Glenda Jackson – OBITUARY


As committed as she was to challenging heavyweight theatrical roles and committed to her convictions as a Labour politician Glenda Jackson was just as open to sending herself up and perhaps will be just as remembered for a Morecambe & Wise sketch in one of their hugely popular Christmas shows.

And yet she was proud of her working class origins as the eldest of four daughters born on 9th May 1936 in Birkenhead to her bricklayer father and cleaner mother. Her father was absent during her early years as he served in the Navy during the second world war and she was educated at a primary school in Hoylake where the family had moved and having gone on to grammar school she did badly at her exams and left at 16 to work in her local boots.

But she had always harboured an interest in drama after a school visit to a theatre to see The Merchant of Venice and a brief involvement with an amateur dramatic group and in 1954 aged 18 she auditioned for RADA where gained entry and her studies were financed by her local education authority. Having graduated in 1957 she began working in repertory theatre where she met and married Roy Hodges the stage manager and she would go on to make her West End debut in Alfie.

Her reputation grew and director Peter Brook hired her to appear in a notorious improvised project based on the theories of the mad genius Antonin Artaud which would culminate in one performance where she was stripped naked before being dressed in prison clothes. It was an intense series of projects that lasted from 1964 to 1966 and her reputation for being strong, fierce and often uncompromising and she was one of a series of actors that included Alan Bates, Peter O’Toole and Albery Finney with working class roots  who went against an old school style of performance. She took on difficult heavy weight roles that included Ophelia in Hamlet, a psychotic woman in the controversial Marat/Sade, as well as Chekhov’s Three Sisters’

By now she had already started appearing in films starting with This Sporting Life in a minor role and a number of TV plays but in 1971 she won her first Best Actress Oscar for Ken Russell’s Women in Love and then three years later in 1974 for A Touch of Class. Typically she didn’t attend the ceremony to collect either and instead gave them to her mother who used them as bookends.

By 1976 though she divorced her husband due to a lengthy affair she had had for a number of years with a lighting director Andy Phillips but she continued to work in theatre again in quite demanding roles which were balanced by some lightweight Hollywood rom-coms before recording the Morecambe & Wise sketch where she gleefully lampooned her reputation for serious drama appearing as Cleopatra in one of Ernie’s self penned scripts and uttering the immortal line, ‘“All men are fools and what makes them fools is having beauty like what I have got”.

Having been appointed a CBE in 1978 her career in Hollywood films was very much on the wane and her films were hardly setting the box office alight which in fairness was never her aim being far more interested in the performance than box office and by 1992 she would make her last film until 2019.

It was politics that now interested her and it was the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher that saw her regarding herself as a political actor actively campaigning for a number of issues as a long time Labour member and eventually she stood for Parliament in 1992 backed by Neil Kinnock who would surprisingly fail to make it as Prime Minister that same year in what seemed a sure fire bet. As a politician she became increasingly critical of her own party under Tony Blair much of which had been driven by the country’s involvement in the Iraq war. Unusually for a politician she engaged with her constituency and was popular but when boundaries were redrawn in 2010 she found herself fighting a hard battle winning by a wafer thin 42 votes.

Inevitably she left politics in 2015 and returned to acting and the theatre making the most barnstorming of turns as the lead in King Lear. 2018 saw her return to Broadway where she won a Tony award and in 2019 she won an Emmy for a TV drama. Her last role would be opposite Michael Caine, a film she only recently completed filming in the yet to be released The Great Escaper and was the first time they had appeared together in almost 50 years

Having had one son with her first husband she never remarried and she died on 15th June 2023 aged 87 years old.

related feature: Albert Finney – Obituary

related feature: Sir Tom Courtney & John Bradley talks about the sequel to The Railway Children


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here