Jane Welsh

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The Independent Online

Jane Welsh, actress: born Bristol 14 January 1905; married 1932 Henry Mollison (marriage dissolved), 1944 Leonard Ritte; died London 27 November 2001.

Jane Welsh was a prolific actress who enjoyed a successful career, both on the British stage and in film, beginning in the mid-1920s, although she never quite reached the same heights of stardom as some of her contemporaries.

Born in Bristol in 1905, she first became interested in acting as a child and by the age of 10 was already singled out as a star pupil at her school, Duffield Hall in Derbyshire. With the encouragement of her English teacher, she joined a local repertory company after leaving school, making her stage début in Charley's Aunt at the Theatre Royal, Bournemouth in 1923. Other plays followed.

"Not all the venues we played in were luxurious – far from it," she recalled earlier this year.

In some instances the company had to make do with a cold, damp church hall. I shall always remember the occasion in Sheffield when I was making my way into the theatre with a gentleman, and carrying my theatrical basket, when two women stopped to ask me what time the jumble sale started!

On Christmas Eve 1924, Welsh made her first appearance on the London stage, at the Prince of Wales' Theatre in Alf's Button. Other parts quickly followed. She received a glowing review for her role as Dorothy Daley in Ordeal (1925), and was equally praised for her performances in We Moderns (1925), and Doctor Sin (1925) at the Wyndham's Theatre. By the following year she was primarily working in the West End, though in 1927 she joined a repertory company in Birmingham and toured for six months.

On her return to London in March 1928, she found that theatre audiences had hit an all-time low, for a new wind of change had swept through the entertainment industry in the form of "sound". "It was very worrying at first," Welsh remembered,

Audiences had abandoned the theatre to queue for two hours around the block to catch a glimpse of this new phenomenon of "talking pictures". Like any fashion, it soon passed. You never will kill the theatre. There is still nothing like a live performance.

During the early 1930s, alongside her stage career, she began to appear in films herself, making her screen début as Joyce Danton in Two Crowded Hours (1931). She was quickly offered further roles, making as many as four films a year back-to-back for British Gaumont. She played Kathleen Adair in The Sleeping Cardinal (1931) an adaptation of a Arthur Conan Doyle short story, with Arthur Wontner in his first appearance as Sherlock Holmes. In 1932 Welsh married the actor Henry Mollison, whom she had met through her friend Noël Coward some years before. Their union was a stormy affair that ended in divorce some years later.

When her contract at British Gaumont expired, Welsh's film work became less frequent, and she concentrated instead on theatre. During the early years of the Second World War she served with ENSA, providing entertainment to the troops, before returning to the Cambridge Theatre to reprise her role in Q: she had first appeared in the play in London in 1927.

By the mid-1940s she was working as a character actress, supporting George Formby and Anne Firth in Bell-Bottom George (1943) and joined the all-star revue The Gay Follies at the Cambridge Theatre in 1946. Each Christmas from 1947 to 1952 she played Mrs Darling in Peter Pan at the Scala, Islington.

In 1948 she was cast as Mrs Brown, the long-suffering mother of William in Val Guest's film William at the Circus, inspired by the "Just William" stories by Richmal Crompton. Following its huge success, a sequel, Just William's Luck, was released the same year, and the films have since become something of a cult.

During the 1950s, Welsh moved into television, appearing in some of the BBC's early Sunday-night dramas, including Tuppence in the Gods with Fay Compton. She continued to make sporadic film appearances, including a supporting role in Terence Fisher's Mantrap (1953), as Mrs Preston in Fatal Journey (1954) and opposite Lana Turner and Sean Connery in Another Time, Another Place (1958).

Welsh gave up her acting career in the 1960s. By now married for the second time, to Leonard Ritte, she spent the next 30-odd years in quiet retirement at their home in London. She was active until her 90th year, and kept in touch with colleagues from her acting days, including Nora Swinburne and Joan Marion. Frail, but with her eyes still wide and a slash of red lipstick, she continued to receive fan mail from as far away as South Africa, Canada and the United States. "I'm absolutely amazed that I am remembered by so many who were born at least 20 years after I retired."

Howard Mutti-Mewse

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