Sally Phillips isn't as posh as she should be. A cursory look at her background and you'd be forgiven for assuming she grew up in some kind of castle, with dolls crafted from swan bones and a Wendy house made out of butlers. For one thing she was born in Hong Kong and schooled in such exotic locations as Brunei, Dubai, Bahrain and Italy, which should set off aristocrat-diplomat-minor-royal alarm bells immediately. Plus, her father used to be the chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which runs Wimbledon, which means he was, in a very real and technical sense, the king of tennis. Also, Sally's really well spoken. In our ill-educated, idiot-tongued age that pretty much means you're 34th in line to the throne, or something.
But the truth is her father wasn't some princely diplomat. He worked for British Airways, which is why she grew up pretty much everywhere. As Sally herself puts it, "it wasn't a type of Raj upbringing", and it was sheer hard work that led to daddy Phillips becoming, and we really do like this phrase so we'll say it again, the king of tennis. Sally herself was a chip off the old block, putting her nose to the grindstone and excelling enough to bag a place at Oxford University.
Once there she promptly joined the Oxford Revue and fell in with some joke-spewing scallywags with names like Al Murray and Stewart Lee. A rather charmed way to begin a career in comedy, you'd think. Except it was a heck of a lot tougher for Sally because, frankly, it was a heck of a lot tougher for all women back then. Aside from a few token females (ie, French and Saunders), the comedy world was rather more generous to those who carried Y chromosomes within their person. But Sally Phillips persevered, did her time on the circuit, and landed her first TV appearance in Fist of Fun – the classic 90s sketch show fronted by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring.
But it was a bit later, in 1997 to be precise, that she got her big break. Not that she could have seen it coming. When your agent tells you you're playing a receptionist on a niche audience sitcom and will have about four lines per episode, and your standout moments will involve having your back to the camera, laughing quietly to yourself… well, you're not going to pop open the Champagne. More of a cava job, if we're honest. Yet, such was the power of the Sally Phillips smirk 'n' giggle in I'm Alan Partridge, that people suddenly took notice. To be fair, it's hard NOT to make the audience titter in a scene involving Alan complaining about the words "cock piss partridge" being scrawled on his car, but Sally took it to another level of funny.
It was a few years later that she really staked her claim for comedy immortality, though, with the RSPCA-baitingly named, all-female sketch show, Smack the Pony. Alongside two other funny women, Sally became a hero and inspiration for the female comedians who've emerged since then. And that makes Smack the Pony one of the most influential comedy programmes in the history of British television. Plus it's dead funny.
These days Sally's probably best known for her turn as Tilly on Miranda. Or as Bridget Jones's best mate in those films that people like. Plus she's also had some press attention for being one of the very few committed Christians working in the notoriously godless and hellbound field of showbiz. And with Crackanory recently added to the CV, she's clearly not done doing really cool stuff. Well, what else can you expect from someone whose dad was the king of tennis?