Jan Holden

Versatile actress in TV comedy

Playing middle- and upper-class women with elegance and sophistication, Jan Holden was most memorable on television as the personnel officer in the department-store melodrama Harpers West One and the magazine editor in the sitcom Agony.

She played Harriet Carr in Harpers West One for its entire, three-year run (1961-63), often seen with a cigarette between her fingers as she pondered the running of her section of the West End department store. The soap-style drama in the series, created by John Whitney and Geoffrey Bellman, switched between management and the sales staff. It was billed as "shopping with the lid off" and promised:

All the life and loves of a big London department store. The characters are real, the carpets are plush, the atmosphere is authentic. Yes, madam, you'll enjoy buying at Harpers - that's our slogan.

The result was a popular series that frequently charted in the weekly Top 20 rated programmes.

Later, she brought laughs as Diana, the editor of Person magazine, with whom the publication's agony columnist, Jane Lucas (played by Maureen Lipman), found it impossible to work. Agony (1979-81) was devised by Len Richmond and the real-life magazine and radio agony aunt Anna Raeburn, with its central, Jewish character besieged on all sides, from her dragon-like editor, her non-Jewish psychiatrist husband, needy mother, virtuous secretary and a mad disc-jockey friend, while getting helpful support only from her two sensitive gay neighbours.

Jan Holden was born Valerie Jeanne Wilkinson in Southport, Lancashire, in 1931, but began her schooling in India, where her father worked at the Swadeshi cotton mills in Cawnpore. She returned to Britain when the Second World War broke out. After leaving Lowther College, Denbighshire, she took a directors' course at the Old Vic Theatre School when her father refused to allow her to act, but she realised her ambition after starting out as an assistant stage manager.

Adopting her mother's maiden name of Holden, she made her stage début in 1066 and All That at the Theatre Royal Windsor in 1950 and continued acting in repertory theatre until she landed her first West End role, as Connie Barnes Ashton in the thriller Speaking of Murder (St Martin's Theatre, 1958). She then showed her versatility by taking the part of Isolde in the stage farce The Tunnel of Love (Apollo Theatre, 1958-59).

She made her film début as a receptionist in the comedy No Smoking (1955), following it with appearances in a couple of pictures every year during a prolific period for British studios. They were largely unremarkable films, but she did have a starring role in the celebrated horror director Terence Fisher's The Stranglers of Bombay (1960).

At the same time, she was in demand on the small screen, taking character roles in many crime series. After her breakthrough in Harpers West One, Holden continued to appear in episodes of classic programmes such as The Avengers (twice, in 1963 and 1965), The Saint (1965 and 1967), The Baron (1967) and Public Eye (1968). More unexciting films followed, too, although she was directed by Peter Hall in Work is a Four-Letter Word (1967) and Philip Saville in The Best House in London (1969).

It was in television comedy that Holden enjoyed her most satisfying later roles. In Casanova '73 (1973), written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, she starred as Carol, the wife of Henry Newhouse (played by Leslie Phillips), but only one of the women in her philandering husband's life. This was an extension of the womanising character that Phillips had played in films over the previous two decades and grew out of a pilot titled The Suit (1969), starring Phillips and Holden.

In Oh Happy Band (1980), Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft's comedy starring Harry Worth as the conductor of a brass band in a northern town and leader of a campaign opposing plans for a new airport, Holden took the regular role of Mrs Draper.

She also appeared on the West End stage in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's Say Who You Are (as Sarah Lord, Her Majesty's Theatre, 1965), Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves (as Fiona Foster, Lyric Theatre, 1971), the Ben Travers farce Banana Ridge (as Eleanor Pond, Savoy Theatre, 1976), the John Chapman and Anthony Marriott farce Shut Your Eyes and Think of England (Apollo Theatre, 1977) and Bernard Slade's Romantic Comedy (Apollo Theatre, 1983).

Anthony Hayward

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
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
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines