Monday, 17 October 2016

Jean Alexander R.I.P.

Jean Alexander, who played Auntie Wainwright on Last of the Summer Wine and earlier Hilda Ogden on Coronation Street, died on October 14 2016 at the age of 90.

Jean Alexander was born on October 11 1926 in Toxteth, Liverpool. Jean Alexander was drawn to acting at an early age. While her father, an electrician, was working in a shipyard she stayed in a guesthouse in Barrow-in-Furness. It was there she watched twelve dancing girls practice and then that it occurred to her a  life on stage could be appealing. As a young girl she watched variety acts at the Pavilion Theatre in Liverpool. As a teenager she joined an amateur acting troupe called the Playgoers’ Club. It was while she was with the Playgoers Club that she developed skills as a stage manager. It was the same time she took elocution lessons to help overcome her accent. It was in 1949 that she was hired for £5 a week by the Macclesfield-based Adelphi Theatre Guild as an actress. In the Fifties she worked in theatres in Southport and York before moving to London.

It was in 1961 that Jean Alexander made her television debut in an episode of Deadline Midnight. It was in 1962 that she was cast as Hilda Ogen on Coronation Street. She would play the role for 25 years. In the Sixties she was also a regular on the series Badger's Bend. She guest starred on the shows ITV Playhouse, Top Secret, Winning Widows, Jacks and Knaves, Emergency-Ward 10, Z Cars, Maupassant, First Night, and Mary Barton. She appeared in the films In Search of the Castaways (1962) and If.... (1968).  In the Seventies she appeared on the TV series The Intruder. In the Eighties she appeared in episodes of Boon and Woof!, and in the feature film Scandal.

In the Nineties she played Granny Trellis on Rich Tea and Sympathy, Auntie Wainwright on Last of the Summer Wine, and Lily in The Phoenix and the Carpet. She guest starred on The Good Guys; I, Lovett; Harry; Cluedo; and Adam's Family Tree. She appeared in the film Willie's War (1994). 

In the Naughts she continued to star on Last of the Summer Wine. She had recurring roles on both Barbara and Where the Heart Is. She guest starred on Heartbeat and The Afternoon Play. She appeared in the short film "To the sea again" (2006). In 2012 she appeared in the TV production Eugene!.

There can be no doubt that Jean Alexander was an actress of enormous talent. Hilda on Coronation Street was meant initially to simply be a stereotypical, working class, nagging housewife. It was largely because of Miss Alexander that Hilda became much more. Hilda had the sort of pluck that allowed her and her husband Stan (played by Bernard Youens) to survive from week to week. And while Hilda and Stan might snipe at each other, they both clearly loved each other. Hilda was always the first to take up for Stan if anyone attacked his character.

Of course, Jean Alexander may be better known worldwide as Auntie Wainwright on Last of the Summer Wine. Auntie was the cunning owner of Auntie Wainwright's Shop, a bric-a-brac shop. She was well known for her greed and miserliness, to the point that she even once feigned blindness to avoid donating money to a church collection. She was also extremely overprotective of her shop, to the point that she would threaten customers over a loud speaker not to move lest they be electrocuted, among other things.

Jean Alexander played a number of other roles throughout her career. In the film Scandal, which was about the Profumo Affair, she played the mother of Christine Keeler. In "To the sea again" she played an old woman whose final wish to visit the seaside complicates the lives of her son and grandson. She even provided the voice of Mrs. Santa in the animated Christmas special Hooves of Fire. Jean Alexander had the extraordinary talent of bringing any character to life, so much so that it was sometimes hard for audiences to believe that was not how she was in real life.

1 comment:

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I am, as you may or may not know, a huge fan of Last of the Summer I looked forward with unbridled pleasure to seeing Jean Alexander on the show each week as Auntie. I loved the byplay she had with Peter Sallis' Clegg (his palms would get sweaty every time he went into her shop) and especially her hilarious interactions with her stooge Smiler (Stephen Lewis of On the Buses fame).