Georgina Cookson

Lean, aristocratic-looking British character actress,on stage from the 1940’s. Ms Cookson was born in Cornwall in 1918. She was noted on Broadway for her performance (and for bringing the house down with her tango on opening night) as Lady India in Jean Anouilh’s ‘Ring Around the Moon’ (1950-51). On television, her aquiline features and impeccable bearing led to her gravitating towards upper class roles as wealthy or snooty socialites — few more memorable than her unnamed party-goer in the dream sequence of The Prisoner (1967) episode “A.B.and C.”; and as Mrs. Butterworth, who not only resides in Patrick McGoohan’s old flat and drives his sports car but turns out to be another Number 2 (in the episode “Many Happy Returns”). She also had to graciously scrape the mould of a bread-roll offered her by Steptoe and Son (1962) in “Loathe Story”, as the hyphenated mother of Joanna Lumley.

After graduating from RADA, she found constant work in both the regions and the West End theatre, appearing alongside Hermione Gingold in the wartime revue Rise Above It at the ‘Q’ (1940) and at the Comedy Theatre (1941). In the same decade, she was in Love Goes to Press, with Irene Worth, at the Embassy Theatre (in Swiss Cottage) and Duchess Theatre(1946) and briefly on Broadway the following year; School for Spinsters (Criterion Theatre, 1947), Portrait of Hickory (Embassy, 1948) and opposite Jack Buchanan in Don’t Listen, Ladies! at the St James’s Theatre in 1949.

She was no less busy in the ’50s, with appearances in Lionel Shapiro’s The Bridge for Bristol Old Vic (1952); 13 for Dinner (Duke of York’s Theatre, 1953); the world premier of I Capture the Castle, with Virginia McKennaBill Travers and Roger Moore, which opened at Grand Theatre, Blackpool before transferring to the Aldwych Theatre in 1954; and Robert Morley’s Six Months’ Grace (Phoenix Theatre, 1957). Her last stage roles included a national tour of My Fair Lady in 1988 and, alongside Peggy Mount and Jack DouglasA Breath of Spring in 1990.

Georgina had a rare lead in the title role of the low-budget thriller Catacombs (1965) as Gary Merrill’s crippled and demanding wife, who, unsurprisingly gets killed and disposed of in the potting shed. Of course, she comes back to haunt her evil hubby (really, just a double-cross staged by his two accomplices). In many of her other appearances on screen, Georgina played opposite great British comic actors, from Sidney James to Tony Hancock. Privately, her circle of friends included Denholm Elliott and Terry-Thomas (with whom she shared the stage in ‘Full House’). Her final curtain call before retirement in Australia was as the lead in the comedy play ‘A Breath of Spring’ in 1990.

Georgina Cookson died in Australia in 2011 aged 92.

THE INDEPENDENT
Thursday 03 November 2011
Georgina Cookson: Character actress who specialised in what she called ‘rich bitches’ – Obituaries – News – The Independent

The eternal character actress, Georgina Cookson was one of those faces recognised by millions of post-war cinemagoers and television viewers as she appeared alongside some of the biggest stars while her own name never registered. Describing the characters she played as “rich bitches”, she often took upper-class roles, with slightly superior or world-weary expressions, and was always a striking presence.

Cookson made her film debut in I Didn’t Do It (1945), which featured the unlikely combination of the music-hall comedian George Formby and a violent murder. Three years later came the romantic comedy Woman Hater (1948), in which she played Stewart Granger’s jilted bride. Although she then landed the title role in the television film Sarah Simple (1949), based on AA Milne’s play, Cookson’s screen appearances remained rare until she was cast as the long-suffering wife of Terry-Thomas’s peer in the 1957 film comedy The Naked Truth, also starring Peter Sellers.

This brought her frequent work, although stardom eluded her and, by 1961, when she was simply credited as “passenger” in the Norman Wisdom comedy The Girl on the Boat, her roles appeared to be diminishing. Nevertheless, after playing a lingerie assistant alongside Tony Hancock in the seaside comedy The Punch and Judy Man (1963), Cookson was seen as the upper-crust Carlotta Hale at a charity dinner in the archetypal Swinging Sixties film Darling (1965), with Julie Christie, Laurence Harvey and Dirk Bogarde.

She was even at the top of the bill in Catacombs (1965, titled The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die in the US), acting as an astute business executive controlling the purse strings over her weak-willed husband. Television then utilised Cookson’s talents more effectively. In Steptoe and Son (1972), she was memorable as the stuck-up mother of Joanna Lumley – playing the posh, new girlfriend of Harold (Harry H Corbett) – with both fleeing from the disgusting habits displayed by his father, Albert (Wilfrid Brambell).

But perhaps her most enduring television appearances were in ThePrisoner (1967), the actor PatrickMcGoohan’s allegory-filled statement about the freedom of the individual, which has retained a cult following. Credited simply as “Blonde Lady”,she was first seen chatting briefly to Number Six (McGoohan) at a party in the episode “A. B. and C.”. She returned more prominently for “Many Happy Returns” as Mrs Butterworth, whom Six discovers in his former London home, also taking ownership ofhis prized Lotus Seven, when he believes he has escaped from the Village – only later to find her back there as the latest incarnation of Number Two, its controller.

Born in Cornwall shortly after the end of the First World War, Cookson was the daughter of the racing driver Roger Cookson and Sybil Taylor, who, under the pseudonym Sydney Tremayne, wrote for The Tatler and was a novelist. Cookson left Benenden School at the age of 15 to train at Rada.

On stage, she acted in the wartime revue Rise Above It (Comedy Theatre, 1941), I Capture the Castle (Aldwych Theatre, 1954), the musical play The Water Gipsies (Winter Garden Theatre, 1955) and Six Months Grace (Phoenix Theatre, 1957). She was also on Broadway, first as Daphne Rutherford in Love Goes to Press (Biltmore Theatre, 1947), a short-lived play written by the war correspondents Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, then dancing the tango as Lady India in Christopher Fry’s comedy Ring Round the Moon (Martin Beck Theatre, 1950-51).

Her last screen role was as Baroness Rothschild in the television political drama Number 10 (1983). She subsequently appeared as Henry Higgins’s socialite mother in a 1988 British stage tour of My Fair Lady. Ms Cookson lived in Ibiza from 1970 to 1987 and retired to Sydney, Australia, in 1996. She is survived by her son and daughter and grandchildren.

Anthony Hayward

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