Stage and screen actor, who starred in TV drama The Gentle Touch and the original West End production of 42nd Street
At the height of Jill Gascoine’s TV fame in the early 1980s, she was one of the country’s most prominent feminist role models.
As Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes in The Gentle Touch, created by Terence Feely for London Weekend Television, she was the first woman to take the leading role in a police drama, as well as being (in the show) a single mother with a troubled teenage son.
The series was an immediate success with viewing figures in excess of 18 million. Shortly after it launched, the BBC went into production with its own female-led police drama, Juliet Bravo. Gascoine was voted best actress by TV Times readers in 1984. The sequel to The Gentle Touch, CATS Eyes, featuring the same character, fared less well and was later described by Gascoine as “Charlie’s Angels in Kent”.
Gascoine grew up in south London and attended Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts before embarking on the round of regional reps in the 1960s. She met her first husband, Bill Keith, a hotelier, while at Dundee Rep, and worked with Ken Loach at the Living Theatre in Leicester, which was demolished in 1963.
In the 1970s, she started to land featured roles in TV dramas and series such as General Hospital, Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, and was eventually cast as James Onedin’s second wife, Letty, in the later series of the long-running Onedin Line, in which she appeared for four years.
Gascoine met her second husband, the actor Alfred Molina, when they appeared together in the western-themed musical Destry Rides Again, based on the 1939 film, at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 1982. She played Marlene Dietrich’s character, with Molina in the James Stewart role. Two years later, she appeared in the original West End production of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and in 1989 she had a leading role in Keith Baxter’s play Barnaby and the Old Boys at the Vaudeville Theatre.
She also appeared in Stephen Mallatratt’s play The Glory of the Garden, a reworking of his earlier Comic Cuts, at the Duke of York’s in 1991.
Gascoine and Molina married in 1986, and in 1992 they settled in Los Angeles. While Molina’s career took off, Gascoine’s slowed down, although she did occasional TV work and a number of stage productions with the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, including The Cherry Orchard in 2002, playing Ranevskaya, with Molina as Lopakhin.
She wrote three novels in the 1990s, including one – Addicted – about an affair between a successful, middle-aged actress and her much younger lover of Spanish extraction. Molina, who was 16 years her junior, must have read it with some trepidation.
Gascoine suffered with clinical depression for many years, and in 2013 Molina confirmed that his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Jill Viola Gascoine was born on April 11, 1937, and died on April 28. She is survived by Molina and three children.