Movie and television actress Jean Kent has died aged 92. In the 1940s and 50s she was one of cinema’s biggest UK stars and by the 1980s had joined ITV’s most successful daytime serial.
The death of the actress was announced by critic and close friend of the star Michael Thornton. He told BBC News today:
I knew Jean for more than 50 years. She was a feisty, funny, outspoken character who never took herself too seriously. She knew what it meant to be a star and regarded it as her job to live up to that position and never to disappoint the public.
Born in Brixton in 1929 Kent’s career began as a child in the theatre thanks to appearances with her variety performer parents Norman Field and Nina Norre. It lead to her own stage career which she launched aged thirteen at the Windmill Theatre in London as a saucy dancer. However it was her appearances in Gainsborough melodramas which made her a movie star of the 1940s and 50s, starring in forty-five films.
In the early days a lot of the parts were vamps and this sort of thing. I always used to say that when they opened the script and saw ‘girl appears in Cami knickers’ they’d send for me. – Jean Kent speaking to Anglia Television in 2011
Her movie roles saw her star alongside names such as Laurence Olivier, Stuart Granger, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Redgrave.
Jean made her first TV appearance in the 1930s in the live The Ship In The Bay for the BBC. It was however the 1950s when she became a regular face on television screens – appearing in the BBC’s Sunday Night Theatre as well as numerous small drama parts in shows such as ATV’s period adventure series’ Sword of Freedom and Sir Francis Drake and serious dramas such as Love Story and A Family at War. These early TV performances saw her appear alongside Michael Crawford, Barbara Knox and Paul Eddington to name a few.
Kent became a regular face on ITV with her first soap opera role in ATV’s Emergency Ward 10 as hospital patient Gillian Blaine, she also appeared in numerous ITV Playhouse strands in the 1960s and 70s and also BBC serials United! and Angels.
Jean could also turn her hand to comedy and made a number of appearances in sitcoms such as Up Pompeii, Doctor at Large and Steptoe and Son.
Jean would frown upon sad and depressing plots, often hoping for something a little more harmless and fun. In 1982 she promised to inject happiness into soap opera Crossroads, which she felt had become too serious since the departure of lead actress Noele Gordon the previous year.
I’ve only met Noele Gordon once, and that was at a charity show…. I can’t help but feel sorry for her in the way she left Crossroads. I think she deserved better than being written out, I certainly can’t replace an institution like her. – Jean Kent speaking to The Sun in 1982.
However in true soap opera storytelling it wasn’t all happy for her character of Jennifer Lamont, her husband Reg (Reginald Marsh) was a womaniser and into all kinds of dodgy business, their policeman son (Martin Whitby as Ashley) was soon onto his case.
In 1946 Kent married Yusuf Ramart. The couple had met on the set of movie Caravan where he was working as Stuart Granger’s stunt double.
We wed after a year-long courtship, I don’t think the film studio was too pleased. They were rather old fashioned about their leading ladies ‘running off like that’ in those days. Yusuf and I are still very much in love, we still like a good cuddle. – Jean Kent speaking in 1982 to The Sun.
Initially the couple lived in a farmhouse in Suffolk before relocating to Westhorpe. The pair remained together until his death in 1989. Jean continued acting into the 1990s with roles on BBC antique drama Lovejoy alongside Ian McShane and sitcom After Henry with Prunella Scales for ITV.
I’ve had a wonderful life, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. – Jean Kent speaking to Anglia Television in 2011
Jean Kent 2013 – 1921
Additional material courtesy of the Crossroads Appreciation Society/John Kavyo