Obituary

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

Jane Freeman – An Appreciation

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We were incredibly saddened to hear about the recent death of Jane Freeman. Throughout our Summer Winos quest, we have been constantly impressed by Jane’s deft and formidable portrayal of the redoubtable cafe owner Ivy, and the skilful manner in which she gave the character both a fearsome temper and a frequently-overlooked humanity and sensitivity. She proved a fearsome foil for the show’s ever-evolving main trio, as well as forging hugely impressive enjoyable double acts with both John Comer, as Ivy’s on-screen husband Sid, and Jonathan Linsley, as her wayward nephew Crusher.

Last of the Summer Wine entered Jane’s life with the series’ pilot episode, Of Funerals and Fish, in 1973. Both Freeman and Comer were cast after impressing producer-director James Gilbert in The Fishing Party, an instalment of the BBC’s Play For Today strand of one-off dramas. The pair had never met on this production, their scenes having been shot separately, and they worked together on Last of the Summer Wine for some time before realising they had both appeared in the same, earlier programme.

Lazy journalism might see Ivy classed as a shrill, somewhat sexist charicature of the Northern harridan, but to simply dismiss her as a battleaxe would be to do a disservice to the nuanced character that Roy Clarke and Jane Freeman created together. Not least because the model for the character of Ivy approved. “I was a very earnest young woman in those days,” recalled Freeman, “And I wasn’t sure whether it would be fitting to promote this myth about women. I can remember talking to Enid, Roy’s lovely wife, about how awful Ivy was, and she said, ‘Oh love, Ivy’s me.'”

However, in numerous episodes, the veil of aggression is peeled back to reveal the woman underneath. Take, for example, a sequence from the Series One episode, Patê and Chips. Compo’s extended family have turned up to shepherd our main trio on an outing to a National Trust home, and Ivy immediately makes a beeline for the youngest of the clan, a baby boy.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.

(Gestures to Sid)

The baby’s father cracks a joke about donating one of their own offspring to the childless couple, but – as Ivy is wistfully waving goodbye – a very poignant musical cue suggests a deeper resonance to the absence of children from Ivy and Sid’s marriage. It’s a beautiful little moment, combining fine writing, acting and composing.

Another glimpse of humanity can be seen in an exhange between Ivy and Nora Batty in the 1988 Christmas special, Crumbs.

NORA: Funny, isn’t it? All this time, and still sometimes when I head that door open I keep expecting him to walk in like he always used to, daft as a brush, semi-plastered.

IVY: Oh, I know. It’s having all that bed to yourself that gets me.

NORA: I’ll say this for my Wally, he never did take up much room. It was like having a bed to yourself anyway.

IVY: Oh, mine used to spread himself all over the place. Every night it used to be like being trapped in the January sales. You never realise how much you’re going to miss things.

These typically unsentimental/sentimental scenes shed new light on relationships that we may originally have taken at surface value. Last of the Summer Wine didn’t connect with viewers for over three decades because of pratfalls and pretty location shooting; it rooted itself in the public consciousness thanks to important moments like this, and they’re easy to take for granted. This is the series at its best, and Freeman was a intergral part of its success.

Freeman particularly appreciated the latter scene. “We were both quite distressed that we couldn’t talk about our husbands who had died,” she told Andrew Vine, author of Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. “It was absolutely lovely when we were able to do it, and Kathy and I had scenes talking about the old days, and we did feel much better then. We hated the fact that Joe and John had dissapeared somehow. I was fond of John and Kathy was fond of Joe.”

Freeman and Kathy Staff maintained a close friendship for several decades, though it was a tentative friendship at first; during the early years of the series most of Staff’s scenes were shot on location, whilst Freeman recorded her Café sequences in the studio at a later date. As time passed, though, they bonded during rehearsals, taking in tea at the Ritz and shopping in London. During their Yorkshire location shoots, Jane would stay at the home of Kathy and her husband in Cheshire, a twenty minute drive across the Pennines. In later years, Freeman was the only member of the cast to know the true severity of Staff’s final battle with a brain tumour.


Ivy was second only to Peter Sallis’ Norman Clegg as Last of the Summer Wine‘s longest-running character, appearing in all but four of the series’ episodes. During its run, she outlived her husband Sid; mentored nephew Crusher; and was welcomed intoto the inner circle of Thora Hird’s formidable Edie.  Her unexplained absence from the series’ finale was one of the only downsides of a fittingly low-key conclusion. In every incarnation of the show, she was an anchor around whom chaos unfolded. Freeman, too, saw the series evolve across the decades from a darkly humerous comedy into a cosier, more family-friendly staple; and from a traditional studio-based sitcom recorded before live audience into a series that was shot predominantly on location and entirely on film. She even found time to appear in the sieres’ mid-1980s spin-off stage show. Of all her appearences, however, she singled out the 1983 feature length special, Getting Sam Home, as her personal favourite.

“You forget how long it’s been going,” she told Andrew VineIt’s a lifetime really. I’ve gone from being a young woman to a middle aged woman to an old woman, and yet in my mind’s eye I’m still doing the third episode.”

Jane was born in London. At the age of nine, she lost her father in an accident and, sometime later, moved with her mother and stepfather to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Here, she studied at the City of Cardiff (now Royal Welsh) College of Music and Drama, graduating in 1955. Throwing herself into a busy stage career, Jane joined the Gloucestershire-based all-female Osiris Repertory Theatre touring company, and – in 1958 – moved onto the Arena Theatre, Sutton Coldfield where she began to attract attention for her performances. During her 1968 to 1973 stint with Birmingham Rep, she married the company’s artistic director, Michael Simpson. They remained together until his death in 2007.

Although she maintained her passion for live performance throughout her career, Jane enjoyed a busy career in television and, to a lesser extent, film. After her TV debut in a Ken Loach directed episode of Diary of a Young Marriage (1964), notable roles included four appearances in the BBC’s Play For Today strand of single plays, including Peter Terson aforementioned The Fishing Party (1972) and Alan Bleasdale’s Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978). Other notable roles included appearances in Crossroads (1964), Within These Walls (1975 & 1976), The Black Adder (1983), Androcles the Lion (1983), and Silas Marner (1985).

Despite these varied roles, her best-recognised role outside of Last of the Summer Wine may have been as Gordon Rollings’ wife, in a series of early 1980s advertisements for John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter. After Rollings’ death, Jane continued to appear in ads with her Summer Wine co-star Jonathan Linsley.

Last of the Summer Wine provided Jane with regular employment, but she scheduled as much theatre work around its filming dates as possible. A fraction of her work in the theatre included Billy Liar (Nottingham Playhouse 1980), Sailor Beware! (The Lyric, Hammersmith, 1991), Deborah’s Daughter (Library Theatre, Manchester, 1994), Wuthering Heights (1995 & 1998) and touring productions of When We Are Married (1987), Noises Off (1987), and Situation Comedy (1989).

When we at Summer Winos learned of Jane Freeman’s passing, we reached out to several friends, colleagues and acquaintences, all of whom were kind enough to share their personal memories.

 

Jonathan Linsley – Actor, Crusher in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

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“I first met Jane in the spring of 1983 when we started rehearsals for a stage play of Last of the Summer Wine. We didn’t have many scenes together and at that time my character, Crusher, was not related to Jane’s character, Ivy. We became friends, however, and I always enjoyed her wisdom, advice, and her stories of growing up and “learning the business” of acting through Rep in Birmingham, where she was great friends with Paul Henry who famously played Benny in Crossroads – she admired the skill he brought to a role that required him to play someone none too bright!

After two short tours and two summer seasons of the Summer Wine stage play, fate played a hand in bringing Jane and I together when John Comer, her long time co-star and husband in the TV show, passed away and Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell invited me to play Ivy’s nephew Millburn; a none too bright lad who was “learning the business”. Jane was wonderful and helpful and I loved working with her. Her timing and skill made her a true joy to work with. She was also never starry or grand and over the next five years we struck up a professional relationship that had a certain chemistry, and I became part of the Summer Wine family.

When I left the show, fate played another hand and threw Jane and me together a second time. The untimely death of Gordon Rollings who played her long time screen husband Arkwright in the much loved John Smiths TV adverts, meant that they were looking for an actor to replace him. Mrs Arkwright wanted a “toy boy” and I was given that role and we worked together for another couple of years. I remember the last filming day at pinewood with Jane when she had another job later on that day and the production company flew her by helicopter so she could get to the other set on time. She was so excited about that experience and we all stood and waved her off . I never saw her again after that as we never worked together after that day, but she was always busy working, and I kept in touch and later caught up with all her news when I worked for her husband Michael Simpson who was the producer on The Bill.

It was with great sadness then, that I heard that Jane had passed away. She was a fine, talented, and much-loved actress with many devoted fans. I will never forget the happy times and the wonderful laughs we shared over the years. She was, and always will be, a star. RIP Aunty Ivy.”

 

Morris Bright – Chairman, Elstree Studios

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Morris Bright (foreground), in his cameo in Just A Small Funeral…

“It is easy to fall in to the trap – even for those of us who should know better, having been around the industry for a while – of thinking that the character you see on screen is also that person in real life. And so it was in the late 1990s, when I was visiting the location of Last of the Summer Wine for the first time for a book about the show for the BBC, that I got to meet a host of actors who, in most cases (although not all) were totally different from the characters they portrayed on screen.

One such actress was Jane Freeman, who has sadly passed away in recent weeks. It’s easy to watch someone week in and week out playing a battleaxe, a demanding wife – who is really more of a mother to her husband than a spouse, because the men need keeping in check like children in a playground – believing that the person you will meet will be equally as formidable. But that was the strength of the acting in Summer Wine, for Jane Freeman was nothing like the harridan Ivy, the character she played for almost four decades.

I recall sitting in a humble caravan, waiting for the weather to settle before filming could resume, one morning in the Yorkshire hills. I was having a cup of tea with Jane Freeman, Kathy Staff and my late, dear friend Thora Hird. It was slightly surreal as I was chatting with the actresses but they were all dressed up and made up as their characters. They couldn’t have been more lovely. Tea with some favourite aunts. What I loved the most about Jane and Kathy was how they would fuss over Thora who was somewhat older and quite infirm by this stage. I admired Jane’s humility. She was an ensemble player and did not regard herself any more important than anyone else, despite appearing in more episodes of the show than anyone else except Peter Sallis.

Jane was kind, friendly and polite and was surprised that someone would be interested enough in her as a person and not just as a character, to write about her in a book on Summer Wine.

We met several times after that. I recall a cameo role with her when Edie was driving a car towards me. And of course who could ever forget Compo’s funeral where we all spent a long day in church filming scenes for the show, and then the same evening together at a memorial for the actor Bill Owen.

And I was delighted to welcome Jane, along with most of the cast, to a special tribute to Summer Wine at Pinewood Studios that I organised, back in 1998.

I only have happy memories of Jane Freeman. I am sad at her passing but recognise the legacy of onscreen laughter she has left behind. God bless you Jane.”

 

Laura Booth – Proprieter, Sid’s Café, Holmfirth

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our 'Getting Sam Home' location tour.

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our Getting Sam Home Again location tour…


“We’re sorry to hear the sad news about the passing of Jane Freeman, the actress who played Ivy in Last of the Summer Wine. Jane portrayed the character of Ivy perfectly, a northern battle-axe with little time for the mischief-making of the cafe regulars. Ivy ran the cafe with a formidable style and her customer service skills were renowned! The old adage “the customer is always right” certainly didn’t apply back then! These days we appreciate our customers more, but I suspect some of them would relish the opportunity to be hit over the head with a tray or chased out of the cafe with a broom…”

We end this tribute with a trip to the real life Sid’s Café in Holmfirth. Visit today, and you’ll discover that – and alongside Nora and Compo –  you will be greeted by a cardboard effigy of the formidable Ivy. Jane Freeman’s career was long, varied, and thanks to her suberb, decades-long performance in Last of the Summer Wine, will be remembered fondly for many years to come.

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