I always used to say that when they opened the script and saw ‘girl appears in Cami knickers‘ they’d send for me – Jean Kent
It is a sad day for fans of British cinema and for all of us over at the Margaret Lockwood Society. Our friend and the last of the Gainsborough Girls, Jean Kent, died yesterday morning. Vibrant until the very end, Jean brought joy to so many people’s lives through her films. She could be called upon to deliver a first rate performance, be it in a tiny role as Jackson’s doxy in The Wicked Lady or the troubled tearaway in Good Time Girl, the harrowing portrayal as Agnes in The Woman in Question or the unfaithful wife in The Browning Version.
Gainsborough could rival any Hollywood studio; it was a stable of household names who lit up the cinema screen and with beautiful Margaret Lockwood as its chief star it could have been easy for an actress to get lost amongst its superstars. But not Jean, she stood out from the beginning. This is best viewed in 1944’s Two Thousand Women, a sort of war effort film which cast the best of British female talent (albeit Margaret Lockwood), it had Phyllis Calvert, Anne Crawford, Renee Houston, Flora Robson, Patricia Roc, Dulcie Grey, Thora Hird, and yet Jean shone. It was the type of witty, streetwise personality which she would use in the Madonna of the Seven Moons, Fanny by Gaslight and the iconic Caravan co-starring Stewart Granger. The aforementioned films were classic Gainsborough and the public lapped them up. A trained dancer and an accomplished singer, Jean’s musical talents were put on show in Bees in Paradise and Trottie True.
As she reached her forties, when most actresses played to their vanity and opted out of screen roles, Jean was a good sport and played the part of Julia Lockwood’s mother in Please Turn Over, a comedy based on the West End play, Book of the Month. It is interesting to note Jean’s participation in Please Turn Over because during a brief stint in the mid 1950s she had very small roles in Hollywood films such as The Prince and the Showgirl opposite Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier and in the Deborah Kerr, David Niven and Jean Seberg film, Bonjour Tristesse. Being able to move from small role to leading role as fluently as Jean did singles her out from the major movie stars. What other important star would demote themselves (if you will) to play opposite other leading stars? This is what I love about Jean and she said it better herself in a round of interviews two years ago as she celebrated her 90th birthday, acting was simply a job to her and she loved to work. In the ’80s and ’90s Jean kept busy with television appearances on popular shows such as Crossroads and Lovejoy.
Behind the camera, Jean lived a simple life. She was married to her husband Josef Ramart until his death in 1989. A star without a star’s temperament, Jean was active in her local community and always courteous towards her fans.
Above all else Jean was simply a nice person.