Obituary: Jane Freeman
Although Jane Freeman will forever be associated with the redoubtable cafe owner Ivy in Roy Clarke’s long-running The Last of the Summer Wine – appearing in 274 episodes over a 37-year run and a 1983 stage version – she was also an actor of considerable resources who remained steadfastly committed to the theatre.
If Clarke’s BBC hit comedy overshadowed Freeman’s later career, she was at pains not to be confined by it, appearing in regional rep, national tours and pantomimes throughout its long television life.
Born in London, she moved to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, when her mother remarried, her father having died in an accident when she was nine. There she developed an early interest in performing at school. After graduating from the City of Cardiff [now Royal Welsh] College of Music and Drama in 1955, she moved to London before joining the Gloucestershire-based all-female Osiris Repertory Theatre touring company.
In 1958 she joined the Arena Theatre, Sutton Coldfield, where she began to attract attention and was seen as Margaret More in the inaugural production of the Welsh Theatre Company, Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, at the New Theatre, Cardiff in 1962.
With Birmingham Rep between 1968 and 1973, she toured to Chicago and made -notable appearances in Edward Bond’s Saved, the musical Guys and Dolls and as Maggie Hobson in Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice.
When television filming commitments allowed, she could be found playing a number of strong, usually northern, matriarchs in Billy Liar (Nottingham Playhouse, 1980), touring productions of JB Priestley’s When We Are Married and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (1987) and Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke’s Situation Comedy (1989).
She scored a personal success as the sharp-tongued Emma Hornett in Philip King and Falkland Carey’s Sailor Beware! at the Lyric, Hammersmith (1991), subsequently touring with it in 1992 and 1993.
Later theatre appearances included Pam Gems’ Deborah’s Daughter (Library -Theatre, Manchester, 1994) and tours of William Ash’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights in 1995 and again in 1998.
She made her television debut in Troy Kennedy-Martin and John McGrath’s Marriage, directed by Ken Loach, in 1964. Her Play for Today appearances included Peter Terson’s The Fishing Party (1972) and Alan Bleasdale’s Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978). Other notable credits included Roy Clarke’s Of Funerals and Fish (1973), The Black Adder (1983) and Mrs Kimble in Silas Marner (1985).
Her few film appearances included Scrubbers (1982), directed by Mai Zetterling.
She was married to Michael Simpson, the former artistic director of Birmingham Rep, from 1971 until his death in December 2007.
Jane Freeman was born Shirley Ann Pithers in Brentford on June 12, 1935, and died of lung cancer on March 9, aged 81.
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