Jeillo Edwards was a character actress of distinction and the first black actress to appear on British television. Arriving in Britain in the sixties from her native Sierra Leone, she was the first African on the long-running police drama Dixon of Dock Green in 1972. Remembered for her beautiful speaking voice, she performed on British television, radio, stage and films for more than four decades.
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on September 23, 1942, Edwards began performing in her local church at the age of four. She left Freetown in 1960 for Britain, eventually settling in Kennington, south London, where the family home remains.
She studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and after leaving began getting small roles in television. After Dixon of Dock Green she appeared in showsÂ¬â€ series such as The Bill and Casualty. In television comedy, she had cameo roles in Black Books, Red Dwarf, Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen and Absolutely Fabulous.
Edwards was a regular on the BBC World Service, especially during the African performance seasons. BBC producer Robin White, who worked with her regularly, said: “Jeillo was one of the most disciplined actors I ever came across. Well-prepared and often a little early, she was diligent during rehearsals and recordings. She kept the rest of the cast in order – she was, at once, the peacemaker, the encourager, the enforcer.”
Her most famous radio role was as Cash Madam, a rich sugar mammy whose pet phrase was ‘No sweat, only perspiration’. Her film credits include Beautiful Thing (1996) and Dirty Pretty Things (2002).
In the early seventies she married Edward Clottey and they had a daughter and two sons. Her hearty laughter was infectious and she was known to everyone as Auntie Jeillo. She became central to her local community in Kennington involving herself with women’s groups, church, school, family and friends. For many years she also ran a restaurant in Brixton, which was known as Auntie J.
She had been suffering from kidney problems and had been undergoing dialysis. She died on July 2, 2004 aged 61. Her husband and children survive her.
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