Jean Boht obituary


The actor Jean Boht, who has died aged 91, turned a family title when she starred as Nellie Boswell, the indomitable matriarch ruling the roost over her Liverpool working-class Catholic household, within the BBC TV sitcom Bread, screened within the Nineteen Eighties at a time of excessive unemployment.

Boht was seen unleashing Nellie’s acid tongue on her 5 grown-up youngsters as they battled for jobs and exploited the system to outlive, whereas her husband, Freddie (performed by Ronald Forfar), cheated on her with a lover referred to as Lilo Lil, and Grandad (Kenneth Waller), her grumpy father, spent a lot of his time telling others to “piss off”. There have been complaints from viewers about dangerous language earlier than the 9pm watershed. In the meantime, some in Liverpool accused the programme of stereotyping scousers as work-shy advantages cheats.

Nonetheless, as much as 21 million individuals watched Bread, created by Carla Lane, which ran for seven collection from 1986 to 1991 and featured many “lovable rogue” characters.

The viewers steadily noticed Nellie – “Ma” – on a cordless cellphone, then a novelty, which she saved within the pocket of her pinny. Generally she could be in dialog with the widowed Derek (Peter Byrne), an admirer with whom she shared secret moments on a park bench.

In 1991, when the collection ended, Boht toured Britain within the stage present, Bread – The Ultimate Slice. Nellie had already secured a spot in sitcom historical past along with her look alongside robust feminine characters from three different Lane sitcoms in a 1989 Comedian Aid sketch, The Final Waltz. Polly James and Nerys Hughes performed Beryl and Sandra from The Liverbirds, Felicity Kendal reprised Solo’s Gemma, and Caroline Blakiston introduced again Alice from The Final Music.

Jean was born in Bebington, Cheshire, to Edna (nee Macdonald) and Thomas Dance. Her father was a confectionery importer who additionally served with the native fireplace brigade, the place he was chief leisure officer. His skills as an newbie actor, magician and banjo and accordion participant led him, his piano-playing spouse and their daughters, Jean and Maureen, to kind the Dance Household troupe and placed on exhibits by way of the wartime blitz at companies camps and hospitals throughout Cheshire and Lancashire.

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Boht, seated centre, with the solid of Bread. {Photograph}: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

On leaving Wirral women’ grammar college, Jean continued to carry out with newbie drama teams and Birkenhead Novice Operatic Society whereas working as a secretary. In 1954 she married her boss, Invoice Boht, supervisor of the Ritz cinema and theatre in Birkenhead – often called “the showcase of the north” for its selection performances – and virtually 30 years her senior.

“He was a heavy drinker and I assumed if I married him I may take care of him,” she later stated. “I simply needed to assist him battle the booze.” Though he caught to a promise to not drink once more, the couple drifted aside as Jean discovered success on stage and her work took her away from residence. They ultimately divorced in 1970 and he died eight years later.

Jean’s skilled profession started at Liverpool Playhouse in 1962 with a £1-a-week apprenticeship earlier than she joined the corporate full-time as an actor and assistant stage supervisor. Her singing expertise got here to the fore a yr later within the Brendan Behan tragicomedy The Hostage, with one critic noting: “Her Don’t Muck About with the Moon quantity, with Desmond Stokes and the complete firm as a refrain, virtually stopped the present.”

She stayed on the playhouse for 2 years earlier than making her West Finish debut in 1964, credited as a “black straw hat woman”, in Saint Joan of the Stockyards, Bertolt Brecht’s parody, carried out on the Queen’s theatre by the English Stage Firm, directed by Tony Richardson.

Boht continued with radical performs and administrators on the Royal Courtroom theatre between 1965 and 1981, and Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop (1969-71), in addition to taking the title position in Brecht’s Mom Braveness and Her Youngsters on the Library theatre, Manchester (1969), and showing as an additional within the Nationwide Theatre manufacturing of Peter Nichols’s black comedy The Nationwide Well being (Previous Vic, 1969-70).

Later, buoyed up by her TV success, Boht carried out in two seasons on the Chichester Competition theatre (1991-93), enjoying Jessie Dill in Venus Noticed and Mrs Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer. She additionally toured in Alan Bennett’s Speaking Heads (1992-93), directed by the playwright, and starred as Lil, the north of England lady taking in a Jewish refugee shortly earlier than the second world conflict, within the West Finish manufacturing of Diane Samuels’s drama Kindertransport (Vaudeville theatre, 1996).

Boht’s tv profession started in 1968 with small elements in well-liked drama collection. Her comedy skills have been ultimately recognised in episodes of Final of the Summer season Wine (in 1977) and Some Moms Do ’Ave ’Em (in 1978).

Then got here common roles as Elsie, the spouse of a music-hall entertainer (Jimmy Jewel), within the drama Humorous Man (1980) and the piña colada-swigging grandmother of the football-mad hero in Scully (1984), written by Alan Bleasdale. She mixed comedy and drama to play a Division of Employment boss as offhand along with her personal workers as with the claimants in Bleasdale’s landmark recession-era collection Boys from the Blackstuff (1982).

After switching to the opposite aspect of the advantages maze in Bread, Boht continued to star in comedy in Brighton Belles (1993-94), a British remake of the American hit The Golden Women. She performed Josephine, based mostly on Estelle Getty’s forthright Sophia within the authentic, alongside Sheila Hancock, Wendy Craig and Sheila Gish, whose character takes within the three others as lodgers following the dying of her husband. Viewers didn’t heat to the sitcom.

A uncommon enterprise into function movies in 1988 noticed her play Aunty Nell within the director Terence Davies’s stunning evocation of his Liverpool childhood, Distant Voices, Nonetheless Lives.

Boht’s second husband, the TV and movie composer Carl Davis, whom she married in 1970, died earlier this yr. She is survived by their two daughters, Hannah and Jessie.


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