Hattie Jacques

Hattie Jacques
Hattie Jacques (7 February 1922 – 6 October 1980)

Hattie Jacques was born Josephine Edwina Jaques on 7 February 1922 in Sandgate, Kent. Her parents were Mary Thorn and Robin Rochester Jaques. Following the tragic death of her father in an airplane accident in August 1923 (he was an RAF pilot), the family moved to London. Josephine, or 'Jo' as she was generally known, was educated at the Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith. Despite her size (Hattie was already quite large as a child), she loved dancing - in particular, ballet - and in 1939, joined a local amateur dramatics society.

On leaving school in 1939, Jo initially trained as a hairdresser, but with the outbreak of the Second World War, she served as a nurse with the Red Cross, also working as a welder in a factory in North London.

In her spare time, Jo helped out with productions at the Players' Theatre in London, and in the summer of 1944, she eventually plucked up the courage to audition. The chairman of the theatre, Leonard Sachs (who went on to compere the popular BBC programme 'The Good Old Days') spotted her potential straight away, and she soon became one of the Players' most popular performers. Before long, she was appearing on stage in a variety of roles, usually singing Victorian songs and performing in the Players' pantomimes. She regularly appeared as the Christmas fairy, a role she often nominated her favourite.

It was during this time at the Players' that Jo acquired the name 'Hattie'. In one performance, Jo was likened to the rotund black actress Hattie McDaniel, who had appeared in the film 'Gone with the Wind'. The name stuck, and she became known as Hattie Jacques from then on.

Hattie's increasing success at the Players' resulted in an audition for the popular radio show 'It's That Man Again' (ITMA), which starred Tommy Handley. She joined the cast in 1947 as the greedy schoolgirl, Sophie Tuckshop. This was Hattie's first major radio role, which only ended following the sudden death of Tommy Handley, of a cerebral haemorrhage, in 1949.

In 1951, Hattie was invited to join the cast of 'Educating Archie'. It was on this show that she first met Eric Sykes, who was providing scripts for the show. It was also on 'Educating Archie' that she met and first worked with Tony Hancock. This was in the second radio series, which ran from August 1951 to January 1952. Hattie also made a guest appearance on 'Calling All Forces' (28/4/52) for which Hancock was compere.

Hattie joined the cast of 'Hancock's Half Hour' at the beginning of its fourth series, in November 1956, playing the character Grizelda Pugh. The show had also just transferred over to television, and was running concurrently on TV and radio. Hattie appeared occasionally in the BBC-TV series, mostly in the second series, between April and June 1957. Although they never worked together on the show, Hattie's husband, John Le Mesurier, was also a regular in the supporting cast on TV.

Hattie also made a brief appearance in Hancock's film, 'The Punch and Judy Man' (1962), but she is perhaps better known for her film work in the series of 'Carry On' films, which she starred in alongside Sid James and Kenneth Williams. She appeared in her first Carry On film, 'Carry on Sergeant', in 1958, and then went on to feature in a further 13 of the long running film series.

It was whilst appearing at the Players' in 1947, that Hattie met her husband, John le Mesurier, whom she married on 10 November 1949. They had 2 sons, and although they were to divorce a number of years later, they were to remain good friends. Hattie is often cited as being a generous person, a good friend and confidante to many, also throwing and hosting many parties at her Earls Court home. She also did much work for charity during her life. Her talents as an actress are perhaps overshadowed by her size, and is it unfortunate that the roles she played were mainly determined by this. She died on 6 October 1980, after suffering a heart attack. She was cremated at Putney Vale cemetery, and a memorial service was held at St Paul's church in Covent Garden.