. I think a lot of the staff watch the series because, of course, it’s about their store.”
And Amy’s favourite scene of this series? “One would have to be a picnic Kitty goes on with Frank Edwards. Samuel and I filmed in Green Park first thing in the morning with just a few people around doing boot camp and walking dogs. And there we were, on deckchairs in our period costumes, drinking Champagne. That was fun.” – BBC
Catch Mr Selfridge season two on Sundays, BBC Entertainment at 9pm.
This article first appeared in the 10 August 2014 in the Sunday Tribune SMtv