Jean Heywood was in her 40s before she began what was to be a long and successful acting career. Television viewers will remember her as Bella Seaton, the long-suffering matriarch in James Mitchell’s late-1970s’ inter-war Tyneside drama When the Boat Comes In, cinemagoers as the grandmother to Jamie Bell’s Billy Elliot in 2000.
Her stage work included appearing alongside Glenda Jackson in Andrew Davies’ Rose at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1980 and an admired Big Momma in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Swansea Rep a decade earlier.
Born Jean Murray in Blyth, Northumberland, she spent her middle childhood in New Zealand before returning to Birmingham. She performed in amateur dramatics while raising her children before deciding to turn professional.
In 1963 she joined the Castle (now Redgrave) Theatre, Farnham, as acting wardrobe mistress before working wider afield in regional reps, making her television debut in 1968.
John Osborne’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (Greenwich Theatre, 1975), George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell (Farnham, 1979) and Strindberg’s The Father (National Theatre, 1988) were notable later stage appearances.
She enjoyed something of an Indian summer on radio, appearing in Turan Ali’s comedy Dinner Ladies (1997), Edward Bond’s first play for the medium, the dystopian Chair (2000) and Eryl Maynard’s The Chicken Woman (2003).
A familiar face on television, she was seen in a wide range of dramas, comedies and soaps, including Boys from the Blackstuff, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat, Casualty and Leave it to Charlie.
Jean Heywood was born on July 15, 1921 and died on September 14, aged 98.