In the run-up to Father’s Day, we talk to GMTV presenter Penny Smith, 50, and her father Graham…
Graham, what did you think of daughter Penny’s career choice?
Graham: “I thought it was very exciting. It can advance and advance and there’s no end to what you can do.
Penny: “When I first started out in journalism there was no breakfast TV and I had no idea I’d go into TV.”
Graham: “But you always had your photo in the paper! You had a wit. You were seldom unable to cope with a question, you were very ad lib with your ideas.”
Where does that come from, do you think, Penny?
Penny: “Obviously not from my parents!”
Graham: “I think you took on some of my rapid quips…”
Penny: “What I’ve got from dad is a love of the sound of words. Dad used to make up funny words. My mum used to make bread and butter pudding and Dad used to call it ‘splodge’ and draw pictures of what you could make with it. He used to say he could irrigate Africa by hollowing out ‘splodge!’ From dad I’ve got all the inventive ridiculousness, which has been very useful writing.” [Penny published her first novel, Coming Up Next last year]
Penny, what else do you take from your dad?
“I know I’m an engineer’s daughter because to this day I can mend things! My sewing machine went a few years ago so I took apart the machine then I put it all back together again. Until modern cars, I used to be able to mend my own cars, I think that’s because I was used as cheap labour when dad was mending his!”
How often do you get to see each other?
Penny: “I go to Cyprus at least once, sometimes twice a year, and mum and dad come over once a year. We probably see each other more than when they lived here. Now I go for a proper holiday and spend the entire time with them.”
Graham: “We didn’t set out to buy a house in Cyprus. We just did. As a family [Penny is one of four], we had a plot in Rutland in the East Midlands.”
Penny: “I still love Rutland.”
Do you go back much?
Penny: “Hardly at all. I left home at 17 and when I came back mum and dad had moved. Not deliberately! Or was it, dad?” [Graham smiles and nods].
Penny: “I was in my 30s when I went back again and I still think it’s beautiful.”
What was your childhood like?
Penny: “Gorgeous. All bicycles and walking and cow parsley and bouncing in fields getting muddy, and picnics and camping. Christmases were good but I have never forgiven you for giving my sister Helen an Etch A Sketch, when I asked on no fewer than 10 occasions!”
Graham: “I wanted them to have a nice childhood. The kids were important whereas I think when people are trying to advance to the top of their profession, kids are invariably left behind or seen as an embarrassment…”
Penny:Whereas it was you who was the embarrassment, dad!”
Graham: “Yes. On school parents evening, they’d have to hustle me out.”
Penny: “He once read out comments I’d given him about the teachers. It was supposed to be an aide for him: ‘This is the one I really don’t like, he’s the worst teacher in the world…’ and dad just stood there and read it all out!”
Graham, what was Penny like as a little girl?
Graham: “She was probably the easiest one of the lot! She was inventive.”
Penny: “I just liked reading a lot and if I could read and walk everywhere I was fine.”
Graham: “Penny always stuck to herself. She was a very disciplined young girl.”
Penny: “Aww! That sounds nice. I don’t remember being terribly disciplined.”
So were there any rebellious phases?
Penny: “Well, you say no!”
In what way do you think you two are you most similar?
Penny: “Our sense of humour and the fact that we go around upsetting people! We still make each other laugh. We speak every weekend and generally the phone call ends with us giggling. I look at my phone at the end and go, ’45 minutes!’ and we fight over whose turn it is to pay the bill.”
And what about differences?
Graham: “My untidiness!”
Penny: “I couldn’t operate how dad operates. He has a workshop, which I want to clean but it would be like disturbing a door mouse’s nest. I also love reading and dad has only been known to read car manuals. He didn’t even finish my book, it didn’t have enough car chases in it! When I was starting my second novel he said, ‘I’ve come up with a good plot line, it involves car chases, and a spy.’ I said, ‘Kinda like James Bond?'”
Do you listen to your dad’s advice?
Penny: “Yes and I still quote him every day. One piece I’ve cherished is ‘Always make a decision, don’t let decisions make themselves’.”
Graham: “You used to get a lot of Shakespearean quotes as well.”
Graham, you must be very proud of Penny?
Penny: “Go on say you’re proud!”
Graham: “I watch her on GMTV every morning. I take the dog for a walk first and we’re two hours ahead, so at 8am, the timing is pretty good.”
Penny: “Sometimes he texts or emails which I don’t normally get until I come off air, like, ‘Why don’t you ask that MP…’ and I reply, ‘Because he’s left the building!'”