Maggie Jones: Actress best known for her role as the harridan Blanche Hunt in 'Coronation Street'
Wednesday 09 December 2009
Maggie Jones, who has died at the age of 75, was for a decade the foremost British battleaxe of the television soap world as Coronation Street's acid-tongued Blanche Hunt. As unyielding as the Coronation Street cobbles, she was supplied by the show's writers with the sharpest of tongues. Many of her cutting put-downs, as memorable as they were searing, have been affectionately recalled since her death. When one actress rejected a proposal made to her by an ageing character who went down on one knee, Blanche delivered the practical but unromantic warning: "Well, if you leave it much longer he won't be able to get up again."
Another of her lines was: "You need to learn to enjoy other people's misfortune – otherwise you're going to have a very unhappy old age." And again she bitingly remarked: "You look remarkably chipper. Trod on a snail?" One can easily imagine the delight of writers who came up with the crushing comments she would deliver to her daughter: "Good looks are a curse, Deirdre. You and Kenneth should count yourselves lucky." Remarks such as these delighted viewers and made her a Coronation Street favourite.
But she could also be highly effective with baleful expressions which needed no words. When her daughter did something she did not like – a regular occurrence – Blanche would often resort to a scowl of lip-pursing disapproval.
In all this she was in the great tradition of the northern harridan, a theatrical line stretching back centuries. In the modern television era her Coronation Street ancestor was the legendary actress Violet Carson with her portrayal of the formidable hair-netted Ena Sharples.
Maggie Jones made a number of appearances in the series before she settled in on a permanent basis 10 years ago, becoming a stock character who appeared in more than 800 episodes. In recent years she won three comedy awards for her performances, yet she felt the success of her character lay in the fact of playing it straight.
"I don't find her funny and I don't think I could play her properly if I did," she explained. "Blanche genuinely believes what she's saying is right and doesn't say things for comic effect," she added. "If I started trying to play the lines for laughs, they wouldn't come out right and the performance would suffer.
"Everyone knows someone like Blanche. We'd all like to be as outspoken as her and have the nerve to say the things she does."
Insights such as this came from Maggie Jones' long experience in television and in the theatre. She became interested in acting at school and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She worked with various repertory companies, sometimes appearing in the West End in productions including Pride and Prejudice, before moving into the world of television, which she came to regard as her natural home.
In her extensive TV career she played substantial roles in series such as The Forsyte Saga as well as one-off appearances in dramas such as Z Cars and Dalziel and Pascoe. She was also in television plays by Alan Bennett and Fay Weldon, as well as period dramas such as Nicholas Nickleby and various sitcoms. She was suitably pathetic as Mrs Quiverful, the flat-broke mother of 14 children ,in Trollope's Barchester Towers.
She first turned up in Coronation Street in small parts, once as a policewoman and again as a drunken shoplifter. In the 1970s she was cast as Blanche, however, as the result of a tragedy. She had auditioned for the part but was turned down, but within weeks the actress who was successful committed suicide.
In the years that followed Jones dipped in and out of the cast, making occasional appearances. In 1999, however, she established herself as a regular and went on to become something of an institution in popular television. She was kept to the fore by Blanche Hunt's characteristic of being as outspoken as she was opinionated.
Sometimes her comments verged on the surreal, as when she ticked off a housewife for draping her drying underwear around the house.
"Kenneth doesn't want to stare at thongs all day," she scolded. "The man's an intellectual."
In October Jones went through a major operation. At first her condition was said to have improved, but she died in her sleep at Salford Royal Hospital. Her involvement with Coronation Street had lasted more than 30 years. Among the tributes paid to her William Roache, who plays her son-in-law Ken Barlow, said: "She was a tower of strength, physically frail but mentally strong as an ox and sharp as someone half her age. I don't think Maggie ever realised how much she was loved, not only by everyone on the show but by the millions of Blanche fans out there."
The show's executive producer, Kieran Roberts, described her as "a much-loved colleague and a wonderful actress who turned Blanche into a true Coronation Street icon." She received British Soap Awards for best comedy performance in 2005 and again in 2008. She was widowed in 1999 after 28 years of marriage to her lawyer husband John Oliver Stansfield, who died at the age of 72. They had no children.
Margaret Jones, actress: born London 21 June 1934; married 1971 John Stansfield (died 1999); died Manchester 2 December 2009.
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