Thursday Book: Glenda's change of stage

Glenda Jackson: The Biography By Chris Bryant, Harpercollins, pounds 16.99

GLENDA JACKSON'S life reads like a New Labour fairy tale. Born in a two-up, two-down in the Wirral, Cinders is brought up with all the old working-class virtues of hard work, honesty and thrift. With the help of a fairy godmother (the welfare state), she goes to school and trains as an actor (Rada scholarship). After years of toil, she is recognised as more than an ugly duckling, and swans off to the ball (film roles, television, two Oscars). Then, just as her carriage is about to turn into a pumpkin, she metamorphoses into a loyal Labourite.

Chris Bryant fleshes out the story. Aged three when war broke out, Jackson grew up in a family run by strong women while the men were away fighting. At 16, she went to work in Boots before her successful Rada audition, and an acting career at first hampered by her conviction that she was ugly.

Then, in 1963, she met Peter Brook, and starred in his Theatre of Cruelty season. Her mesmerising performance as a cataleptic Charlotte Corday in The Marat/ Sade led to roles that gave her iconic status in the Sixties and early Seventies. She never balked at taking her kit off (there's a tale about her swinging from the ceiling during school showers). Her nude scenes in Ken Russell's Women in Love and The Music Lovers became symbols of the era's fascination with marriages of sexuality and madness.

Other films, such as Sunday, Bloody Sunday and A Touch of Class, are reminders of Jackson's characteristic mix of strong feminism and traditional morality. Television series such as Elizabeth R showed off her autocratic tendencies, and The Morecambe and Wise Show revealed a comic side to her talent. On stage, her roles - including The Maids and Hedda Gabler, The House of Bernarda Alba and Mother Courage - secured a large following.

So why did Jackson give up acting in 1991? Her detractors say it's because she reached the end of the road - they see her as overrated, dictatorial and losing inspiration. In her defence, Bryant praises her audacity, her ability to delve into the darker recesses of the human psyche, her commitment, and her unforgettable "cracked bell of a voice", which can "pour honey or spill razor blades".

Bryant concludes Jackson swapped careers as "she wanted to do something more useful than act". Again, her moral upbringing dictated her choice. Haunted by a deep feeling that she ought to be doing something socially useful, and motivated by her detestation of Margaret Thatcher, she became increasingly political in the "greed is good" decade. Apparently, she was so angry at Thatcher's "No such thing as society" speech, that she walked into a glass door.

Quitting the stage for the hustings inevitably led to comparisons between Westminster and the theatre. Jackson's quip is that the Commons "is under- rehearsed and badly lit, and the acoustics are terrible". More seriously, she sees both acting and politics as a quest for truth. But while actors need to let go of their egos, politicians tend to crave ego-massages. In her case, Labour got both Glenda the Glamorous, queen of the photo op, and Earnest Glenda, hardworking MP and, until July, junior minister responsible for London Transport, aviation and shipping.

The timing of this biography, and the fact that its author was part of Jackson's 1992 general election campaign team, suggests that the book has a wider purpose. Nagging suspicions are confirmed on the last page, where she steps out as a "keen and well-regarded candidate" for the job of the first directly elected mayor of London. There's even loose talk of a "dream ticket" of Jackson and Trevor Phillips.

If she does take part in the mayoral election, her parliamentary experience will be crucial. As the minister once responsible for the capital's overcrowded public transport, she would be at the centre of the campaign because, as the Culture Secretary Chris Smith argues, "The election'll be won or lost" on this issue. Perhaps. Equally, Londoners may blame her for government complacency in the face of a decayed and inefficient Tube system.

With its back-cover picture of "Red" Glenda, clasping hands with a grinning Frank Dobson above an eye-catching endorsement from Ken Livingstone ("She's the most right-wing minister the Labour Party ever had"), this biography is packaged as a campaigning aid. In contrast to Bryant's previous work - a serious tome on that most serious of Labour chancellors, Stafford Cripps - this is gossipy and politically lightweight. While not a hagiography - Bryant quotes nasty stories and bad reviews - neither is it particularly insightful. Its last paragraph leaves us with Jackson the truculent: "I'm going to be the most appalling old lady." Be our guest, Glenda, be our guest.

The reviewer's book `In-yer-face Theatre' is to be published by Faber next year

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there