Cast in a minor role as the accident-prone scullery maid, Ruby Finch, in the drama Upstairs Downstairs, Jenny Tomasin often stole the scene.
Depicting an Edwardian aristocratic family living in a townhouse in Belgravia, waited on by a selection of servants, Upstairs Downstairs became so popular that a spin-off was planned. Tomasin was to play Ruby again, but this time helping to run a seaside boarding house with her two colleagues, Angela Baddeley, who had portrayed the cook, Mrs Bridges, and Gordon Jackson, who had been the butler, Angus Hudson. But plans for the series were scrapped when Baddeley died.
Thereafter, Tomasin seemed destined to play maids – in Crossroads, in Philip King’s farce, See How They Run, at Greenwich, and in two Coward comedies, Blithe Spirit and The Marquise. She was born into a working class family, who at the outset showed little interest in her career. Money was short and Tomasin had to sell her books of Green Shield saving stamps to pay the fare to the audition for Upstairs Downstairs.
She joined the cast for the second series and remained an integral part of life below stairs until the end of the fifth series in 1975, taking part in 41 episodes in all. By then, the show had won seven Emmy awards, two Baftas and was being shown in 70 countries. Tomasin found it difficult to come to terms with the end of the series.
“I felt that I belonged to a wonderful, happy family – and then all of a sudden the family broke up,” she said in a newspaper interview. “It was terribly hard to adjust.”
In 1985, she appeared in Doctor Who and also played two characters in Emmerdale, one in 1980, the other in 2006. Both were killed off.
Jenny Tomasin, who was born on March 22, 1938, died on January 3, aged 73.
* A funeral service will take place on Thursday, February 9 at 3pm, Islingon and Camden Cemetery, 278 High Road, East Finchley, London N2 9AG.
* Simon Williams writes:
On Upstairs Downstairs we all had to surrender to the charge of being typecast – but of all the characters it was Jenny’s adorable, doe-eyed Ruby, the scullery maid who stole the nation’s heart. While the rest of us were being primped and preened in the make-up room, Jenny’s face was scrubbed clean and her hair left unwashed.
She had no vanity. She was a modest, generous, instinctive and dedicated actress.
When I last telephoned Jenny, her voicemail message told me that if it was about work ‘I’m free…’ And I hope she is, God bless her.
Richard Anthony Baker
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.