Ruth Kettlewell

Actress often cast as a battleaxe


Ruth Anne Berry (Ruth Kettlewell), actress: born Worcester 13 April 1913; married 1932 The Rev Robert Kettlewell (deceased); died London 17 July 2007.

By her own admission, the character actress Ruth Kettlewell often played battleaxes, but it kept her in regular work on stage and television for half a century, sometimes only in fleeting roles.

A lifelong Christian, she even felt sympathy for those on the receiving end of her characters' stern actions. In Cathy Come Home (1965), the classic television drama that put homelessness on the political agenda, she played the unsympathetic judge serving an eviction order on Cathy and Reg (Carol White and Ray Brooks). This led to the couple and their two children being forcibly evicted from their squalid council house, a scene in which fear is etched on the toddlers' eyes as the door is hammered down, in this shocking play written by Jeremy Sandford, directed by Ken Loach and filmed documentary-style.

"I only had a cough-and-spit role, to condemn these poor souls and shift them," recalled Kettlewell, who had visited a magistrates' court to get a feel for the part. "I was very harsh to them. They were going through a very bad time."

She was born Ruth Berry in Worcester in 1913, the daughter of a clergyman and niece of Lt-Col W.P. Drury, a former Royal Marine and prolific author of novels and short stories, many featuring Private Pagett of the Marines. From the age of seven, she was brought up in North Yorkshire, where her father was the rector of Kildale.

In 1932, after attending Casterton School at Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, then art college, she married the Rev Robert Kettlewell, the vicar of the North Yorkshire village of Great Ayton, given away by her uncle in a ceremony performed by her father.

She later started acting with a local repertory company, before joining the Women's Land Army during the Second World War. Her husband, who contracted scarlet fever while working as an Army padré, died after the war. Never marrying again, Kettlewell continued her fledgling acting career by joining the repertory company at Windsor, in 1949, then performed all over Britain.

She appeared in the West End as Miss Yorke in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo (New Theatre, 1959) and Mrs Paroo in the original London cast of Meredith Willson's musical comedy The Music Man (Adelphi Theatre, 1961). Later, she took the role of Bosom in the National Theatre Company's production of the Jim Cartwright play Bed (Cottesloe Theatre, 1989).

Kettlewell's first film role was as a member of a group of actors seen in Room at the Top (1958), one of the first "kitchen sink" dramas, based on John Braine's novel about the working-class Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey), who falls for two women and will do anything to further his social ambitions.

Marked out clearly as a character actress, Kettlewell was subsequently cast as Mrs Bonner in the film version of Sons and Lovers (1960) and Duchess Sophie, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's wife, in the satirical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), but it was in television that she found herself most in demand.

Her earliest small-screen appearance had been as Mrs Murphy in an episode of the children's adventure serial Potts – Gangbuster (1956). Later, she played Mrs Jackson in the BBC serialisation of Swallows and Amazons (1963) and the by-the-book Dean's wife, Mrs Pugh-Critchley, in the sitcom All Gas and Gaiters, centring on the rivalries of clergy at the fictional St Ogg's Cathedral, but had to hand over to Joan Sanderson after the first run because of her own stage commitments.

She had regular roles on children's television, as the larger-than-life cook Mrs Grapple in Hope and Keen's Crazy House (1970-73) and Bessie Dearlove in both Boy Dominic (1974) and its sequel, Dominic (1976). Kettlewell also enjoyed appearing with comedians. She was in the sitcoms The Howerd Confessions (with Frankie Howerd, 1976) and How's Your Father? (alongside Harry Worth, 1979), as well as entertainment programmes such as The Mike Reid Show (1977) and Mike Yarwood in Persons (1977).

A regular in the congregation at St Augustine of Canterbury Church, Highgate, in north London, Kettlewell formed the St Augustine's Players as an amateur dramatics group for members of local churches. She was also an active member of the Actors' Church Union.

Anthony Hayward

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