Prunella Scales’ brave battle with dementia

The actress we all know and love as Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers, Prunella Scales, is suffering from a slow-moving

The actress we all know and love as Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers, Prunella Scales, is suffering from a slow-moving form of dementia, and her husband, fellow veteran actor Timothy West has spoken openly about the heartbreak he feels, along with the brave way Ms Scales is battling the disease.

Mr West appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories TV show spoke about how much he still loves his wife, and the things he finds hardest about her condition.

Mr West said, “The sad thing is, you just watch the gradual disappearance of the person you knew and loved and were very close to.

“A lot of her has left, but we still enjoy life and there’s still a lot Pru is able to enjoy and we are able to do together.”

Ms Scales, 83, has been open about the fact she suffers from a form of dementia for a number of years, but Mr West, who is 81, knew something wasn’t right long before that. He said he first realised Ms Scales wasn’t functioning as normal 15 years ago as she performed on stage.

“It has stunned everyone that it’s developed so slowly. It was a play that Pru was in at Greenwich,” he said. “It wasn’t that Pru had forgotten her lines or didn’t say them properly, it was that I could see her thinking.

“I knew there was something wrong — for quite a long time we didn’t know what it was.”

Despite the disease, Ms Scales continues to work, recording radio scripts and appearing just last year in a travel show with her husband. The show was praised not only for its travel content, but for showing that people can lead their lives, even when suffering dementia.

“It’s not Alzheimer’s,” explains Mr West, “it’s a related kind of dementia. It develops very gradually.

“If you live from day to day then it’s manageable, but it’s when you start thinking about the past — What a shame she can’t do that any more, or she can’t appreciate that any more or we can’t talk about that any more — then it’s sad.

“We have been so lucky, and we are still so lucky to do things like the canal series — that we can still do things which are contributing to each other,” he said.

Mr West did say that it was difficult for he and his wife to hold conversations – for example, if they see a play or a movie, they can’t really talk about it afterwards because Ms Scales is hazy on the details.

But he says she has met the disease head-on.

“She is somebody who realises that to keep going is tremendously important,” he said. “She values an awful lot of things about our life — our house and our garden, she’s a very good gardener. And our family — we have such a big family now. I became a great-grandfather the other day.”

The couple has been married for 52 years and Ms Scales was in the audience during the interview for the show. She recorded a message for her husband, saying, “Tim is just a lovely person. I continue to find him challenging, attractive and wise. One way or another we have lasted – we understand each other.”

Mr West says the couple never considered keeping Ms Scales condition a secret, but decided instead to speak out and share their experiences. 

“In a way it is [difficult to talk about], but not to would be dishonest. Enough people know about it to say ‘Why are they not mentioning this?’.

“It was my decision,’ he said. ‘I just thought it was unfair, stupid and dishonest not to mention it and not to keep people abreast of it.”

No matter what comes next, Mr West says there is one determining factor:

“We are essential to each other. So long may it continue,” he says.

Does it sadden you to hear about Prunella Scales’ condition? Has your life been touched by dementia?


  1. Very sad, it happens to so many people. But is “battle” the correct word? Can dementia be fought? We can battle cancer in its various forms, but can we battle dementia? Has anyone ever recovered from dementia? I would be really interested to know.

    • Have you ever known anyone with dementia? it is constant battle for them to get through the day and it is never ending battle for families trying to cope with this insurmountable problem..I don’t think you will find a battle that goes on for so long where the outcome is always to the negative for the person with the disease and the family

    • Yes I have. My Mum had it. I know the struggles we had and the distress she suffered in the beginning. We could not leave her alone for a moment or she would wander off and be very angry at the “strangers” who were caring for her. The only time she was calm was when she was asleep or if her young grandchildren would read to her, even though she had no idea who they were. I am not saying it is not a hardship, but to me “battle” means there is a chance of winning. I don’t think there is a chance of winning, or recovery, from dementia.

    • Not in all instances for instance Gallipoli is classified as battle This battle took place in the year 1915 and it was fought during World War I , it never had any chance of success. I think what they mean is that is a battle to get through day by day, which I think is accurate and you are just nit picking

    • However you want to describe it, it’s horrifying to see your loved one slipping away (in my case my Mother) and the role reversal that takes place.

    • Rosalind Battles Sorry Rosalind. I think it is you who are nit picking. I said “…to me battle means…” Besides, you are looking at history and in retrospect we can see there was no chance of success. Absolutely not the point. I am curious to know if anyone has a relative or friend who managed to recover. I was the daughter of a mother with dementia. I know the hourly struggles of the sufferer and the carer.

    • Chari Prats  

      Sadly, it is a battle which cannot be won, for now. I cared for my husband when he had early onset Alzheimer’s. I don’t know how I managed but I did. One battles to keep going in spite of the hopelessness of it.

    • Oh it’s a terrible battle alright for both parties, most likely one of the longest fights, but you are so right there’s no cure, and when talking to the Alzheimer’s acc no cure in sight for at least 20 years.

    • Chari Prats  

      Thank you, Rosalind…you have such a beautiful name!

    • Well, thank you for your comments. I remember, more clearly than I would like, the struggle. Struggling to tell a parent to get dressed, then the struggling to put the clothes on her. The struggle in my mind to explain over and over again without getting impatient. The struggle to find something she wanted to eat, the struggle not to “lose it” when food and objects were thrown. The struggle to get her to take medication only to have it spat back. I loved her and I would never call dealing with her dementia a battle.

    • Here in Australia , is a woman that has done a really good job of delaying this diseases progress . In her early 30s she was told , in 5 years you will be in a nursing home , and dead in 10 . She started taking meds,

    • And doing everything to stay fit and active , her husband left her with 3 small kids , anyway that was 30 years ago , and I think now she is in a nursing home , this story was on 60 minutes a while ago .

  2. The ‘end of life’ should never be as painful as this! I’ve suffered severe, clinical depression; I’m currently experiencing my third battle with cancer; but to lose my mind (which seems to be the only thing that is functioning well at present) – that would be the absolute ‘pits’!

  3. She is blessed. She has a wonderful husband who loves her and has loved her for over 50 years.He is there for her and sounds like a beautiful man. She has obviously had a family and a rewarding career. There are a lot of amazing people who don’t live the long and very blessed life she has had. Well done Prunella. What a success your life has been. now enjoy the love.

  4. Dementia is a cruel disease. It robs a person of their personality, their memories and their future. It can effect younger people as well as the elderly. Hopefully more treatments which have real benefits will be found.

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