Jean Kent

Copyright Production Film Service.
Forename/s: 
Jean
Family name: 
Kent
Work area/craft/role: 
Industry: 
Interview Number: 
549
Interview Date(s): 
6 Mar 2006
Interviewer/s: 
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 
76

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Interview
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Interview with Jean Kent

Jean Kent (1921-) is a British film and television actress whose  work spanned seven decades.  Often known for playing bad girls, her film credits include Fanny by Gaslight (1945) Good Time Girl (1948)  Trottie True (1949) and The Browning Version (1951) . She also starred alongside Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe in the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl. She was also involved in television programmes including Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962) where she played Queen Elizabeth I.

JK: My name is Jean Kent, which I had to change actually when I went into the picture business. My actual birth name is Summerfield which my father always said was actually far too long for a bill. He always used to use the name of Field but he said you can’t use the name of Field because of all the other Fields, it wouldn’t do. So, I was Jean Carr for a while. I had several names at one point. I remember I was Julie Summers, but that was very early on when I was in pantomimes as a child. Well I thought I’d better change my name because of Jane Carr who was well known at that time. And when they printed my picture in the paper with her name underneath, I thought, no can’t have that. So I was sitting, I used to go to studio by tube, because we lived in Maida Vale. I was sitting there patiently one day thinking I must have a short name and there was an advertisement up and it said Kent Crosby brushes and I thought Kent, Jean Kent, yes that’s a short name, I’ll have that.

I: You’ve leapt into the Gainsborough days; can we go back to more or less to the beginning? You’d been a dancer for some time?

JK:  Oh yes I was at the Palladium for some time; we started at the Holburn and got bombed out of there. I did various reviews, with Hermione Gingold, several things anyway. Well I started very early with pantomime, Babes in the Wood.

I: Let’s talk about the first film, if you can remember anything about The Rocks of Valpre, like Twickenham, Henry Edwards?

JK: I seem to remember Henry Edwards smoked Turkish cigarettes. Anyway I was only there as a double for Winifred Shotter in a swimming costume. She goes out on the rocks with her boyfriend I think and they don’t see the tide coming in so she has to swim back to shore. I was there for that really but they also gave me a small part, I can’t remember what I was. I think I was a girlfriend maybe or something like that, giving out cake. I remember it was a huge garden party and I was walking around with cake and giving it out to people.

I: You mention, or on the list there’s Who’s Your Father with Lupino Lane  do you remember anything about that?

JK: Nothing at all, I sometimes I think was it me?

I: It’s that Man Again was the first at Lime Grove.

JK Yes very much so, I had a terrible panic on my first morning,   I went to go on the tube from Hyde Park to Shepherd’s Bush and I could hear the trains coming but the gates were shut. So I found a policeman and said why were the gates shut? He said, where do you want to go miss? I said Shepherd’s Bush and he said you want the other line. Of course I was in a panic because I actually thought that you had to be there dead on half past six. I hadn’t made films so I didn’t realise that it didn’t matter. So I got to the other end and I’d left my purse at home and a darling little lady, lent me two shillings, isn’t that sweet, very kind and of course I didn’t work til half past twelve.

I: Do you remember anything about the film?

JK: Oh yes, Tommy Handley, lovely fella.

I: We both said how much we liked Lime Grove, can you tell me something about working there? Of course we’ve established it was during the war

JK: Everybody was very friendly there. When we say it was one big happy family it really was. I really enjoyed it there

I: And you did various things for them, but presumably then you weren’t yet under contract

JK: Yes at that time they’d gone all Hollywood and they’d put various ladies under contract at a miniscule salary. 5 pounds a year if you were working and a guarantee of 52 days’ work a year.  And none of them survived, except for me of course

I: But the early films as I see, Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey this reflected your variety background

JK: Yes it did, they saw me at the London Palladium of course, at times during the war were hard, you took what you could get.

I: At what point did things change, were you taken seriously as an actress? Was if Fanny by Gaslight?:

JK: Fanny by Gaslight, we were working I presume on the second Arthur Askey, you could see they were testing people and someone finally said, I don’t know what you’re testing all these girls for, you’ve got the girl under contract in the studio, they said this to Ted Black. So he tested me ten minutes after.

I: Can you tell me a little bit about Mr Ted Black, because he’s someone who doesn’t get talked about much, but he was behind all of these pictures.

JK: No he doesn’t does he? He was a very quiet and gentle man. I was a bit scared of him. I was sitting on the set, because in those days I was so eager I used to learn everything what they were doing. And I was sitting there I wasn’t working there; I used to come in even if I wasn’t working. And all of a sudden a man came and sat beside me and I said hello and he said we would like to test you for a part in Fanny by Gaslight and off I went

I: And who else do you remember of the hierarchy at that time?

JK: Yes, I don’t think we ever saw them. Oh there was the studio manager, a dapper little man in grey who always had a rosebud in his lapel. I don’t remember the name

I: You were obviously getting on with the job. And what about costume designers, art directors?

JK: Ah yes, Elizabeth Haffenden, marevellous designer, I was always furious with myself because I never collected any of her designs. It never occurred to me to collect designs. And Yvonne Caffin, I think she was more Pinewood. Biddie Crystal and Billy Parkington.

I: So they were under permanent contract?

JK:I think they must have been because they were always there. Though they were only called in when everyone was there. Biddy, I think she had another hairdresser, Edna, Ella, something like that.

I:And did you have, by the time you got to Fanny by Gaslight, which the records say were partly made at Lime Grove and partly at Islington. Do you remember any of the cameramen or sound people  there? You mentioned Basil earlier?

JK: Yes Basil, I suppose I remember that because of the name. Dougy Slocombe, he was always my favourite cameraman. You never really get to know the cameraman, they’re always a remote voice, saying can we have this little bit louder or a little bit softer. I remember the terrible shock I had when I first heard my voice, oh god it was awful. I remember thinking I’ve got to get that down. It was all up here [speaks in high pitch voice]. But in those days they used to make the women’s voices much lighter.

I: So after, Fanny you were on a roll because there were a lot of rather splendid  films one after another, Two Thousand  Women and Champagne Charlie

JK: Two Thousand Women, yes who directed that?

I: Gilliat?

JK: Did he?

I: Launder and Gilliat were responsible for it

JK: Well I don’t think he directed it. He directed The Rake’s Progress. But I think that Dave MacDonald did Two Thousand Women , I wouldn’t swear to it. He was a good director.

I: And by then did you have an opinion on the parts you were playing

JK: You never got an opinion, you played it or else. I never thought to it never occurred to me. I thought new script lovely off we go.  Yes but they didn’t give you the choice, I was always glad to work. I remember my mother saying I do hope this is a happy one, I’m so tired of you going around with a long face. This was after Good Time Girl

I: I remember Phil Calvert that she and M Lockwood would have discussions about who should play what and they would knock on the door and tell them what they wanted to play.

JK: Oh did they? They were brave, never occurred to me.

I: But after Save Manning Grey and the Whip Hand were a big success I assume they thought they had something to bargain with

JK: Yes I know Phil wanted to play the smart reporter in 2000 women. She wasn’t really right for it but they let her play it. Or did she want to play the bubble dancer, no I was the bubble dancer and they made her play the reporter

I: Was there a pecking order?

JK: Yes, you see I didn’t always play the lead; I sometimes played second lead to Phil and Margaret.

I: What about the subsequent pictures, tell us a little about working at Ealing Champagne Charlie

JK: Oh yes, that was fun, Tommy Trinder

I: And Stanley Holloway?

JK: Yes Stanley Holloway. “All right behind Leroy”. He used to have a dresser and would always say “All right behind Leroy to him, became quite the catchphrase

I: Yes I can imagine

JK: Who directed that?

I: Charles?

JK: Yes Charles Crichton. I don’t remember who the cameraman was.

I: It was Ealing during the war, after you’d been established at Lime Grove. Do you remember any differences?

JK: No, Michael Balcon used to rule it with an iron hand, everyone seemed a bit nervous of him, I don’t think I met him, met him once, I don’t remember. I did turn a film down, got very nasty, was the only one I did

I: Do you remember what it was?

JK: Up For the Cup. It was another tarty piece and I was wanting to get away from the bad girl image I wanted to play a straight header. I got very tired of this after Good Time Girl. I said every time the studio saw the line “girl enters in cami knickers” they sent for me. I swear they did

I: There’s a little thing here called Soldier Sailor which was a ministry of information short of something

JK: Oh yes, that was a sort of women’s forces thing. I was the soldier, and Pat Roc was sailor and I don’t remember who was in the air force because Phyllis was WVS. We all had to be very smart and they sent a fierce woman down, short and fat. All this time spent keeping my hair off my collar. Anyway I was supposed to be changing the wheel. Me changing a wheel! Oh I had a great line: “We start very early. At 7am it’s hat on gloves on and off we go” It was very funny.

I: And that was Lime Grove  as well?

JK: That was Lime Grove

I: I think that they kept on making them, Ealing as well

JK: Yes and they taught us how to salute.

I: Waterloo Road, on the box just last week.

JK: And not the same one I don’t think, this is the original of Waterloo Road

I: Yes. No you’re confusing it with Waterloo Bridge.

JK: Yes I am

I: This is the Johnny Mills, Stuart Granger.

JK: Yes it’s on this week

I: Is it?

JK: Yes, I might have a look at that. I always remember a line in that when Johnny calls at the hairdressers and I come out in cami knickers of course, and say ‘we’re closed’ and he’s looking for Stuart Grainger. And I had a wonderful line, I said “Oh what’s he done, sold you a pup, fiddled your dough or pinched your girl?” And Johnny kept trying to muddle me up, oh he was a devil. It was fun, yes

I: Rake’s Progress, Wicked Lady ,Caravan, there’s a nice trio there.

JK: Oh yes, I remember Valerie White, she went down with appendicitis after doing one scene with Mason and they asked me to step in.

I: In a bed?

JK: No, I chucked money at her and shouted “I don’t take no money from any women in fine clothes in fine characters. They put me in a blond wig cos she was bald of course. No I sat in the tumbrel as he was on the way to the gallows, looking pathetic. He was a lovely man James Mason, always liked him, very helpful very kind

I: Was that that the only picture with him

JK: No Fanny by Gaslight, I think there was something else to, I can’t remember

I: Now Carnival,

JK: Was done at Pinewood

I: Denham

JK: Oh yes Denham, Michael Wilding, Sally Gray

I: And that was again a different studio, different atmosphere

JK: Never liked Denham, Pinewood yes, not Denham

I: Too big?

JK: Well yes, it was too big. The dressing rooms were at this end and the studios were at the other end and you used to have to go down this long draughty carriage way. Oh it was awful, no I didn’t like Denham

I: Later on you did Trottie True there

JK: Pinewood? No, no you’re right

I: I’ll tell you why, I did know Carol Grant  who co-wrote Trottie True. Then you can back to Lime Grove for                          

JK: Yes I don’t remember a lot about that. Was that the magic bow or the other one. What was the gyspy one?

I: Caravan?

JK: No the one with Phylliss?

I: Maddona of the Seven Moons?

JK: Yes, Madonna of the Seven Moons

I: Do they all blur together?

JK: Yes they do. I used to rely on my mother to tell me the order of them, I don’t really remember.

I: And also after the success of The Man in Grey , there was a production line, much more costume pieces that you all fitted in so beautifully.

JK: Well costume pictures; you know anyone can do them

I: Then there seems to be a bit of a change The Man Within

JK: Well that was way down the line

I: According to this it was after The Magic Bow

JK: Really? I’m surprised; I thought it was much later

I: Which is why it’s a change, it’s a different kind of movie, isn’t it

JK: It’s after Caravan I do remember that

I: For instance the hierarchy had changed, didn’t  Sydney Box  come in at this point

JK: He didn’t make The Magic Bow did he?

I: No after The Man Within

JK: I don’t remember,

I: I’m saying the change came at the man within

JK: I didn’t do much for that. Had some lovely clothes, did a torrid love scene with Richard Attenborough

I: But Good Time Girl, that was again a turning point. That was Riverside, Hammersmith?

JK: No, no no that was Gainsborough.  That was something to get your teeth into. Oh I remember that was that freezing winter and they cut the heating and they even had to wrap the camera up to keep it working, and the food was dreadful.

I: That was immediately after the war of course 47, 48

JK: It was after the war?

I: Yes

JK: You see I don’t remember

I: How was that received?

JK: Wonderfully, oh there were big queues round the theatre three deep. Marvellous. Oh it was a big success. It was the first of the slightly realistic type films.

I: Which is why I say it was a change from the costume melodrama type films.

JK: Gangs, and these kinds of things. Excellent performance from Herbert Lom. I didn’t realise how young he was then, he must have only been in his late twenties

I: We’ve missed out another trip to Ealing which was The Loves of Joanna Godden

JK: Oh Yes, all those sheep. Oh dear they were always trying to get the sheep into the background

I: On location in?

JK: Kent, somewhere in Kent. And I remember we stayed in this little guest house and it was run by a Mrs Neat and  a Mr Tidy, sweet. And Googie fell in love with John at this point

I: Can you remember the plot?

JK: Yes it was a nice part, played the slightly bad girl. Sister of the leading lady. I think I ran off with Morrison, I can’t remember which one. I think I ran off with someone

I: Now things are falling apart and contracts are being taken over by Rank and Lime Grove is in the process of being closed down so you go off to Pinewood for Bond Street.

JK: Pinewood? I didn’t think that was done at Pinewood.

I: Well I don’t know where it was, can you remember much about it, doesn’t really matter where it was made.

JK: Yes because I had my appendix out, emergency operation. And I had to fall down stairs. I don’t remember much about that, probably did it in a haze of pain

I: Then we’re back to Denham for Sleeping Car to Trieste.

JK: Oh yes with that horrible little John Paddy Carstairs

I: As a director?

JK: Yes. Oh he was a horrid little man he really was. He was angry one minute calm the next. You never knew where you were with him

I: Very unsettling.

JK: I had stupid clothes, so hard to get. You know I wanted to wear a raincoat with a black beret because I was a spy

I: With an accent?

JK: Did I?

I: I can’t remember

JK: I don’t think so

I: It doesn’t matter

JK: I don’t remember much about it. Albert Lieven he was lovely. No Albert had the accent, I don’t think I did.

I: And then came Trottie True which was a nice starring role

JK: Yes that was Pinewood. That was nice, except I don’t know why they got into a muddle with the schedules and we had to record all the songs on a Sunday. Instead of vaguely resting over the weekend I used to go in and record these songs on a Sunday

I: But weren’t they recorded before the shoot?

JK: No they got into a muddle so this was it. I remember this was the one time I did go and see Earl St John and complain about it. Wait a minute it was Caroll Gibbons, musical director. Wrong man for the job because he wasn’t musical. They wrote this chanteuse. And I said to Earl St John, it’s not right. And he said oh you better go and see Caroll. And I went and saw Caroll and he fixed it right away, changed it to a 6/8. But it’s only time I’ve managed to gird my loins to complain about something.

I: Do you remember the circumstances of the making, the rest of the cast, the atmosphere.

JK: Oh yes, yes indeed. James Donald, he went off to Hollywood and they never heard of him again

I: He did quite a few films

JK: Oh yes before he went to Hollywood , but then he seemed to go, didn’t seem to bother anymore

I: I did a television play with him when I was still a set designer

JK: Oh really, oh dear perhaps that’s what happened. How sad.

I: I’m trying to remember who else was in it, doesn’t matter actually. But it was a happy shoot?

JK: Oh it was a very happy film. Hattie Jacques was in it.

I: Probably singing in those days

JK: Yes we did a lovely number. Who was in it, Bill Owen.  “I was a good little girl before I met you”. In bathing costumes, Hattie looked enormous. Me running at Bill, he goes to pick me up and Hattie steps aside and picks me up and carries me off stage. Anyway they cut that number, don’t they always. And the one with Marilyn Monroe, they cut that number but kept the boring old abbey sequence that was very bad.

I: So you’ve now escaped from Lime Grove but you’re still under contract at Rank after Trottie True, Reluctant Widow

JK: Yes I imagine so, Reluctant Widow I remember, that was Bernie Knowles. We had to change the little girl that played my, well actually it was supposed to be a middle aged lady but they changed it to a young girl. Guy Rolfe, that was the leading man, and who was the other one who went to Hollywood?

I: Not Stuart Grainger, not James Mason?

JK: No, he wasn’t awfully well known

I: Not Edward Underdown?

JK: No, no I can’t remember

I: You’ve now gotten into what I would call your Pinewood Period. Still under contract at Rank, Woman in Question

JK: Yes I liked that. Woman in Question was good, Good Time Girl, the names come back.

I: We got up to what I call your pinewood period, Woman in Question, quite a lot of nice films there.  but you were under contract. Presumably by now you have an opinion on the parts you will play? Did you turn things down.

JK: Yes, I turned Michael Balcon down. But I’m not normally, I like a challenge I’m the sort of person that says, ooh new script how lovely.

I: How did things come to you, did things come via casting departments or producers or directors?

JK: Producer as a rule. I don’t really know, I’m awful aren’t I

I: No you were concerned about the work, getting the work. What do you remember about Woman in Question

JK: Oh I remember enjoying that immensely

I: Directed by?

JK: Anthony Askey, definitely my favourite director. He used to sit under the camera in a boiler suit. He always watched, so many directors don’t look at the work. Nowadays they look at the monitor who is awful, you see you’ve got nobody to play to. Oh it’s dreadful that, I hate that, yes they look at the damn monitor, look at the scene, actors acting their damn heads off

I: What else do you remember about Woman in Question?

JK: Very strong cast. I remember Duncan Macrae, very good actor, strange looking but a very good actor. Dirk Bogarde was in it and Susan Shaw. Who played the landlady, very well know actress, very funny. I did the parrot. There was a parrot at the end that gives the game away. I always thought I should have had a thing at the bottom saying Parrot. Nobody did it, the sound man sad no that’s not right so I did it and they said that’s perfect.

I: Good

JK: Silly isn’t it, absolutely crazy

I: Her Favourite Husband?

JK: Ah that was in Italy, that was when we all went to Italy

I: Entirely in Italy?

JK: Yes, entirely in Italy, yes the director was called Mario Soldati used to have to dig him out of the brothel every morning, charming gentleman. No he was, he was quite fun. And it was all made in a villa, that they used to mock up for different scenes and so forth. Oh that was fun poor, Robert Beatty he used to get terribly uptight about this. Soldati used to have his brother in law as his second in command, may be it was his producer I don’t know. He used to have him on set every morning and used to shout at him for some reason or another and Tordini used to cry beautiful pear shaped tears. I don’t know what he was I think he was a gofer of some sort

I: But that was quite an event in those days to make a film entirely on location

JK: Yes it was entirely in this villa, we used to use this other villa. Tamara Lees, I remember we were doing a scene in a sort of restaurant and she sets down, and she was a very well-endowed lady and Soldati kept saying “lower, Tamara, lower Tamara” [laughs] Oh dear me it was funny. Then one day they decided. My husband the timid bank clerk gets mistaken for a killer you see, we all get mistaken, it’s one of these muddled up affairs. And there comes a point in the film where he says “of course I cannot shoot a gun” and he picks up what he thinks is a toy gun and there’s plates all around the wall and he shoots all the plates off the wall. Well Tordini was a good rifle shot and he was going to do the shooting. So Soldati says everybody off the set, everybody off the set and we all started moving and he says oh no not you. Beatty went off the roof and said I’m not going to stand here and have someone shooting and china floating all over, so they did it in a separate shot.

I: Now we come to a landmark film in your career, The Browning Version

JK: Oh The Browning Version yes. Not one of my favourites, I didn’t think I was awfully good in it. I was far too young for the part and in anyway it rather spoilt my career in a way, I played it too well I think. Yes actually I saw it again the other day and I thought actually I’m not that bad it , it’s actually rather good.  Yes I wasn’t bad

I: But it was Asquith again?

JK: Yes, Asquith again

I: Well he thought you could do it.

JK: Oh yes I knew I could do it, it was only a matter of wearing slightly older clothes and things you know. Yes it was a big success

I You haven’t said the reason why you didn’t like it

JK: I don’t know, it was very difficult playing with Michael Redgrave, he has thing, he’s in a circle of his own, and you can’t get at him. He’s not communicable at all. He’s difficult to work with, I like a little response

I: But on the other hand you weren’t supposed to have much contact with him in the story, but as an actor you needed it

JK: Yes as an actor you need a little thing, something; he was so remote, yes very remote

I: You have said because you played an older woman, it blighted you. But wasn’t it happening?

JK: Yes, the industry was collapsing all around us at the time

I: You read my mind

JK: Well it was, yes Rank got out of control John Davis got out of control. Yes it was collapsing all around us by that time.  Yes I did make another film, is it on there

I: Something called The Lost Hours is next, I don’t know much about it

JK: Oh yes that was with Van Johnson, not much of a part that wasn’t. I don’t think I ever saw it.

I: It was a time when they were importing American names, there had to be at least two Americans names over the title in order to get it made.

JK: Johnson was nice. He never used to go for lunch, he always used to go to sleeps, he said, you know around Hollywood I’m known as the Sleepy Swede. He was a lovely man.

I: Can you remember who else directed it, who was in it

JK: It was Jack Cardiff, wasn’t it? He wasn’t a very good director

I: Wasn’t he?

JK: Brilliant cameraman. Why do they always want to be directors?

I: That was very early then

JK: It may have been one of his first films. I know he got into a muddle with his reverses.

I: It does separate the men from the boys

JK: Even I was thinking that’s not right, he did get himself into an awful muddle. His operator had to gently… Say she wasn’t looking right, she was looking left

I: Apart from that was it a happy film?

JK: I don’t remember much about it

I: Was it Pinewood?

JK: No

I: A villa in Italy [laughs]

JK: No it was some studio, I don’t remember it at all.

I: Before I Wake?

JK: Before I Wake with Mona Freeman, directed by Albert S. Rogell. It was always about looks, parts and glances. That’s another one I’ve never even seen.

I: Again an American style

JK: Yes, American, I don’t think it’s a very good film.

I: And you don’t remember where it was made and who else was in it?

JK: It was somewhere we had to take a long car drive

I: Doesn’t matter. You seemed to have missed Elstree alone

JK: Oh I do remember what was made at Elstree, Rocks of Valpre, that was made at Elstree

I: Now we come to a splendid film, well sort of splendid film The Prince and the Showgirl

JK: Oh yes it was fun

I: How did you get to be in that?

JK: Well I was going to be in the number at the beginning with Marilyn Monroe making a mess of it in the chorus, kept going the wrong way. And this was when the prince who was up in the balcony saw her and wanted to meet her.

I: Who was playing that part Jean?

JK: Oh, Olivier. He aged fifteen years during the making of that film. Oh God, I’ve never seen a man age so fast. Oh dear, dear. We had the husband on the set all the time, and the drama coach. Oh yes, very chaotic. They cut the number, they were very apologetic.

I: But you still appear?

JK: Yes, I’m the leading lady and I introduce the prince to all the cast and all that wasn’t written down that bit and they said you’ll make it up dear. I tried to think back to all of those Royal Performances, what they say. I can remember one, and I don’t remember which one. Phyllis Calvert and myself and I think Margaret Rockwood as well, anyway it was Queen Mary and she was a great stickler. And we were at the end of the line and Herbert Morrison was introducing. They came round to us and looked us, folded us and just looked at us. So Phyliss stepped forward and said, I’m Phyllis Calvert, that’s Jean Kent and that’s Margaret Lockwood

I: She would!

JK: Yes that was Phyllis, get on with it, what nonsense! Have you ever tried to curtsey and hold up a bouquet at the same time?

I: No I’ve not tried.

JK: It’s extremely difficult, very difficult

I: So that must have been obviously in the Gainsborough days

JK: Yes, it was Queen Mary and she always had bouquets wound with tape

I: Now we’re into an area, oh I tell you what we ought to mention ITV had started commercial television. Also you had worked for BBC of course since after the war

JK: Yes I did pantomime with them

I: And various variety pieces, I imagine that stood you in good stead for this new-fangled television thing

JK: Well I first did television in 1935 /1936. We did a musical I remember with Patricia Melon at Alexandra Palace called A Ship in the Bay. It was so expensive that they put it out twice and it also went out on the radio as well

I: Then after the war, as I said, you also did various appearances for the BBC and then in 55 of course ITV started and they started to make films for television.

JK: Yes they did

I: And you mentioned earlier the Errol Flynn Playhouse and I know they made a lot of those. And I know that you did at that time something for a friend of mine, Peter Graham Scott, A Call on the Widow.

JK: Oh yes that was very good. Pity they didn’t record them in those days?

I: No that was filmed, so presumably it’s on a shelf somewhere. And that was happening quite a lot, ITV went more onto the films

JK: And we did something like A Family at War.

I: The one that’s in all the books of course is Sir Francis Drake

JK: Oh yes, yes indeed. When they rang me up I was in Switzerland and they said we’d like you to play Queen Elizabeth. And I thought me?  I’m the wrong shape, she was skinny. They said oh no we don’t want it the usual thing still it was rather than.

I: How many did you do?

JK: There were 25 of them and I did 23.

I: Was that Elstree?

JK: No it wasn’t Elstree I only did Elstree the once.

I: Bonjour Trieste?

JK: Oh yes, that was nice, went to France for that. Rather pleasant

I: What do you remember about the film?

JK: Oh that man, I never liked him, I don’t remember his name

I: Preminger?

JK: Yes Preminger

I: I gather he wasn’t an easy man to like

JK: No not an easy man. He harangued everyone, nobody seemed very happy.

I: Quite a glamorous film

JK: You came onto the set you could feel a sort of, they weren’t happy.

I: It was quite a glamorous film though, lots of international names

JK: Yes, they got everybody into it. David Niven was in it because I seem to remember it was David Niven who was stroking my arm and saying I do like a woman with soft skin.

I: Probably David Niven yes,

JK: Yes it was

I: Now I have something here about A Grip of the Strangler

JK: Oh Boris Karloff.

I: Oh was it?

JK: That was fun. I played a musical hall singer, that time I had a musical number [sings] That was the type of number we should have had in Trottie

I: How was he?

JK: Marvellous, he was such a gentleman. He was oh, a lovely, so polite to everyone, so elegant. He was very old

I: Yes I believe he did a lot of pictures when he was very unwell, could barely walk

JK: Yes he was not very good on his feet. Very powerful. He must have been very powerful when he was younger. Great physique and everything. Great personality, it came out of him.

I: Wasn’t Hammer was it?

JK: Not it was some American company; don’t remember when we made that either.

I: Beyond this Place?

JK: I remember the name of it but I don’t remember what that was about, surely that was the Van Johnson

I: Could be I should have checked up on these things

JK: That was Van Johnson

I: You said The Lost Hours was the Van Johnson film

JK: No, The Last Hours was another American, yes, can’t remember his name

I: Don’t worry. Now we come to one that you said you did enjoy, Please Turn Over

JK: Oh yes, that was great fun

I: Beckonsfield I believe

JK: Beckonsfield, if you say so, oh that was great fun, Oh Ted Ray, he’s so much funnier off than on. They called him at seven o’clock and he was on all day. He was so a very witty man. Funny that, I suppose personality as a comic never quite came over. I remember Lionel Jeffries, have you seen it?

I: Yes

JK: I remember that wonderful cod Noel Coward play it was so funny

I: I think it was adapted from a stage play

JK: Oh was it? Oh yes, it was a stage play wasn’t it. I thoroughly enjoyed that. And you remember the man that used to do these wonderful pieces “there’s a lady hanging out the window of the fourth floor”. He did one about a driving instructor and I met him and he’d taken it from Please Turn Over, and I was so pleased because I always loved his records.

I: Yes, and his name will come back to us sometime soon. Blue Beard’s Ten Honeymoons?

JK: Oh that was Errol Flynn.

I: Oh, right, right. Flynn Television series. As for as I know it was made for America, do you thInk it would have been on the box here

JK: I don’t know can’t remember. He had more sex appeal than anyone I have ever met. When he was sober he was the perfect gentleman. I knew his driver, and he said you know beyond five six o’clock he doesn’t know what he does. Well he used to start his day with half a pint of champagne, and then gin and lemon all day. Come around 4 o’clock in the afternoon his eyes would start to go. But you know he was a better actor drunk than most are sober, he really was.

I: So he appeared in the stories as well, he didn’t just introduce them?

JK: No, no he played Don Farm in mine

I: I got the impression that he just fronted it.

JK: No he acted as well. Never met anyone who had this extraordinary sexual impact. I’m not surprised he had to keep the women from the door.

I: Now the last one we’ve got on the list, Shout at the Devil

JK: Oh yes, they were in Malta. Who was the director? He said come and do this bit at the beginning, so I did

I: Now apart from all these films we’ve talked about you used to do a lot of theatre work as well.

JK: Oh yes, I’ve always liked the theatre. Yes, the contact between the audience

I: Which plays do you remember; you did for instance No Sex Please

JK: Yes, David Jason, I always knew he’d go a long way. Mind you I didn’t think he’d get knighted! He was a pleasure to work with; some people you mesh with immediately, you anticipate their every move

I: Do you remember how long you did in that because most people did quite long runs

JK: I did about nine months and then I came out of it and for some reasons somebody who went into it, Maureen O’Sullivan came ill, so they said will you come back until we find someone else so I did another three months.

I: What was that like because it’s totally different from when you make films. You rehearse a bit and then capture it forever; you have to do it over and over.

JK: It never worried me, it’s never the same twice, different audiences. You used to get a standing ovation every night, every night. They used to stand. Because they used to go through the breakfast hatch at the end, he was extraordinary.

I: Of course that was started by Michael Crawford, he was a daredevil, he used to do the most ridiculous things to get laughs. But then whoever inherited the part had to do the flying leap through the hatch.

JK: Well David, he was a tumbler, no doubt about it. I remember Ted Vasey  saying that actors and comedians are divided into two. Those who talk and those who are tumblers. Those who are clowns and Jason was a clown, I’m a clown. Never got much of a chance to show it but was I was

I: That comes from the dancer background? Not to mention the parents.

JK: Well yes I suppose

I: Well to go back right to the start, what sort of acts did your parents have

JK: Well my father was a harpist and my mother was a ballet dancer originally and she went with Pavlova to America, and then she came back and I don’t know. They went to Dublin and they were on the same bill, she was with a group she called The Eight White Rats because they always wore blonde wigs. That was at a time when the IRA was very busy, setting off bombs and I remember she said he had a good room upstairs and she and the other girls had a room downstairs and a bomb went off and they came running down the stairs and he said quick come in and lie on the floor, and that’s how they met.

I: So, as a small child was you travelling, travelling, travelling?

JK: Oh yes, and I went to boarding school of course, that sort of thing

I: Where would you call home at that time?

JK: Well, I was born in Brixton believe it or not, home of the pros at that time of course. London I suppose because my grandparents lived there but we didn’t really have a home of our own. Actors that time didn’t have enough money to have homes of their own. When they were out of work they went to Mrs Greening’s. She was a marvellous landlady, I remember he coming in one day and saying oh Mrs Fields, Mrs Fields you must go down to the market, they’re selling them peasants off for sixpence! Oh she was very funny

I: So, you’ve given us a marvellous line through the work can you remember now any area you’ve not done service to, any people?

JK: No, not particularly.

I: Tell us a thing that has surprised you, or frightens you, when you’ve been offered a part and thought that’s not for me.

JK: No, I don’t think that’s ever happened, I’ve been quite versatile. Perhaps I didn’t stick to one thing enough, always a good idea to find your niche.

I: Not only did you work in London, you must have worked in other parts of the country?

JK: Yes, I’ve even worked in Peterborough Rep at one point, about 17, I remember we were doing White Cargo and I was playing Tondelayo. They pretended to be swatting the mosquitos saying God isn’t it hot! The trouble is that names escape me so I can’t remember them

I: One remembers instances or funny lines,

JK: But not what the play was. Oh I did a thing with Stephen Murray, I also did Merchant of Venice with Stephen Murray

I: Where was that?

JK: Oh we toured, went all over, everyone was touring that year.

I: As Portia?

JK: Yes as Portia, you got more laughs as Portia. There’s a scene where she comes back, and it was you were in the London Palladium. I don’t know why it was so funny, and what other thing, oh I can’t remember. And the play that went to The Duchess

I: Who else was in it with you that might prompt my memory. How long did it run?

JK: Again you see, oh dear such a good actor

I: Don’t worry

JK: I can see their faces but can’t remember their names. It’ll come to me as soon as you’re gone. Oh I remember Donald Simmonds was in the play that The Duchess, what the hell it was called

I: Ok let’s call a halt there

Biographical

 

Jean Kent was one of the great stars of the golden age of British cinema.

She was born in Brixton,  London in 1921 as Joan Summerfield, the daughter of two musical hall performers.  She first set foot on stage at the age of three, singing at a children’s matinee before becoming a child dancer at the age of six.

Her first regular work was as a member of the chorus at the legendary Windmill Theatre.

Her film breakthrough came as a result of stage work, in particular her appearance in the revue Apple Sauce, which played at the London Palladium in 1941, and where film producers spotted her and offered her a long-term contraction 1943 with Gainsborough Pictures.

 

She found fame in fiery, bad girl roles in the studio’s enormously popular  costume melodramas of the 1940s, such as Fanny By Gaslight in 1944,  The Wicked Lady 1945 opposite James Mason, and  Caravan in 1946 in which she played gypsy dancer Rosal opposite Stewart Granger and Dennis Price.

She went on to play in  Terence Rattigan’s great box office success -  The Browning Version in 1951 co-starring Michael Redgrave.  In later years, Jean found television and theatre more attractive than work in the cinema. She played Queen Elizabeth I in the long-running Sixties series Sir Francis Drake (1961) and  Daphne Goodlace, potential seductress of both Albert and Harold, in the BBC’s Steptoe and Son(1962) while also playing in The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan on stage.