Jennifer Jayne

Hedda in 'William Tell'


Jennifer Jones (Jennifer Jayne), actress: born 14 November 1931; married 1958 Peter Mullins; died 23 April 2006.

During the late Fifties and early Sixties, Jennifer Jayne was a popular star of lightweight films and television, particularly in her regular role as Tell's wife, Hedda, in the TV series William Tell (1958-59). She had reddish-brown hair and her small mouth sometimes seemed set in a permanent pout.

Her real name was Jennifer Jones, which she altered in order to avoid confusion with the Hollywood actress of the same name. She was born in Yorkshire to theatrical parents; "it never occurred to me to do anything else", she said, than act. Her film début was a minor walk-on in Once a Jolly Swagman (1948), followed by The Blue Lamp (1949). Both of these starred Dirk Bogarde and, coincidentally, the mystery Black Widow, in which she appeared in 1951, featured Anthony Forwood, Bogarde's lifelong partner.

After guest appearances in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956) and Sword of Freedom (1957), Jayne made logical casting for the next historical adventure series from the film-making division of Lew Grade's ATV, William Tell.

Seen now, the series has a charming naivety. With her hair dyed blonde, as Hedda, wife of the Swiss hero (Conrad Phillips), Jayne got to take part in several swordfights, something denied to heroines in similar series of that time. Near its completion, she married the series's art director, Peter Mullins, whose credits would include Alfie and several of the Pink Panther series. When Mullins went to work on Whiplash (1960), a forgotten attempt by Grade to stimulate TV production in Australia, Jayne was hurriedly flown over to play a kidnapped actress in an episode written by the future Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

Jayne was a romantic lead in Raising the Wind (1961), set in a music academy and a "Carry On" in all but name, with largely the same cast and crew. In the same vein, she was the leading lady in a Norman Wisdom vehicle, On the Beat (1962), but her film career is better characterised by her association with the outstanding cinematographer Freddie Francis.

When Francis turned director, he cast her as a caring nurse in Hysteria (1964) for Hammer. Then came the first of Amicus Productions' horror anthologies, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1964), with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee joined by the unlikely additions of Roy Castle, Alan Freeman and a pre-Hollywood Donald Sutherland; Jayne was in its last story, as Sutherland's vampire bride. Francis next used her as a victim of alien mind control in the brightly coloured and extremely silly They Came From Beyond Space (1967).

Unsurprisingly, given her other work, she did two episodes of Ivanhoe (1958), starring Roger Moore; seven years later, Moore got to raise his eyebrows at her, in a Paris composed of back projections and obvious studio sets, as the Saint.

Jayne became a regular, this time early weekend-evening swashbuckling for the BBC, in Further Adventures of the Musketeers (1967), starring Joss Ackland and Brian Blessed. She was given better acting opportunities with Girl of My Dreams (1966) for BBC2's Theatre 625, written by Hugh Whitemore, with a young Edward Fox; Everyone's Rich Except Us (1967), a "Wednesday Play" satirising corrupt businessmen; and End of Story (1969, for YTV), about a hack TV writer of action dramas (Peter Barkworth) given the chance to create something more insightful.

In common with many actors, Jayne's own career dovetailed into writing scripts. Under the pseudonym Jay Fairbank, she wrote, and Francis directed, Witness Madness, a portmanteau in the Amicus tradition. However, the movie's producers insisted on, in Francis's words, "horrifying" it and retitling it Tales that Witness Madness (1973), due to Amicus's success with Francis's Tales from the Crypt.

Jayne and Francis then attempted to rescue Count Downe, a would-be horror-comedy vehicle for Ringo Starr (who also produced) and Harry Nilsson; according to Francis the production was utter chaos and, although retitled Son of Dracula (1974), it was never completed, or publicly shown, until released on video 10 years later in the United States only.

Jennifer Jayne's last work was again for Francis, as a barmaid in his The Doctor and the Devils (1985), a version of the Burke and Hare story deriving from a script written by Dylan Thomas 40 years earlier.

Gavin Gaughan

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