Geraldine McEwan

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Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan.jpg
Geraldine McKeown

(1932-05-09)9 May 1932
Old Windsor, Berkshire, England
Died30 January 2015(2015-01-30) (aged 82)
Hammersmith, London, England
Years active1946–2011
Hugh Cruttwell
(m. 1953;his death 2002)

Geraldine McEwan (born Geraldine McKeown; 9 May 1932 – 30 January 2015) was an English actor who had a long career in theatre, television and film. Michael Coveney described her, in a tribute article, as "a great comic stylist, with a syrupy, seductive voice and a forthright, sparkling manner". [1]

Michael Coveney is a British theatre critic.


On stage, McEwan was a five-time Olivier Award nominee, and twice won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress; for The Rivals (1983) and The Way of the World (1995). She was also nominated for the 1998 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for The Chairs . She won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for the 1990 television serial Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit , and from 2004 to 2009, she starred as the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple, in the ITV series Marple .

The Rivals is a comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in five acts which was first performed at Covent Garden Theatre on 17 January 1775. The story has been updated in numerous adaptions, including a 1935 musical in London and a 1958 episode of the television series Maverick, with attribution.

<i>The Way of the World</i> play

The Way of the World is a play written by the English playwright William Congreve. It premiered in early March 1700 in the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. It is widely regarded as one of the best Restoration comedies and is still occasionally performed. Initially, however, the play struck many audience members as continuing the immorality of the previous decades, and was not well received.

The Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play is an honor presented at the Tony Awards, a ceremony established in 1947 as the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre. The award is given to actresses for quality leading roles in a Broadway play. Despite the award first being presented in 1947, there were no nominees announced until 1956. There have been two ties in this category, and one three-way tie.

Early life

She was born Geraldine McKeown on 9 May 1932 in Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, to Donald and Norah (née Burns) McKeown. She had Irish ancestors; her maternal grandfather came from Kilkenny while her paternal grandfather came from Belfast. [2] Her father, a printers' compositor, ran the Labour Party branch in Old Windsor, a safe Conservative seat. [3]

Old Windsor village and civil parish in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England

Old Windsor is a large village and civil parish, in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in Berkshire, England. It is bound by the River Thames to the east and Windsor Great Park to the west.

Kilkenny City in Leinster, Ireland

Kilkenny is the county town of County Kilkenny in the province of Leinster in south-east Ireland. It is built on both banks of the River Nore. The city is administered as a municipal district within Kilkenny County Council, although the Local Government Reform Act 2014 allowed for "the continued use of the description city". The 2016 census gave the total population of Kilkenny as 26,512.

Belfast City in the United Kingdom, capital of Northern Ireland

Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and second-largest on the island of Ireland, after Dublin. It had a population of 333,871 as of 2015.

McEwan won a scholarship to attend Windsor County Girls' School, then a private school where she felt completely out of place, and took elocution lessons. In an interview with Cassandra Jardine of The Daily Telegraph in 2004, she said of herself around this time: "I was very shy, very private," but after reading a poem (apparently Lady Macbeth's speech "Glamis thou art and Cawdor...") at a Brownie concert: "I realised it was going to be a way in which I could manage the world. I could protect myself by losing myself in other people." [3]

Windsor Girls' School (WGS) is a state secondary school for girls aged 13–18 in Windsor, Berkshire, England. While most other schools in Berkshire operate on a two-tier system with pupils entering secondary school at age 11, the local LEA uses the three-tier system, hence the 13+ entry age. It previously held Business & Enterprise specialist status and was rated "good, with outstanding features" by Ofsted inspectors in 2010. In 2014, the school was rated outstanding.

Cassandra Caroline Mary Jardine was a British journalist, best known as a contributor to The Daily Telegraph over a twenty-year period.

<i>The Daily Telegraph</i> British daily broadsheet newspaper

The Daily Telegraph, known online as The Telegraph, is a national British daily broadsheet newspaper published in London by Telegraph Media Group and distributed across the United Kingdom and internationally. It was founded by Arthur B. Sleigh in 1855 as Daily Telegraph & Courier.

As a teenager, McEwan became interested in theatre and her theatrical career began at 14 as assistant stage manager at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. She made her first appearance on the Windsor stage in October 1946 as an attendant of Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream and played many parts with the Windsor Repertory Company from March 1949 to March 1951, including a role in the Ruth Gordon biographical play Years Ago opposite guest player John Clark.

Theatre Royal, Windsor theatre in Windsor, England

The Theatre Royal is an Edwardian theatre on Thames Street in Windsor in Berkshire. The present building is the second theatre to stand on this site and opened on 13 December 1910. Built for Sir Wiliam Shipley and Captain Reginald Shipley, it was a replacement for their previous theatre which was built in 1815 and had burnt down in 1908. The present theatre was designed by Frank Verity, the son of the theatre architect Thomas Verity. The building is Grade II listed and is the only unsubsidised producing theatre to operate all year round in the United Kingdom.

<i>A Midsummer Nights Dream</i> play by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare in 1595/96. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. These include the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.

Ruth Gordon American playwright and actress

Ruth Gordon Jones was an American film, stage, and television actress, as well as a screenwriter and playwright. Gordon began her career performing on Broadway at age nineteen. Known for her nasal voice and distinctive personality, she gained international recognition and critical acclaim for film roles that continued into her seventies and eighties. Her later work included performances in Rosemary's Baby (1968), Harold and Maude (1971), and the Clint Eastwood films Every Which Way but Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980).

From 1951 to 1971

McEwan made her first West End appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre on 4 April 1951 as Christina Deed in Who Goes There! [4] McEwan first appeared on television in a BBC series, Crime on Our Hands (1954), with Jack Watling, Dennis Price and Sonia Dresdel. [5] In 1957, she took over from Joan Plowright in the Royal Court production of John Osborne's play The Entertainer during its West End run at the Palace Theatre. [6]

Vaudeville Theatre theatre in London

The Vaudeville Theatre is a West End theatre on the Strand in the City of Westminster. As the name suggests, the theatre held mostly vaudeville shows and musical revues in its early days. It opened in 1870 and was rebuilt twice, although each new building retained elements of the previous structure. The current building opened in 1926, and the capacity is now 690 seats. Rare thunder drum and lightning sheets, together with other early stage mechanisms, survive in the theatre.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Crime on Our Hands was a British crime drama television series which aired in 1954 on the BBC. Cast included Geraldine McEwan and Jack Watling. It aired for six half-hour episodes. The series is missing, believed lost.

McEwan appeared at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon during the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the period when it was evolving into the Stratford venue for the new Royal Shakespeare Company formed in 1960, and at The Aldwych, the RSC's original London home.[ citation needed ]

During the 1958 season in Stratford she played Olivia in Twelfth Night in a production directed by Peter Hall. After McEwan died, The Guardian 's Michael Billington wrote of this performance: "At the time Olivia tended to be played as a figure of mature grief: McEwan was young, sparky, witty and clearly brimming with desire for Dorothy Tutin's pageboy Viola." [7] McEwan's performance, according to Dominic Shellard, split contemporary critical opinion between those observers who considered it "heretical" and others who thought it "revolutionary". [8] [9]

In the same season at Stratford McEwan portrayed Marina in Pericles and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing . [10] [11] She returned to the theatre in 1961 to portray Ophelia in Hamlet , opposite Ian Bannen as the Prince, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing with Christopher Plummer as Benedict. [10]

In a production of Sheridan's The School for Scandal directed by Sir John Gielgud in 1962 McEwan replaced Anna Massey as Mrs Teazle during the run at the Haymarket Theatre, London; her husband was played by Sir Ralph Richardson. [12] After an American tour, this production was staged at the Majestic in New York in early 1963, and was McEwan's debut on Broadway. [12] [13] Back in England, she appeared with Kenneth Williams in the original unsuccessful 1965 production of Loot by Joe Orton, which closed at the Wimbledon Theatre before reaching London. [14] [15]

After this debacle she joined the National Theatre Company, then based at the Old Vic, following the suggestion of Sir Laurence Olivier, then its artistic director, and performed in 11 productions over the next 5 years. [6] She appeared with Olivier in Dance of Death , staged by Glen Byam Shaw and first performed in February 1967. [16]

Olivier asserted, according to his biographer Philip Ziegler, that he had chosen August Strindberg's play partly because it had a good part for McEwan: "I didn't give a damn if I made a success, I really didn't; it was her success I was after". The notices though concentrated on his role as the Captain rather than McEwan's as Alice, the Captain's wife. [17] A film version, with the same two leads, was released in 1969.

During her first period at the National she also portrayed Angelica in William Congreve's Love for Love , Raymonde Chandebise in Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear , Millamant in The Way of the World and Vittoria Corombona in John Webster's The White Devil . [1] Until her roles in the plays by Strindberg and Webster, McEwan was viewed mainly as a comedian, but these parts were thought to have extended her range. [18]

In the 1970s and 1980s

McEwan took the lead role in an adaptation for Scottish Television of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978). [19] She was Spark's favourite in the role and came the closest to the character as Spark had imagined it; Brodie has also been portrayed on stage and screen by Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith. [5] [10] Her other work for television in this period included roles in The Barchester Chronicles (1982) and Mapp and Lucia (1985–86) with Prunella Scales as Mapp and McEwan as Lucia.

In 1983, McEwan played Mrs Malaprop in a production of Sheridan's The Rivals at the National Theatre by Peter Wood which also featured Michael Hordern as Sir Anthony Absolute. [1] Michael Billington wrote of this performance in 2015: "It is easy to play the word-mangling Mrs Malaprop as a comic buffoon. But the whole point of McEwan's performance was that she took language with fastidious seriousness, fractionally pausing before each misplaced epithet as if ransacking her private lexicography. As I said at the time, it was like watching a demolition expert trying to construct a cathedral." [7] For this role, McEwan won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress. [2]

She made her directorial debut, in 1988, with the Renaissance Theatre Company's touring season, Renaissance Shakespeare on the Road, co-produced with the Birmingham Rep, and ending with a three-month repertory programme at the Phoenix Theatre in London. McEwan's contribution was a light romantic staging of As You Like It , with Kenneth Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian. [10]

Later career

McEwan won another Evening Standard Best Actress Award in 1995 for her role as Lady Wishfort in a revival of Congreve's The Way of the World , again at the National Theatre. [2] [3] Sheridan Morley, then theatre critic of The Spectator , wrote, "Geraldine McEwan (in the performance of the night and her career) comes on looking like an ostrich which has mysteriously been crammed into a tambourine lined with fresh flowers." [20]

With Richard Briers, she starred from November 1997 in a revival of Eugène Ionesco's absurdist play The Chairs in a co-production between Simon McBurney's Theatre de Complicite and London's Royal Court Theatre (then temporarily based at the Duke of York's) who had staged the British premiere 40 years earlier. [1] [21] [22] This production had a brief run on Broadway between April and June 1998; McEwan was nominated for a Tony Award. [22] [23]

Her later television credits include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990), for which she won the British Academy Television Award as Best Actress in 1991, and Mulberry (1992–93). [15] She was also in the Cassandra episode of Red Dwarf (1999), playing a prescient computer. McEwan played the demented witch Mortianna in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters , (2002), she played the role of Sister Bridget. In 2001, she voiced Margaret in the audio book Richard III.

McEwan was selected by Granada Television for Marple (2004–07), a new series featuring the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple. She told The New York Times in a 2005 interview when the series was first being screened by PBS, "I do enjoy playing very original and slightly eccentric characters. It is very amusing that Agatha Christie should have created this older woman who lives a very conventional life in a little country village and yet spends all her time solving violent crimes." [24] She announced her retirement from the role in 2008 after appearing in 12 films. [25] [26] She was succeeded as Miss Marple in the series by Julia McKenzie. [27]

In 2005, she provided the voice of Miss Thripp in the film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and again in A Matter of Loaf and Death in 2008. [28]

Personal life

In 1953 McEwan married Hugh Cruttwell, whom she had first met when she was aged 14 while working at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Cruttwell was the Principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1965 to 1984. [29] They had a son Greg, who is an actor and screenwriter, and a daughter Claudia. [29]

McEwan was reported to have declined an OBE, and later, a DBE (in 2002), but she did not respond to these claims. [10] "I will never speak of that", she said of the matter to Cassandra Jardine in 2004. [3]


McEwan died on 30 January 2015 at the Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith after suffering a stroke three months earlier. [30] [31]


There Was a Young Lady 1953Irene
No Kidding 1960Catherine RobinsonBeware of Children (U.S.)
Dance of Death 1969Alice
The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones 1976Lady Bellaston
Escape from the Dark 1976Miss CouttThe Littlest Horse Thieves (U.S.)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1978 Jean Brodie 7 episodes
Mapp and Lucia 1985–1986Emmeline Lucas (Lucia)10 episodes
Foreign Body 1986Lady Ammanford
Henry V 1989Alice
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit 1990Mother
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves 1991Mortianna
Mulberry 1992–1993Miss Farnaby13 episodes
Moses 1995MiriamTV Mini-Series
Red Dwarf 1999CassandraSeries 8, Episode 4, "Cassandra"
The Love Letter 1999Constance Scattergoods
Titus 1999Nurse
Love's Labour's Lost 2000Holofernia
Contaminated Man 2000Lilian Rodgers
Food of Love 2002Novotna
The Magdalene Sisters 2002Sister Bridget
Pure 2002Nanna
Carrie's War 2004Mrs. GotobedTV movie
Vanity Fair 2004Lady Southdown
The Lazarus Child 2004Janet
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 2005Miss ThrippVoice
A Matter of Loaf and Death 2008Miss ThrippVoice, Uncredited
Arrietty 2010HaruUK version, Voice, (final film role)

Miss Marple in Marple: 2004–2008

Marple: The Body in the Library 2004
Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage 2004
Marple: 4:50 from Paddington 2004
Marple: A Murder Is Announced 2005
Marple: Sleeping Murder 2005
Marple: The Moving Finger 2006
Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs 2006
Marple: The Sittaford Mystery 2006
Marple: At Bertram's Hotel 2007
Marple: Ordeal by Innocence 2007
Marple: Towards Zero 2008
Marple: Nemesis 2008

Awards and nominations

1976 Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance Oh Coward! Nominated
Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival On Approval Nominated
1978Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance Look After Lulu! Nominated
1980Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival The Browning Version / Harlequinade Nominated
1983 Evening Standard Award for Best Actress The Rivals Won
1991 BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Won
1995Evening Standard Award for Best Actress The Way of the World Won
1996 Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role The Way of the WorldNominated
1998 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play The Chairs Nominated

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan was a great comic stylist",, 2 February 2015
  2. 1 2 3 Obituary:Geraldine McEwan, The Telegraph, 1 February 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Jardine, Cassandra (8 December 2004). "Fishnets, tarty wigs – I love all that". The Daily Telegraph . Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  4. Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th edition, Gale (1982)
  5. 1 2 Janet Moat Profile, BFI screenonline. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  6. 1 2 Simon Farquhar "Geraldine McEwen: Actress whose decades of triumphs on the stage were topped off by her acclaimed Miss Marple on television", The Independent, 1 February 2015.
  7. 1 2 Michael Billington "Geraldine McEwan: mischievously witty, from Mrs Malaprop to Miss Marple", The Guardian, 1 February 2015
  8. Dominic Shellard British Theatre Since the War, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1999 [2008], p. 96
  9. See also Peter Hall's autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself: the autobiography of Peter Hall, London: Oberon Books, 2000, p. 145. Originally published by Sinclair Stevenson (London) in 1993.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan obituary, The Guardian, 31 January 2015
  11. "Geraldine McEwan ~ The Shakespeare Connection",
  12. 1 2 Sheridan Morley Gielgud: The Authorised Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, p.339
  13. John Chapman "The School for Scandal is Memorable", Chicago Tribune (reprint of Daily News (New York) item), 26 January 1963, p.64
  14. John Lahr Prick Up Your Ears, Knopf, 1978
  15. 1 2 Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 386. ISBN   978-1-84854-195-5.
  16. Simon Callow The National: The Theatre and Its Work 1963–1997, Nick Hern Books, 1997
  17. Philip Ziegler Olivier, London: MacLehose Press, 2013, p. 292
  18. George Russell The Old Vic Theatre: A History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 154
  19. Alasdair Steven "Obituary: Geraldine McEwan, actress", The Scotsman, 2 February 2015
  20. Sheridan Morley "Theatre: Love Has No Laws", The Spectator, 28 October 1995, p. 51
  21. Matt Wolf "Review: The Chairs", Variety, 13 December 1997
  22. 1 2 Harry Haun "Briers and McEwan Dust Off The Chairs for Broadway", Playbill, 17 April 1998
  23. "Geraldine McEwan", Playbill Vault
  24. Marilyn Stasio "Make Way for TV's New Miss Marple, One With Some Romance in Her Past", The New York Times, 15 April 2005.
  25. Conlan, Tara (23 January 2008). "McEwan retires from Marple role". Media Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 23 January 2008.
  26. Nicola Harley "Miss Marple actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82", The Telegraph, 31 January 2015
  27. "Geraldine McEwan, Actress Known for Miss Marple Role, Dies at 82", The New York Times (AP), 2 February 2015
  28. "Geraldine McEwan". n.d.
  29. 1 2 Claire Armitstead Obituary: Hugh Cruttwell, The Guardian, 29 August 2002.
  30. "Actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82". BBC News Entertainment & Arts. 31 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  31. "Miss Marple actor Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82". The Guardian . 31 January 2015.