Jean Kent

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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.

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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.

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From the archives: An article on Julia Lockwood

Click here to read the original article.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1960.

In England, complete with a newly remodeled nose-“”it gives me more confidence”- and teeth filed level-“”it gives me a better smile,” young film actress Julia Lockwood stepped into the last of her teen years transformed from a pretty miss into a glamorous, sophisticated stage star.

The rapid transition has been so successful that “Toots,” as she has been called from childhood, may soon be on her way to Hollywood. Maxwell Arnow, the same man who discovered Kim Novak, flew to London to search for new faces recently and one of the actresses he singled out was the young Miss Lockwood.

The promise of a film test by Columbia Pictures that resulted from the interviews is responsible for the “new look” with which she is emerging. As well as the new nose and filed teeth, there’s a shoulder length, curly golden wig that’s filling in until her own pale blondy straight hair has reached the length she wants.

Soon-when she’s had her tonsils removed-she’ll be taking the giant step towards independence by moving into a bachelor-girl flat in London’s Dolphin Square. “I thought it was time to get away from home,” she explained.

All this artificiality and independence seems out of character for a girl described by cynical show-page reporters as: “Absolutely adorable-shining, wholesome and sweet.”

But, although for the sake of career the “new look” Julia Lockwood resembles the type of screen beauty seen all too often in Hollywood pictures, people who know her-ranging from the callboy on the film set to her teenage friends-all day: “Everyone loves her. Her sincerity and youthful charm remain un-spoilt.”

“She has always been a very homey child,” says Miss Hettie Hollick, her nanny since she was three months old. “When she was cross, the worst thing she could do was not to say goodbye to me as she went out. But she would always come back and make it up.”

“She has all the teenage enthusiasms,” said a friend. “She is a personality in the theatre. Yet she’s as wild about Cliff Richards and cha-cha as all the other kids.”

She is a born organiser and the “Peter Pan” company during its stage run in London a few months ago (Julia played Peter Pan) had a saying in an emergency: “have no fear, Toots is ‘ere.”

Charming to her elders, popular with the children, and one of the most eligible young women about town, Julia at the moment has her heart set very firmly on a career. “When I’m not working I get bored,” she says. “I don’t expect to marry until I’m at least 25.”

Her romantic crush at the moment is Cary Grant. “I think he has a wonderful face,” she says. “But I doubt if I shall marry an actor. I prefer boys who are not in show business. With young actors you never know whether they’re acting or not. They’re always over confident. Other boys are more sincere.”

An acting career was mapped out for Julia when, at the age of five, she was enrolled in a theatrical school. From then on, she’s been knee-deep in a show business atmosphere. Her move into the limelight was a foregone conclusion. “I wouldn’t have minded being a children’s nurse,” Julia says. “I love children. When I marry I shall have a large family. I don’t believe in raising an only child.” An only child herself, “I’ve been pretty lonely at times,” she says.

“My parents parted when I was about five and were divorced when I was eight. I spent a great deal of time being looked after by Nanny. I think a girl needs a father, even more than she needs a mother,” she added, rather surprisingly, in view of the fact that her actress mother, Margaret Lockwood, has probably done much to guide her pretty daughter along an acknowledged tricky course.

Julia has a few memories of her mother’s famous films-including daring pictures like The Wicked lady. “Mummy made so many pictures that I haven’t seen more than a few of them,” she says. “My earliest memory is being carried out screaming in the middle of one of her films because I was frightened when I saw someone strike her on the screen.”

For that reason, most of her acting talents were learned at school rather than from her mother. And probably for that reason too, Margaret Lockwood still remains her daughter’s best friend. “She sits on my bed sometimes till four in the morning,” says her mother. “She tells me what she’s been doing, what her friends are doing and what the party was like. Toots is in love with people and life itself. She gives a lot. And that is why she gets such a lot back.”

 

Guest Blog: Terence Towles Canote on ‘Bank Holiday’

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Like most Americans I discovered Margaret Lockwood through the classic Alfred Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes (1938).  Miss Lockwood impressed me in a way that only a few other actresses had before. In fact, she would join my ever growing number of classic film crushes, a number that includes such actresses as Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, and Grace Kelly. It was not just a case that Margaret Lockwood was incredibly beautiful. The character she played in the film, Iris Henderson, was independent, intelligent, resourceful, and charming. What is more, Miss Lockwood played the role very convincingly.

Given the impression Margaret Lockwood made upon me, it was natural that I sought out her other films. Unfortunately, living in the United States this would not prove to be easy. While The Wicked Lady and Night Train to Munich were shown on American television from time to time, her many other films were rarely shown. And many of them were hard to find on VHS or DVD. It would be literally years after I first saw Margaret Lockwood in The Lady Vanishes that I would finally get to see what would become one of my favourites of her films, Bank Holiday (1938).  The fact that Bank Holiday was one of the early films of Carol Reed, a director whose films I admire, made me want to see it even more.

For those who have never seen the film, it is perhaps easiest to describe Bank Holiday as a particularly British variation on the “Grand Hotel” theme, in which storylines involving different characters are linked by a specific locale or event. In the case of Bank Holiday, the storylines are joined together by the fictional, seaside town of Bexborough, on which the various characters converge during an August Bank Holiday weekend. Among the storylines in Bank Holiday are one involving a Cockney couple (Arthur, played by Wally Patch, and May, played by Kathleen Harrison) and their rather unruly children and one involving a young woman named Doreen (Rene Ray), who is competing in a beauty contest as Miss Fulham. Central to the film is Margaret Lockwood’s character, Catherine Lawrence, a nurse from London. She has agreed to spend the weekend in Bexborough with her fiancé (Hugh Williams), a situation about which she has very mixed feelings. This is complicated by her concern for an extremely distraught widower (John Loder), whose wife has just died in childbirth.

When I first watched Bank Holiday I must say that I was surprised. At the time the only British films from the Thirties I had seen were those directed by Alfred Hitchcock, films that did not stray too far from the Production Code of the United States that dictated what is and what is not acceptable in American films. Bank Holiday was a far cry from most of Hitchock’s films and an even farther cry from American films of the same era. At a time when American films portrayed married couples sleeping in separate beds, Bank Holiday featured a not yet married couple who planned to spend the weekend in the same room (and the same bed at that).  What is more, one of Miss Fulham’s rival beauty contestants, Miss Mayfair (Jeanne Stuart), plies her feminine wiles on a judge in an effort to win the contest.  Bank Holiday had a sexual frankness that I had only seen in the Pre-Code films of Hollywood and films from later eras. I certainly did not expect to see it in a British film released in 1938.

Beyond its uncompromising approach to sexuality, I was also surprised that Bank Holiday largely centred on working class characters. By the time I first saw Bank Holiday I had already seen films from the British New Wave, not to mention various British sitcoms over the years, but I had never seen a portrayal of the British working class prior to the Fifties. Most of the central characters belong to the lower classes. Beauty contestant Doreen (“Miss Fulham”) and her friend Milly (Merle Tottenham) are both shop girls. Arthur and May, the Cockney couple with the rambunctious kids, are virtually stereotypes of the British working class. The working class characters of Bank Holiday are not portrayed with the reality of the later kitchen sink films (as I said earlier, Arthur and May are virtually stereotypes), but the fact that they were present in a British film made in 1938 rather opened my eyes.  As an American I tended to forget that prior to the Fifties, not every British subject was an aristocrat.

Bank Holiday is not a perfect film. There are portions of it that do seem contrived, particularly portions of Catherine’s storylines. What makes the film work are Carol Reed’s attention to details and Margaret Lockwood’s performance. Many of Carol Reed’s touches, such as the rush at Victoria Station and the crowded beach at Bexborough, give it a reality that might have been denied by some of the weaknesses of the film’s plot. As to Miss Lockwood, she makes Catherine seem like a real person despite the occasional unreality of her storylines.  Given the weepiness of some of the material, many actresses may well have overplayed the part of Catherine. This is not the case with Miss Lockwood, who gives a very nuanced performance in the role. She is convincing even when the screenplay isn’t always.

Given its sexual frankness, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Bank Holiday ran into trouble when it was submitted to the Production Code Administration (the PCA) in the United States. After all, Catherine’s liaison with her fiancé violated part of the Production Code. While Joseph Breen, head of the PCA, thought Bank Holiday was a “very, very good picture,” he did not think it could be re-cut in such a way as to conform to the Production Code. Gaumont British had the PCA watch Bank Holiday again, after which Gaumont British agreed to find an editor who would remove all objectionable material from the film. Ultimately, 1450 feet of film (about five minutes) was removed from Bank Holiday in order to make it conform to the Code. It was released in the United States on 1 June 1938 under the title Three on a Weekend (it was presumed most Americans would not know what a “bank holiday” was). The United States was not the only country in which Bank Holiday faced censorship. Several cuts had to be made to the film before it could be shown in the Republic of Ireland as well.  I don’t know about the Republic of Ireland, but fortunately the original, uncut, British version of Bank Holiday would eventually become available in the United States.

Ultimately Bank Holiday made me fall even deeper in love with Margaret Lockwood. It also made me realise that sexual frankness and portrayals of the working classes existed in British films prior to the British New Wave. For all its weaknesses, it has over time become one of my favourite Margaret Lockwood films and one of my favourite Carol Reed films as well. Whatever the flaws of the film’s screenplay, Carol Reed’s direction and Margaret Lockwood’s performance more than compensate for them. In the end Bank Holiday is a film in which its sum is definitely greater than its parts.

Terence Towles Canote is the author of Television: Rare & Well Done: Essays on the Medium. Click here to visit his pop culture blog, A Shroud of Thoughts.