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
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game