Summer Winos»Tributes»Remembering Juliette Kaplan (1939-2019)

Remembering Juliette Kaplan (1939-2019)

Juliette Kaplan, best known to television viewers as Pearl in Last of the Summer Wine, passed away this week at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer. Though the role of Pearl dominated her career, Juliette lived an extraordinary life that saw her travelling far far beyond the rolling hills of Holmfirth.

Juliette Kaplan was born in 1939 to an English mother working as a nurse and a South African father serving in the navy. Her parents married and at the age of six months, Juliette travelled with them to settle in South Africa. Family life, however, was the prove turbulent – her parents divorced when she was three years old and, though she lived with her mother, her father “had a habit” of taking his daughter out of school and disappearing with her. It was for this reason that her mother decided she should attend The Priory in Port Elizabeth – a convent school at which Juliette found herself the only Jewish girl!

They remained in Johannesburg until Juliette was nine, at which point they briefly returned to the UK where the company that employed her mother as a secretary offered her a transfer to New York. Juliette loved this city, soon picked up the accent, and was disappointed when her mother turned down another transfer to San Francisco. Instead, in 1951, mother and daughter returned to the UK. This coincided with Juliette being just in time to have missed her Eleven Plus exams. As a result, she was sent to attend a Secondary Modern school, which she hated.

Despite this turbulence, Juliette maintained a pragmatic view of her childhood – taking delight in the adventure of it all and refusing to see herself as traumatised or damaged at all by the experience. In a 2012 interview, the only trauma she recalled holding on to was the time her mother forced her avid reader of a daughter to donate her book collection to a local children’s home in anticipation of their return to South Africa.

As a child, Juliette was known to tell tall tales, resulting in her school making concerned phone calls to her mother. Rather than reprimand her for this, however, her mother suggested she channel this creativity by writing her tall tales down and performing them in a more appropriate manner. At the age of seven, watching films starring the child actress Margaret O’Brien was when Juliette realised that she wanted to be an actress. Though supportive, her mother insisted that she first gain a teaching qualification to fall back on should her career choice not pan out..

Juliette attended the Hampshire School of Drama in Bournemouth as an afternoon student. Without hope of a grant or state support to further her ambitions, she would work any job available in the mornings – taking stints as a waitress, chambermaid, sales girl, and telephone operator – to pay her way for through school.

It was during drama school that a Bournemouth company that made religious documentary films cast Juliette as Solome in His Name Was John and a refugee in And It Came To Pass; her first on-camera work. It was here she realised that she preferred working in front of cameras to being in front of live spectators – described herself as a “devout coward” who would far rather her performance was “in the can” before the audience could see it.

An agent called Vincent Shaw was attached to the Hampshire School and took Juliette on as a client, though the first she knew of this was when Shaw telephoned her to say that a script had arrived for her and that she was expected to travel to Llandudno to performed in the play Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? 

This role paved her way to repertory theatre. After a 1958 role in Waters of the Moon in Margate, Juliette found herself with no job to immediately go to and asked to stay on. They kept her on as assistant stage manager, providing regular work in addition to on-stage roles. 1958 was also the year in which Juliette met her husband, Harold Hoser, and started a family. The would go on to have three children.

After a break from the theatre to focus on her growing family, Juliette returned to the profession in 1978 for a small scale tour of Two for the Seesaw, then The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb for Harlech TV. Appearances on the London ‘Fringe’ included Meat Love at the Almost Free and After All These Years at the Finborough Arms. It was around this time that she also made her directing debut at the Edinburgh Festival with Anyway by Tudor Gates before going on to play Joanne in Gates’ play Who Killed Agatha Christie? at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End.

Harold Hoser suffered a heart attack  and passed away in 1981 aged 54. Juliette was 42 and and found herself left in charge of a gift shop business. Retiring from acting, she made a go of it until her old agent called  with the offer of a part in a play at Folkestone. Agreeing to a meeting but fully expected to turn the part down, upon arrival she was handed the script and told she stated rehearsals on Monday. This paved Juliette’s way back in to regular acting and shortly afterwards it was another stage play that would provide Juliette with the role that would define her career, as she recalled in her 2012 interview:

One day my agent phoned, and asked if I could go to London for an audition for a touring play. I was in a filthy mood at the time, and said to let them know that I couldn’t make it. My husband had died, I’d taken over the business, I had to see my accountant… but she said ‘Oh come on, it’s tomorrow evening…’. So I did. I walked into the audition room, and the lady doing the interviewing was very charming. And I’m not a ‘charming’ sort of person! If somebody’s charming to me, I think they’ve got a hidden agenda. She said ‘can you do a Yorkshire accent?’ and I (angrily) said  ‘Well, I am an actress!’. In that tone of voice. She said ‘This part calls for an aggressive actress…’, and I said ‘GIVE ME THE SCRIPT!’ 

I read the script, and it was a play called Last of the Summer Wine, and it was going on tour before playing in Bournemouth, on the pier, for the summer season. I went home, and the next day they called me up and gave me a recall. I slammed the phone down, drove back to London and said ‘Look – I can’t go charging up and down the motorway like this, either you want me or you don’t want me’. By the time I got home, I’d been offered the part! 

Something about the part seemed fortuitous to Juliette; for one thing the character was called Pearl – the name of her mother. When she told her family of the offer, her son asked “Who’s going to look after the shop?” Her response – “To hell with the bloody shop!”

At the time of her casting, Juliette had never seen Last of the Summer Wine and was only vaguely aware of its popularity – facts which she believed helped her come into the play completely fresh. In later years she conceded that the experience would have been much more daunting had she known how popular and established it was.

As much of a fixture as Last of the Summer Wine was, however, this stage production represented somewhat of a shakeup. A whole slew of characters who would later go on to be included in the television series were first introduced in this live production – including the foreboding Pearl, the stern yet caring wife of would-be lothario Howard. The cat and mouse dynamic that played out between the pair and Howard’s mistress Marina proved very popular with theatre audiences. This was something that writer Roy Clarke and producer Alan Bell picked up on when they went to see the play, resulting in the characters and actors being ported over into the television show.

It was on camera that the character of Pearl really formed, as Juliette recalled:


They actually gave me a wig from stock, and it used to flap at the back… so every time the wind blew, my wig came off! So it was my idea to anchor it with either a turban or a beret. And when the rushes came back after the first day, Alan Bell said that I looked too young. I thought ‘Oh my god, I’ve lost the part before I’ve started…’ So I suggested wearing glasses. And that’s really how Pearl, as we know her, came into being.

The costume and the make-up helped, but really I just fell into her. And then you start establishing the relationships, too… I became very friendly with Robert Fyfe, and Jean, and Sarah Thomas who played Glenda.

After her first on-screen appearance as Pearl, several more scripts landed on Juliette’s doormat. Without any formal agreement or contract, she would appear in every subsequent series from then on, becoming part of the comedy landscape and a fixture in households across the country for almost twenty-five years.

In 1995, at the height of Juliette’s Last of the Summer Wine fame, she received a letter from Equity, the actors’ union. Enclosed was another letter that the organisation had been asked to forward on – a letter from  two half-brothers and a half-sister of whom Juliette had been completely unaware. It transpired that, after divorcing her mother, Juliette’s father had gone on to remarry and start a new family. At first reluctant to look back at the past, Juliette did go to South Africa to meet her new-found family and formed a close bond with them. Many trips to South Africa followed over subsequent years.

Away from Pearl, Juliette appeared in numerous television roles such as Grace in Brookside, Lucille in EastEnders and as a Croupier in London’s Burning alongside her continued stage work. In addition to productions like The Normal HeartWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Hobson’s Choice It was her turn in a touring production of  Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads that inspired her to approach Last of the Summer Wine creator Roy Clarke about writing her something for the stage. With characteristic bolshiness, she informed him, “If I can tour Alan Bennett, I can tour Roy Clarke.” The resulting one-woman play, Just Pearl, was launched in March 2003 and toured over 40 venues.

Last of the Summer Wine came to an end in 2010 and of the cast and crew, Juliette was perhaps the most vocal in her dissatisfaction over the way in which the BBC handled the cancellation of the long running and beloved show.

Following the end of the series, Juliette continued to perform on stage and appeared at fan and charity events. In 2015, she was cast as Agnes Tinker, grandmother of regular character Beth Tinker, in the long running television soap opera Coronation Street. Though she expressed interest in returning to the role, her initial eight episode run was to be her only appearance in the series. 

In her spare time, Juliette was a passionate bridge player, paraglider, snorkeller and often returned to South Africa. Though she put many hours into the writing of her autobiography, it was never finished during her lifetime. She is survived by her three children – Mark, Perrina, and Tania – as well as grandchildren, all of whom she expressed great pride in.

Finally, on a personal note, Juliette was one of the first people we contacted after starting work on the Summer Winos project. Always having time for her fans, she maintained a personal website through which she could be contacted and, though she had no reason for doing so, graciously accepted our request for an interview. Our subsequent Skype conversation lasted far longer than we anticipated and proved what a force of nature Juliette was. The resulting interview, in which we covered Juliette’s formative years and time on Last of the Summer Wine continues to be one of our most popular articles. For this early boost, we are very grateful. 

When Juliette entered hospice care a short time ago, her longtime agent Barry Langford passed on all of the many well wishes sent by admirers of her work, which cheered her as she celebrated her 80th birthday. Mr Langford also reported her final message to fans – “ta-ta and it’s been fun.”

This obituary has been compiled with the upmost respect utilising publicly available sources and interview tapes. If you have any corrections to suggest or memories to add, please get in touch with summerwinos@gmail.com

7 comments

  • Visit site
    October 11, 2019 5:52 pmPosted 1 month ago
    John

    I left her some flowers outside the cafe today.

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 11, 2019 7:58 pmPosted 1 month ago
    doris glasgow

    may you go too heaven & make the angels & God laugh with your humor

    may you go to heaven & make the angels & god laugh with your humor

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 11, 2019 9:13 pmPosted 1 month ago
    gerald abbotts

    Rest in peace Juliette, You and Howard and Marina,were my favourites on LOTSW.

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 12, 2019 7:20 amPosted 1 month ago
    Derek

    RIP Juliette I was so lucky to meet you a few years back. You were a very brave lady, God Bless you ☹️

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 12, 2019 8:39 amPosted 1 month ago
    Denise Hillsden

    R.I.P Juliette Kaplan , she was great actress, funny lady, she known world wide, she is missed, I still watch reruns of Last of the Summer Wine, Monday-Friday, it’s the funniest comedies ever.

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 12, 2019 9:38 amPosted 1 month ago
    Jackie spowage

    R.I.P Juliette

    Reply
  • Visit site
    October 17, 2019 10:20 amPosted 28 days ago
    Patrick mc Keane

    Well hope your at rest you were brilliant, mind you, whos going to watch Howard now

    Reply

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