Actor Timothy West discusses wife Prunella Scales' dementia diagnosis and how theatre still plays an important role in their relationship.
Actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales have been delighting audiences since their acting debuts in the 1950s and have been married since 1963. Timothy's relationship with Pru is the basis of his new book, 'Pru and Me', which includes talking about life following her dementia diagnosis.
How we met
Pru and I met whilst being in a 'not very good' television play, and we weren’t really interested in the parts we were cast in. A BBC electricians strike also meant that we had an awful lot of time on our hands, which suited us as we had a lot of interests in common.
The nature of the acting industry meant that we spent a lot of time at different ends of the country.
But when I was able to, I kept Pru company at whichever theatre she was performing in.
Pru's dementia diagnosis
I didn’t really know anything about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But I was aware that something was bothering Pru when I saw her perform on stage at Greenwich Theatre in 2001.
Always a consummate professional who knew all her lines, I noticed that she was grappling for some of the script.
Whatever was wrong, I knew we should probably get a medical opinion about it.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Pru was actually diagnosed with vascular dementia. I don’t recall us being pushed towards any specific treatment or support.
Now I feel that, if we had been, it may have helped us. But, at the time, it was very much 'carry on and deal with it as best you can'.
Diagnosis doesn't define us
We also didn’t want the diagnosis to be the defining thing about us, as we both continued to work in theatre, television, film and radio.
And although Pru has now stepped back from acting, she has contributed to the audio version of a book I’ve written about our relationship, 'Pru and Me'.
I’ve written a couple of books before and I think you get better at it. You find out more about yourself, which is interesting, as I wrote some of it long ago.
But this isn’t a book about Alzheimer’s by any means. It is about some of the things we’ve experienced, and because we’ve experienced them, they have brought us together and made us who we are.
Theatre plays an important role
We still very much enjoy going to the theatre and to concerts.
Whilst I wasn’t very aware that there are dementia specific performances, or that more theatres are working towards becoming dementia-friendly, I think this sounds like a positive step.
I’m unable to have the same in-depth conversation about stage productions with Pru that I used to enjoy. But we continue to do the things we have always done, as it's important to continue to live.
I appreciate that everyone’s experience of dementia can be different. I’m very sympathetic to anybody who has difficulty, either on their own or having to cope with relatives or friends with dementia.
It helps to have people around you who understand. To a certain extent, you can help people through things they do like to talk about or be reminded of – you shouldn’t feel like you’ve been lost.
Do what you can and carry on in way that works for you.
In the book, I say: "[We] have exactly the same conversation every day of the week and it's something I never tire of. Repetition doesn't really exist in Pru's world and the look on her face when she enters the room and sees me sitting there on the sofa waiting for her makes me realise just how much I love her."
It’s what our relationship is based on, a wonderful enduring love.
Checklist for possible dementia symptoms
View or download a copy of our checklist, which will help you to explain and record any possible dementia symptoms with your GP.