Obituary: Megs Jenkins

THE PERSONIFICATION of plump cheer and kindliness, Megs Jenkins had a long career as an actress on stage, film and television and was one of the most popular of British character actresses. Though her versatility extended to tougher roles (she was an effectively vicious mother on stage in Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke) and she displayed complex levels of ambiguity in such films as Green for Danger and The Innocents, the round-faced actress will be best remembered for the many warm-hearted dependable housekeepers and cooks she portrayed, and was perfectly cast in this vein as the homely "Plump Woman" in John Mills's production of H.G. Wells's The History of Mr Polly.

The daughter of a constructional engineer, she was born Muguette Mary Jenkins in Birkenhead, Cheshire, in 1917, and studied for the stage at the School of Dancing and Dramatic Art in Liverpool. Her initial ambition was to be a ballet dancer, but in her early teens her figure began to grow plumper and she had to discard her early dream.

"It was sad, really," she commented 30 years later. "I was this same un-sylphlike shape when I was 17. I had fancied I might call myself my real name, Muguette, once I became a ballerina, but I had to face the fact that I was quite definitely a Megs."

As Megs Jenkins, she made her stage debut at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1933 playing the German Hausfrau in The Lift That Failed, and was a member of the Liverpool Repertory Company until 1937. She made her London stage debut in the first edition of Late Joys (1937) at the Players Theatre and the following year played Fanny Norman in the play Heaven and Charing Cross at the same theatre.

She entered films with a small role in Herbert Mason's exciting thriller set on the Orient Express, The Silent Battle (1939), the first of over 50 films in which she was featured. Next year she won acclaim on the London stage with her portrayal of Fan in Emlyn Williams's The Light of Heart. "A joint creation by author and actress which touches greatness," wrote the critic W.A. Darlington.

She became a favourite of filmgoers when cast by Launder and Gilliatt in their splendid tribute to wartime factory workers Millions Like Us (1942). She was a member of the nursing profession in The Lamp Still Burns (1943) and in 1945 recreated on screen the role of Shirley the unfortunate maid in the Gordon Harker vehicle 29 Acacia Avenue, a part she had played successfully during the play's long run on the London stage. The theatre was always her first love, and in 1945 she had another personal triumph in an Emlyn Williams play, portraying the humble mother of a supposed second Messiah in The Wind of Heaven.

Launder and Gilliatt's excellent thriller Green for Danger (1946) gave her one of her best film roles as an outwardly dedicated nurse who just might have a hidden secret in her past, and she followed this with roles in the grim drama The Brothers (1947) and a chilling B-movie based on W.W. Jacobs and L.N. Parker's The Monkey's Paw, in which Jenkins poignantly played a mother desperate to have her dead son restored to her.

John Mills then cast her as the Plump Woman in his own film production The History of Mr Polly (1948). "We took enormous trouble casting the picture," the actor later wrote, "and all the parts were beautifully played." As the placid innkeeper with whom the beleaguered Mr Polly eventually finds contentment as handyman and companion, the actress was the epitome of warmth and decency, and the final image, as she sits darning in the garden by the river with Polly ruminating on his happy fate before they go indoors for supper, was very touching.

Jenkins's own private life was not as cosy as the image she generally presented professionally. A wartime marriage (in 1943) was unsuccessful despite a fairy-tale start. When George Routledge, a commando, was on leave in London he saw Jenkins's name in a play review, remembered her as a girl he had attended kindergarten with in Cheshire, and looked her up. A few months later they married, but in 1959 Jenkins won a divorce on grounds of desertion. She also lost her only child shortly after its birth. But she declared that she would not allow herself to feel bitter. "The past is finished." She said, "I like to look forward."

When her father died in 1956, she asked her mother to move in with her, and together they bought a 23-room hotel in Felixstowe, in Suffolk, but when the business, which she called "my sideline", began to affect her acting availability, she sold it.

The Fifties were a particularly successful and rewarding decade for the actress. In 1950 she played opposite Alastair Sim in Mr Gillie (Jenkins was Mrs Gillie), and the following year played her villainous role in Summer and Smoke. In N.C. Hunter's hit Chekhovian drama the starrily cast A Day by the Sea (1953) she was the kindly Scots governess Mr Mathieson trying to help a doctor (Ralph Richardson) overcome alcoholism, and in 1955 she made her Broadway debut in the same role.

Her performance as the Longshoreman's wife desperately trying not to acknowledge her husband's incestuous feelings for his niece in the London production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge (1956) was immensely moving and deservedly won the Clarence Derwent Award for the Best Supporting Performance of the year. The following year she was the wife of a murderer (Paul Scofield) in Rodney Ackland's Dead Secret.

Jenkins's films during this decade included such box-office hits as No Place for Jennifer (1950), Ivanhoe (1952), Trouble in Store (1953), The Cruel Sea (1953), Indiscreet (1958), in which Jenkins and David Kossoff added to the fun as housekeeper and butler to Ingrid Bergman, and Tiger Bay (1959), which reunited her with John Mills.

She had another fine housekeeper role in Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), a masterly version of The Turn of the Screw in which she subtly conveyed the woman's growing concern about the safety of her employers' children and the anxieties of their governess. In Carol Reed's Oliver! (1968), she was the quintessence of comfortable cosiness as the housekeeper in the home of Oliver's grandfather. On stage, she appeared with Ralph Richardson again in a revival of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of the Author (1963), and starred with Michael Hordern in Tom Stoppard's Enter a Free Man (1968).

In 1966, Jenkins starred in a twice-weekly television series, Weavers Green, about a pair of country vets, and concurrently she found a long- running niche as star of a tea-bag commercial. She also appeared on such series as All Creatures Great and Small and Worzel Gummidge, the mini- series A Woman of Substance (1984), about the work of the Samaritans, and a 1974 adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. In 1980 Jenkins again acted with John Mills, the couple portraying two pensioners in the series Young at Heart.

Jenkins once described herself as "very lucky" to have always been in work, but she had a unique ability to play sincere, kindly and guileless women with total conviction and without sentimentality. "Of course, one can never be sure," she said some years ago, "but it is possible that I have done better as an all-round straight actress than I would have done had I been equipped to compete in the glamour stakes."

Muguette Mary Jenkins, actress: born Birkenhead, Cheshire 21 April 1917; married 1943 George Routledge (one child deceased; marriage dissolved 1959); died 5 October 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?