Wednesday 22 February 2023

Jean Marsh


Actress Jean Marsh in Edwardian maid's costume, portraying Rose in the 1970s ITV television series 'Upstairs Downstairs'

Jean Marsh 

Well, yes, another not-so-unknown face. In fact, if you were watching television in the 1970s, the image at the top of this post will be very recognisable, almost iconic. 'Upstairs, Downstairs' was an award-winning television sensation, and Jean Marsh was its co-creator and star, in the role of put-upon housemaid, Rose Buck. A precursor to, and undoubted influence on, 'Downton Abbey' and other period social dramas, it was a massive hit in the UK and abroad, particularly on PBS in America. Although it helped lift her and many of her fellow cast-members to stardom, (Anthony Andrews, Pauline Collins and Jon Alderton for example), she was not a producer of the programme and received only a small residual payment for developing the original concept with fellow actress Eileen Atkins.

Just about recognisable in this press shot from the Laurence Olivier 
movie for television, 'The Moon & Sixpence' (1959)

Before 'Upstairs, Downstairs', Jean Marsh had been a successful actress as a child and starlet. Her elegant figure and pert, yet slightly disconcerting, good looks led to her appearing in several films in the '50s and early '60s, such as 'The Rebel' (1961) - as one of the Juliette Greco-clone beatniks, and as a South Seas beauty in 'The Moon & Sixpence (1959) with Lawrence Olivier. She also crossed the Atlantic to play a uncanny companion android in an excellent episode of 'The Twilight Zone', 'The Lonely'.            

As Alicia the realistic robot, a moral dilemma for Jack Warden
in a classic episode of 'The Twilight Zone' from 1959    

As the '60s progressed Marsh's sophisticated style was in demand for the new wave of slick spy and cop shows of the era, including 'Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre', 'Danger Man', 'The Saint', 'Department S', 'Adam Adamant Lives!' and another trip over the ocean to appear in NBC's 'I Spy'. She also appeared in the increasingly popular 'Doctor Who', first in the crusades adventure 'The Knight Of Jaffa', and later as quasi-companion Sara Kingdom. She would make a further return as sorceress Morgaine in the 1989 story, 'Battlefield'. (Trivia: In real life, she was married to the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, from 1955-1960.)    

As Sara Kingdom in mid-'60s 'Doctor Who',
she would return in another role in the '80s   

The '70s, we now know, was the decade of 'Upstairs, Downstairs' and it's enormous popularity and success. This parlayed into a plethora of higher profile roles for Jean Marsh. There's Hichcock's 'Frenzy' (1972) and she has a shrilly neurotic performance in the schlocker 'Dark Places' (1973) with its surprisingly starry cast of Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Robert Hardy, Jane Birkin and Herbert Lom. And then there's 'The Eagle Has Landed' (1976), a proper star-studded wartime caper, with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. 

In an episode of 'UFO'

By the '80s Jean Marsh was much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Hollywood beckoned with a run of evil-queen roles that begins with Mombi the Witch in 'Return To Oz' (1985), Bavmorda in 'Willow' (1988) and Morgana in 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' (1989), while the US small screen saw her in episodes of 'Hawaii 5-0', The Waltons' and 'The Love Boat', with a regular role in the TV '9 to 5'. 

More UK productions feature as we move into the '90s and 2000s: the villainous Dr Culex in the rebooted 'Tomorrow People'; a return to the Who-niverse in 'An Adventure In Space And Time'; classic serials 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge' and (the BBC 2008) 'Sense & Sensibility'; and as the portmanteau ghost of all Henry VIII's wives in 'Monarch' with TP McKenna.

As Mrs Ferrars in 'Sense & Sensibility'

Sadly, a mild stroke in 2011 affected her ability to work. Although not completely unable to act, she was only able to appear in a few scenes of the new 1930s-set 'Upstairs, Downstairs', which also had the misfortune to coincide with its mega-budget clone 'Downton Abbey'.         

Jean Marsh-imdb

Arthur White


Actor Arthur White in an episode of Thriller

Arthur White: 

The elder brother of national treasure David Jason, Arthur has kept the family name and had his own long career in acting, albeit in a far less celebrated way than his little brother. His earliest forays into acting were while he was still in his teens, in a couple of budget post-war comedies 'Let's Have A Murder' (1950) with Jimmy Jewel, and 'It's A Grand Life' (1953) with Diana Dors and music hall veteran Harry Randle. He's also very briefly in 'The War Lover' (1962) a Yanks in England WWII potboiler with Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner, and the influential kitchen sink drama 'The L-Shaped Room' (1962). 

'The War Lover' (1962)  

Another news vendor role, this time in
'The Prisoner' episode 'It's Your Funeral'

Television roles take over from film in the '60s, when he appears in popular franchises such as 'The Plane Makers', 'Redcap', 'Emergency Ward 10' and 'No Hiding Place', as well as the Rediffusion sci-fi series 'Object Z' and 'Object Z Returns'. There's an episode of 'The Prisoner' with him in it, but he doesn't appear in any of the other big cult TV favourites, at least until a 'Space:1999' episode ten years later.       

Replacing Hugh Paddick in the second series
of the kids TV show 'Pardon My Genie'

The '70s saw his young brother rise to stardom, but Arthur's own star stayed relatively low in the entertainment firmament. He can be spotted in a fair bit of comedy; 'For The Love Of Ada', You're Only Young Once', 'Hark At Barker', 'The Squirrels', 'Bless This House' etc, and his younger sibling's own sitcom vehicle, 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath'.  

With the late Bernard Kay in an
episode of 'The Professionals'

Drama roles in the '70s and '80s would include a sprinkling across the likes of 'The Duchess Of Duke Street', 'The Professionals', 'Warship', 'Secret Army', the nuclear thriller 'The Brack Report' and the freaky BBC costume drama 'The Cleopatras'.  

With George Costigan in the opening scenes of the 
misfiring Miriam Carlin sitcom 'So Haunt Me'

The latter half of his 60-year career is a roll-call of the middle-brow entertainment of those decades, though, unusually, not dipping into the soaps. It's almost impossible for a character actor to avoid the multi-episode machines: the likes of 'Casualty', 'Holby City', The Bill', and the unending flow of 'Doctors'. Better things might include the 'Ruth Rendell Mysteries', 'Wycliffe' and 'The Darling Buds Of May' with little bruv. And of course, his best known role in recent years has probably been as PC Trigg, playing opposite David Jason again, as Inspector Morse's uniformed confidant and sounding board.

He must have been an inspiration to the young fella and I'm glad they've shared an obvious love of the business, so here's a salute to a big brother.