Jeannie Lightbrown, the professional film and television extra, has died in Sydney, Australia at the age of 85 after battling ill health for several years.
Born in Oxford, Jeannie caught the entertainment bug from her frequent trips to see stage plays. She worked in repertory theatre for a while and was offered a lucrative modelling contract but her mother refused to let her take it.
On migrating to Australia in her 20s, she met her long term friend Joy Hruby and began a career which spanned decades. Joy, a well-known actress, taught youngsters drama and Jeannie began shooting films with the students. Then when Joy established the theatrical agency Studio J, Jeannie found herself working as a child minder taking youngsters on set and watching out for their welfare. It was during one such trip that she was first asked to appear as a non-speaking extra.
Jeannie was horrified by the poor standard of non-speaking extras in Australia during this period (the early 1960s) and by the fact that many scenes were being ruined by them. This was when Jeannie began running a workshop for Studio J to train people in how to behave on set and gave them the tools required in order to work professionally in the film and television industry even if they had no lines to say.
Amongst her students were Gia Carides who has gone on to enjoy a highly successful acting career, the late Jodie Andrews who at 25 stone got to kiss Mel Gibson in the movie Mad Max 3, and the deformed Doug Mealing who secured plenty of work in horror and disaster movies. Jeannie was adamant that she could teach anyone to become a professional extra and many thousands of students went through her course over the decades.
She appeared in over 300 films, television programmes and commercials during the course of her career including Home & Away, Echo Point, The Restless Years, The Young Doctors, Runaway Island and Two Hands. She was rescued by a Power Ranger, played a prostitute in Sons & Daughters, got to run over Bryan Brown in a film, and trained and coordinated all of the non-speaking actors for the first five years of A Country Practice.
Jeannie returned to the UK in 1996 and toured nationwide with her workshop, she also presented for the cable channel CTV1 in Sydney, and had a lucrative business producing showreels for actors. She was helped over the years by her faith in God and encouraged many people to achieve their dreams and ambitions.
It was my personal privileged to have known and worked with her, she was a great lady and an inspiration to many.
Pictured Top: Jeannie Lightbrown. Photo by Phillip Giddens. Pictured Middle:In happier times, from left are Jeannie Lightbrown, Darren Gray and Joy Hruby and Pictured Bottom: On the set of CTV1, from left are Darren Gray, Joy Hruby, the late Jeannie Lightbrown, and the late Tim Elliott. Photo by Doug Moody.