Jean KENT (1921-2013)

Jean Kent
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Jean Kent, stage and screen actress, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the foyer of London’s Strand Theatre. She was appearing in the farce No Sex Please We’re British.


Jean’s career began as a chorus girl at London’s Windmill Theatre. She signed to Gainsborough Pictures during the early 1940s, and is now fondly remembered for her roles in many British films, including Fanny By Gaslight, The Wicked Lady, Caravan and Trottie True.

Jean Kent recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in March 2011

Photographs of Jean Kent This Is Your Life - and Jean at her home in March 2011

The Weekly News

The Weekly News 25 January 1975


Behind-the-scenes dramas from ‘This Is Your Life’


EAMONN TRAPPED IN LIFT WITH STAR OF SHOW


"JEAN KENT. This Is Your Life," said a smiling Eamonn Andrews, as he presented the famous red book to the actress at the end of the programme.


For millions of TV viewers watching on New Year's Day it was the climax to one of the happiest and brightest lives of the series, writes Rex King.


But not one viewer knew of the secret shared by the star and the host … that because of a decision made by Eamonn there very nearly wasn’t a show.


The near-disaster occurred when Jean insisted on changing into a long dress.


Eamonn shuddered as he recalled the events of that day.


"We had got Jean to come to the Strand Theatre, where she was appearing in the comedy ‘No Sex Please, We’re British,’ by saying a TV company wanted to do a documentary on theatreland."


"I surprised her with the book as she was being filmed signing autographs in the foyer."


Big mistake


The Weekly News

"After a confrontation the subject is taken by car to Thames Television Studios and never let out of sight," said Eamonn.


"But Jean wasn't having any of it. She insisted—as her home was only a few minutes' drive away—on going there to change into a long dress. A change which she said would only take sixty seconds."


"Jean's persuasive charm had me agreeing reluctantly."


Eamonn drove her to her London flat, followed her into the tiny lift and pressed the button to send it up to the top floor.


Halfway there, the lift juddered, dropped six inches and stopped between floors.


"That was the moment I realised I'd made the biggest mistake ever in all the ‘This Is Your Life’ shows," admitted Eamonn. "I nearly had heart failure."


The man now hosting the sixth series of the top-rating, 25-million-viewer show gave that familiar grin.


"We were trapped. It was an awful moment, for we had only 45 minutes until the start of the show."


"We called for help and banged away at the lift buttons. Nothing happened. No one came."


"For ten minutes we pushed at the control buttons and suddenly the lift jerked into action. We were saved!"


"Jean made her promised sixty-second change while I phoned the worried producer, Jack Crawshaw."


"But when we left the flat I insisted we walk down the stairs instead of taking the lift."


"We arrived at the studio with only minutes to spare."


But all the upsets and frantic worrying were worth it, for viewers marvelled as Eamonn unfolded the wonderful 28 years of happy marriage of Jean and her Austro - Albanian husband, Jusuf.


Happy


Many people phoned to remark how happy and devoted the couple seemed to be.


So I took the same lift which nearly ruined the show to find out more about this romantic marriage between a film star and a film extra. I wanted to know more than could be told on the 26 minutes 5 seconds long ‘This Is Your Life’ programme.


Jean, like the coffee on the stove, was bubbling with joy over her “Life” on television.


"It was such a happy day," she told me. "I can’t understand why some subjects look dejected on the show. I was determined to be happy - and I was - seeing all my friends again."


While her handsome, tall and bearded husband Jusuf slipped out "to get something to go with the coffee." Jean spoke of their wonderful life together.


Handsome


The Weekly News

"I first met Jusuf in Bettws-y-Coed in Wales, while on location for the film 'Caravan' – you saw clips from it on the show." she said.


"I was the star and Jusuf a film extra and stunt horseman doubling for Stewart Granger and Dennis Price during riding scenes."


"I have a vivid recollection of walking into the hotel where the cast had been booked and seeing this man playing chess with a film technician."


"It was not love at first sight. I thought he was much too handsome to be true and I was glad I had my mother with me as chaperone."


"I distrusted handsome men and my mother used to keep them away while I concentrated on my career."


"That evening there was a welcome party in my honour at the hotel and Jusuf turned up wearing a smart suit."


"He smiled at me briefly across the room and I knew I was in love with him."


"I told my mother not to discourage him, but Jusuf didn’t seem particularly keen to get to know me."


"I was to find out much later that he hesitated because I was a star, an unobtainable person in his eyes and he just a film extra."


"A few days before going to Wales a fortune-teller in Brighton had read my palm and told me I would meet a man from a country beginning with the letter ‘A’. That the meeting would be in a place surrounded by water and that I should marry this man."


First kiss


"I was amazed to discover Jusuf came from Albania – the letter ‘A’ – and the place where we were filming was covered by lakes and rivers. I took it to be a good omen."


Jean poured coffee. "I had to make all the running," she confided. "I made him take me for walks in the country and if it rained, which it did frequently, play table tennis in the hotel."


"But he remained very polite and infuriated me by calling me ‘Miss Kent’ all the time."


"On my birthday, June 29, we took one of our regular walks and I had just got Jusuf pinned to a tree, and almost on the point of kissing me, when Stewart Granger walked by. I could have killed him." Jean laughed.


"We walked back to the hotel in silence, but that evening Jusuf did pluck up courage and kissed me, although it was six weeks before he dropped the ‘Miss Kent’ and called me Jean."


Proposal


Just then, Jusuf returned, carrying boxes of fresh cream cakes, slices and pastries … dozens of them!


The actress threw up her hands in horror. "Jusuf just cannot resist cream cakes and he’s always tempting me to eat them too," she cried.


While she sorted out the goodies, Jusuf continued the story of their life.


"I didn't dare hope we would fall in love. I was very worried. I was a penniless stateless person earning a precarious living doing the odd film work. She was a star."


"When 'Caravan’ was finished we returned to London, and I thought it would be the parting of the ways. One afternoon in October the same year, 1945, we walked in Hyde Park and sat on a park bench."


"I was plucking up courage to propose marriage to Jean. If she said no, I had planned to emigrate to Brazil. She didn’t."


"I had hardly got out the words ‘Will you …’ when she said ‘Yes’" smiled Jusuf.


Jean butted in. "I’d been egging him on to propose for weeks."


"Jusuf asked my father for my hand in marriage. My father, sweet man, turned to me and said, 'Well, he’s a very nice young man. Only thing is I wish he wasn’t a foreigner.’ Actually, both my parents adored him really."


On April 12, 1946, Jean, aged 24 and Jusuf, 27, were wed at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London.


Fantastic


Many streets were closed to traffic and mounted police had to keep back the thousands of fans.


"The wedding was at eleven in the morning," said Jean. "I was there prompt but the curate who was to marry us arrived ten minutes late. He had been delayed trying to cycle through the crowds." She grinned.


It was a wonderful day for the happy couple. There was a reception at Claridges and in the evening they went to the Gaumont cinema for the premiere of ‘Caravan’, the film which had brought them together in the first place.


The film company had dismantled a few rows of seats and surrounded the two seats where Jean and Jusuf were to sit with boxes of flowers and decorations.


"It was fantastic and unique because after the film they put on a newsreel of our wedding. In fact, the newsreel company gave us a film of the wedding as a present," said Jean.


"Afterwards, the film people gave a midnight reception for us and it was the early hours of the next day before a friend managed to drive us out of London and up to Wales for our honeymoon."


"We honeymooned at the very hotel - Hotel Gwydar - where we had first met," added Jusuf.


"I gave a party for all the friends we had made there during filming. When it came to paying the bill the hotel owner refused to accept the money. She said the party was her wedding gift to us."


The honeymoon lasted seven days because Jean had to return to London to start work on the film 'Goodtime Girl.'


Although Jean was well on the road to stardom she was not reaping financial rewards.


"We lived in a one-room flat with a gas ring in London and paid £2.50 a week rent. We didn't care because we were very happy," said Jean.


"I didn't even know how to cook then," she said.


"In fact, Jusuf bought me a Ministry of Food ‘ABC of Cookery' booklet. It cost one shilling and I still have it."


Prospered


Jusuf, who had realised he was not cut out to be an actor, went into the property business. He is now a successful building and planning consultant.


Both prospered in their chosen careers. They moved from the one room flat to a Park Lane apartment, then to a farm in Sussex.


In 1966 they sold up and moved to their present home in Malta.


"It wasn't done to dodge tax. I pay British tax." explained Jean. "When Jusuf got a job planning a holiday village in Malta, I went with him and fell in love with a tiny village called Kalkara."


"We have a beautiful Spanish-style home overlooking the sea. It is a four bedroomed house in local yellow stone, set in terraced gardens."


"Some of the rooms are huge. The lounge is 27 ft. by 17 ft. with a 20-foot-high ceiling beamed with ship’s timbers. The floors are black and white marble squares."


"There is a swimming pool and recently we built a small, two-bedroomed guest house in the grounds."


Angry


"The villagers are very friendly people. When we first moved in, the house was in rather a dilapidated condition. A local carpenter called one day and asked if he could help renovate the place."


"He made and fitted all the doors and windows but when I asked for the bill he refused."


"'No bill.' he said. ‘You are my neighbours.'"


"I would say about 80 per cent of our friends are from the village," said Jusuf. "We are very happy there. I spend my spare time collecting stamps and Jean reads six library books a week in between gardening. She grows some lovely tomatoes and green peppers," he said proudly.


What was the secret of successful marriage?


"There is no secret," said Jean. "There is never a dull moment and I suppose you could say we are very adaptable. When we are parted I write to Jusuf several times a week and we phone each other at least once a week."


I asked if they had ever had a cross word.


Jean thought hard. "Well, three Christmasses ago a friend gave me a rare Siamese Manx cat. Previously we had had several dogs but when the last one died Jusuf put the ban up – no more pets."


"I was, therefore, a bit apprehensive taking the cat home. Jusuf was furious when he saw it and demanded I get rid of it immediately. I had never seen him so angry."


"I offered to return the cat after the holiday and he reluctantly agreed. 'Three days that is all,' he threatened."


Jean smiled. "But when it came to the sad day of parting, Jusuf had grown so fond of the cat he refused to part with it! He even gave it the name 'Sable' because of its colour."


"Sable is still with us, and Jusuf adores it, even though it has slashed a £400 leather chair to pieces," Jean added.


Worried


Seeing Jean and Jusuf so happy, I wondered if keeping the secret of ‘This Is Your Life’ had been difficult for Jusuf.


"Not at all." he said. "Jean was in the country appearing at the Strand Theatre. All I had to do a few days before was phone her and tell her not to ring me in Malta because I was going away on a business trip."


"I wasn't even lying. I was on a business trip to Britain," he chuckled.


How did Jean take it all?


"I must admit I was a bit worried when a chauffeur, who had arrived at my London flat at 3pm to drive me to the theatre to sign autographs, took me in the wrong direction."


"I did not know he been instructed by Eamonn to arrive at the theatre exactly at 3.30pm. Timing was so essential."


"What the chauffeur had not considered was that I’d be ready prompt on the dot at three. So he had to kill time by driving round London."


"I asked him why he was taking the long route and he claimed it was to avoid the heavy traffic. Most odd. Luckily I didn’t have a too inquiring mind otherwise I might have stumbled on the truth."


Old friends


"Eamonn frightened me to death creeping up behind me with his book but I gave him a fright in the lift."


"I really wanted to wear the long dress because it had come fresh back from the laundry the previous day," she explained.


"I enjoyed meeting all my friends on the show—Pete Murray, Tommy Trinder, Cal McCord, Flo Desmond, Maggie Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Pearl Hackney, Clive Dunn and my own relatives."


"I really think it is fantastic how Eamonn manages to cram all those people into the short programme."


"When the show ended, we had a quick get-together party in the studio restaurant before I dashed back to the theatre for the second house."


"I took my Aunt Peg, Uncle Hugh and cousin Dora along to see the comedy. Then we finished off with a few drinks here in the flat. The end of a wonderful day." Jean said.


Another coffee and another cream cake later, it was time to leave the happy couple.


"We are planning a holiday in America at the end of this month," said Jean.


Taken ill


When they return they will find their red "Life” book full of memories, photos and an LP record of the show, ready and waiting for them.


It's a "Life" Eamonn Andrews is not likely to forget either. For the lift episode was not the only last minute disaster to hit the programme.


One important guest did not make the show—actor Michael Wilding.


When Michael was approached, he was highly delighted to be on the show and surprise Jean. ln fact, he intended to walk on with a bottle of champagne for her.


But on the morning of the show his wife, Margaret Leighton, phoned up to say Michael had been taken ill with a temperature of 106. His doctor had forbidden him to leave his bed.


"We had to do a quick re-cast of the show that morning and there was no time to bring in another guest," said Eamonn.


programme details...

  • Edition No: 396
  • Subject No: 395
  • Broadcast date: Wed 1 Jan 1975
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 11 Dec 1974
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 15
  • Edition: 9
  • Code Name: Country

on the guest list...

  • Josef Ramart - husband
  • Margaret Lockwood
  • Phyllis Calvert
  • Tommy Trinder
  • Florence Desmond
  • Pearl Hackney
  • Clive Dunn
  • Dora Parton
  • Cal McCord
  • Hugh & Peggy Taylor
  • Pete Murray
  • Catherine Chase
  • Arthur Howard
  • Kenneth Fortescue
  • Vikki Richards
  • Liza Goddard
  • Robert Tunstall
  • Roy Jameson
  • Richard Caldicott
  • Derek Royle
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Frankie Howerd
  • Patricia Roc

external links...

production team...

  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 15 subjects: Jack Ashley > John Conteh > Jack Howarth > Chay Blyth > Bill Maynard > Richard O'Sullivan > Dick Francis > Arthur Askey > Jean Kent > Geoff Love > Ray Cooney > Queenie Watts > Harry Johnson > Leonard Rossiter > John Hanson > Denis Law > Ted Ray > Peter Butterworth > Nina Baden-Semper > Dickie Davies > Moira Anderson > Precious McKenzie > Mollie Sugden > Michael Bates > Willie John McBride > Petula Clark > Garfield Sobers