I still watch Man About the House on UK Gold. It reminds me of gentler carefree days in the seventies. In the series the landlords George and Mildred were as funny as the main cast – so funny they got their own spin-off series. I can remember my mum telling me that Mildred (Yootha Joyce) was an alcoholic and had died aged 53. I was so naïve I thought drunks were swaying people who lived under railway arches and drank cider till they collapsed. Her boozing was a shock to everyone, even the cast. When she died she was still filming George and Mildred, knew her lines, was lucid and had been interviewed on television. I was too young (or thick) to understand alcoholics sometimes drink to remain “sober.” I always thought Mildred was proof that personality could eclipse below-average looks. Despite an unusual face and big teeth she was stately, elegant and confident. When she appeared on screen your eyes went straight to her.
While in London I ensured I walked to Paddington to find her home. It’s a basement flat in Sussex Gardens on a busy road (no sign of a garden) a short walk from the top of Hyde Park. I thought there may be a blue plaque to guide me in but there wasn’t.
Yootha was born in Wandsworth in London and she probably went into the entertainment business as her Dad was a well-known singer and her mum was a concert pianist. Have you ever heard of anyone called Yooth? No - nor me. The name comes from the Malawi word for “joy” (someone her dad knew had this name.) She left school at fifteen and trained at RADA (where James Bond Roger Moore was also a student) and went on tour with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).
Aged 29 she married actor Glynn Edwards (who became another familiar face on television) and through him became known by the renowned Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop. From here she started appearing in theatres and was 36 when she appeared in her film Sparrows Can't Sing. Yootha and Glynn got divorced after twelve years but she was such a kind and loving person they remained wonderful friends for the rest of their lives.
She was 46 when she appeared in the hit comedy series Man About The House with Brian Murphy, viewing figures over 20 million and always in the top five most-viewed programmes. She was known for her layers of love and kindness and receiving more fan mail than all there other actors combined. Her warmth and affectionate meant she was never short of attention – or male admirers. She didn’t tolerate fools though, expected decency and people were always wary of others falling below her expectations. On set you’d have to be invited into her dressing room. Nothing happened until she arrived.
She was 49 when George & Mildred first aired on national television and her character was so well defined she became typecast. In later life she started a romance with a touring manager who was much younger than her. She expected a man to be independent and be masterful but it didn’t work out. Friends thought she needed a man to look after her but that wasn’t what she was sought.
Anyway here I am outside the basement flat where Yootha lived alone and was sad and lonely. She didn’t have any children nor remarry. By the time she died she’d been consuming half a bottle of brandy every day for over a decade. In 1980 the actors on George & Mildred were shocked to find out the next series wouldn’t go ahead as Yootha had been hospitalised with liver failure. She died four days after her 53rd birthday with her on-screen husband George at her bedside. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were sprinkled in the memorial gardens.
It was nice to walk about where Yootha had walked about. These were blooming nice flats, elegance in a row. She lived at flat 198 but there wasn’t one. The numbers went from 196 to 200. I supposed 198 had been absorbed into one of its neighbours. I did a salute to about four basement flat doors and left. I always thought Yootha started acting in Man About The House but she was in a long list of popular television shows and appeared in nineteen films. That was pretty good for a life shortened by booze.