Jennifer Moss

'Coronation Street' wild child

Thursday 22 September 2011 04:28

Jennifer Victoria Moss, actress: born Wigan, Lancashire 10 January 1945; married first 1968 Peter Hampson (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1969), secondly Adrian Glick (deceased; one daughter, and one son deceased), thirdly John Neill (marriage dissolved), fourthly Paul Howard (marriage dissolved), fifthly 1989 Stephen Ramsden; died Dunfermline 29 September 2006.

Jennifer Moss played Coronation Street's first wild child, the rebellious schoolgirl Lucille Hewitt, who ran away from a council orphanage to live with her widowed father, Harry, then bolted after he remarried and had a baby son. This was just the beginning of Lucille's colourful 14 years in the serial set in a Northern back street.

She infuriated her headmistress by dying her hair blonde and getting a tattoo on her wrist, chased a window cleaner-turned-pop star to London, refused to follow Harry and his second wife, Concepta, to Ireland for a new life, lodged at the Rovers Return, where she railed against the landlady Annie Walker's strict rules, joined a hippy commune, became a go-go dancer, had two disastrous flings with Ray Langton and twice almost married Gordon Clegg.

Off screen, Moss's life was just as colourful and would have kept any soap in storylines for years. Following the death of her father, she drank increasingly and became an alcoholic. In 1974, with her illness affecting her ability to work, Granada Television sacked Moss after more than 700 appearances in Coronation Street and sent Lucille to visit her father's widowed second wife in Ireland, never to return. The writers had just brought back Gordon Clegg (Bill Kenwright), planning for him to seduce Lucille, then dump her, but the scripts had to be changed suddenly.

The actress, who had already been divorced once, tackled her addiction with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous - finally drying out in hospital in 1978 - and went through another two divorces and the suicide of her second husband. She gave birth to a daughter who suffered from brain damage as a result of her drinking during pregnancy, saw that child and her eldest daughter taken into council care, grieved the death of her son at the age of three weeks, battled cervical cancer and at one time was penniless and on the dole. When she did work, it was jobs as a waitress, taxi driver, chatline hostess or Coronation Street tour guide.

Moss was born in Wigan in 1945, the daughter of a mill director and a drama teacher. She said she always wanted to be a lawyer but was pushed into acting as a child by her mother. She made her début in BBC Radio's Children's Hour at the age of 12, as the sister of Davy Jones, who went on to take the role of Ena Sharples's grandson, Colin Lomax, in an early episode of Coronation Street, before becoming a member of the Monkees pop group. In Children's Hour, Moss also appeared alongside stars such as Arthur Lowe and Robert Powell.

Graduating to television, Moss acted in June Evening (a 1960 screen version of Bill Naughton's radio play, set in Bolton in 1921, again alongside Jones) and auditioned for the role of Coronation Street's only original child cast member, the 11-year-old Lucille Hewitt. Although Moss was then 15, she was only 4ft 11in, and her height never increased.

Although she was not scheduled to be seen as Lucille until Episode 4, Moss had an uncredited, off-camera speaking role in the first episode, on 9 December 1960. When Elsie Tanner heard a child knocking over the dustbin in her backyard, she opened a window to reprimand the girl and received the reply: "Get out of it, you silly old bag!"

As Coronation Street continued beyond its planned 13 episodes to become a national institution, Moss - like other actors in the serial - was associated by the public with the character she portrayed on screen, which in her case was a schoolgirl. She once recalled: "I was opening a garden fête and this large lady came up to me and whacked me straight across the face, knocked me to the ground and said, 'That's for being cheeky to your dad.' "

Such fame could have been shortlived, though, because a new producer, Tim Aspinall, took over in 1964 and axed 10 regulars in an attempt to keep the programme fresh. He announced that the whole Hewitt family would go, but Cecil Bernstein, Granada Television's chairman, gained a reprieve for Moss by insisting that it would not be realistic to have a street with no children.

Moss, whose screen character was seen as young and trendy at the dawn of the Swinging Sixties, had previously taken a break from Coronation Street to star as Jill, alongside David Hemmings, an icon of the decade, in the film musical Live It Up (1963), with a cast that included the rock'n'roll legend Gene Vincent and the jazz trumpeter Kenny Ball. In it, she performed the song "Please Let It Happen To Me", one of five she recorded with the producer Joe Meek.

She also kept in touch with Davy Jones, spending some time with him in Hollywood, although she denied that there was any romance between them. While her Street character lived the swinging times to the full, Moss declared she believed in the institution of marriage and intended to " make it legal" when the man of her dreams came along.

Changing attitudes to drugs did not impress the actress, either. "All this talk recently that certain soft drugs should be made generally available makes me so mad," she said.

"Soft drugs lead to hard drugs - if you don't know any better. At 12 or 13, you don't know the difference. Before you know where you are, you have another junkie on your hands. All right, so some people live under fantastic pressure and need to escape. Taking a trip doesn't solve anything. What goes up must come down."

It was alcohol that Moss came to depend on. After losing her job in Coronation Street and going through some of the worst of her troubles, she decided to settle in Liverpool in 1982, on the basis that the city had 28 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week. She lived in a house owned by the Merseyside Housing Improvement Trust and began to sort her life out.

The actress found work as an extra on Channel 4's Liverpool-based serial Brookside and had brief roles in two BBC sitcoms set in the city, Help! (as Stephen McGann's mother, 1986) and a Bread Christmas special (1988). She was also in the BBC Radio Merseyside soap opera The Merseysiders (1987-89).

Following another broken marriage, Moss eventually found happiness with her fifth husband, Stephen Ramsden, a computer software expert. She signed up with a new agent in 1995 and enjoyed a shortlived comeback by appearing in a 1997 episode of the BBC series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (starring Patricia Routledge as the housewife-sleuth), but Moss soon settled down to running an internet stamp-collecting business with her husband and moved from Runcorn to Dorking, then Dunfermline.

Anthony Hayward

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