The actress was best known for her work in the theatre and a stint on ATV’s Crossroads in the 1970s.
Jean’s family confirmed today that the actress had passed away aged 88. In 1960 she became the first performer in the UK to take on the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, a role she performed in the West End.
During the late 40s and 50s Jean was a regular on the stage both in the West End and stateside on Broadway. She took over from Julie Andrews in the Broadway production of The Boyfriend, with Andrews later taking on the role of Maria for the big screen.
She married director David Johnson having met while she was performing at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham.
“She was auditioned for the Sound of Music by [composer] Richard Rodgers himself, in New York,” son Daniel Johnson told BBC News, adding, “He said ‘You’re the girl I want for my new show’ and away she went. She continued to work and sing her little heart out all her life.”
She first worked alongside Noele Gordon in 1951 in the London Palladium panto Humpty Dumpty, they were reunited in 1972 when Jean joined the cast of ATV Midlands soap opera Crossroads as chef Cynthia Cunningham. Noele had been the principal figure of Meg Richardson since its debut in 1964.
Other television appearances included in variety series The Good Old Days on the BBC and more recently celebrated the work of her friend Noele in 2012’s documentary The Unforgettable Noele Gordon for ITV.
She reprised her role of Cynthia Cunningham for the Crossroads Fan Club in 2017 sending a Christmas message ‘from the motel’ to guests and customers.
In 2011 in an interview with ATV Network, she said she landed the Crossroads role when her friend Janet Hargreaves mentioned to Noele Gordon that Jean was living in Birmingham. They re-struck up their friendship after twenty years and the part of Cynthia was specially written in for Jean.
Cynthia was a glamorous vixen, estranged from her husband Norman (Edward Phillips) and enjoyed the company of younger men, notably Dave Cartwright (John Hamill).
Her two sons, Daniel and Adam, also appeared in the programme as supporting artists when the production filmed scenes at the Chateau Impney Hotel in 1972.
The BBC note that Jean ‘died on Friday in Birmingham, after being diagnosed with bone cancer.’ Jean is survived by her sons and five granddaughters.
“She was a very gregarious and hospitable person, a very cool woman, if there were more people like her it would make the world a happier place.” – son, Daniel Johnson