I missed this BBC4 biopic when it was first shown a couple of weeks ago – however I was lucky enough to catch the repeat the other night. Hattie Jacques (Josephine Edwina Jacques) b. 1922 – 1980) was a British comedy actress, well-known for her roles in the Carry On films from 1958 – 1974 where she often played a hospital Matron but she also different roles in other films. She played the ‘twin’ sister of Eric Sykes in the BBC series Sykes and starred on radio and in theatre.
Hattie, (convincingly played by Ruth Jones) married the actor John Le Mesurier 1949 – 1965. They had two sons Robin and Kim. Hattie had wanted to be a ballerina but her weight ruled this out. One of the scenes shows Hattie dressed as a fairy being left dangling by a harness over a stage amidst sniggers.
Jacques first went on stage when she was 20 years old and enjoyed a varied career of stage, radio and film. This biopic focuses on the relationship of her, John Le Mesurier and her chauffeur John Schofield.
On the face of it, Hattie and Le Mesurier seem to enjoy a happy home life, with Le Mesurier and Jacques helping each other learn their lines, their sat comfortably around the kitchen table with their boys. They have a lodger Bruce who lives upstairs who is very theatrical and jolly and it all seems to be a happy household.
Then along comes John Schofield the chauffeur and bit by bit, like a house of cards everything seems to collapse. John Schofield is very good-looking and knows it. The more I looked at this actor – the more I thought I recognised him. Now where had I seen him before? Aidan Turner is the actor. He played Gabriel Dante Rossetti in Desperate Romantics, the series about the Pre Raphaelites. He plays the Cockney wideboy Schofield with much gusto, whilst cuckolded and very laid back Le Mesurier is played admirably by Robert Bathurst.
Poor Hattie didn’t have a chance against John Schofield the chauffeur, and the comparison with Le Mesurier couldn’t be starker. John Schofield is passionate, funny, earthy and a bit rough. Le Mesurier is refined, undemonstrative but kind and gentle. At times Hattie and Le Mesurier seem more like brother and sister. It’s easy to see how comfortable the couple are with each other, but glib John the chauffeur who is much younger than her, desires Hattie and makes her see herself in a completely different way. There’s a scene where Hattie has just met John and she is talking to Bruce the lodger – when you would swear that Ruth Jones IS Hattie Jacques. This is what the actress has to say about Hattie, the woman;-
“There was more to Hattie Jacques than the public persona of the Carry On films,” says the Bridgend-born actor.
“Sometimes people don’t look beyond the character … I can understand that feeling and where Hattie was coming from.”
As Bruce the lodger moves out of the couple’s home – in moves John the chauffeur;-
“We’ve always had a lodger” says Hattie
“He’s a shot of energy who’s good for the boys’ she says (…and for herself of course)
But when Le Mesurier eventually finds out about the affair which is raging under his own roof, his only concern is for Hattie. Worried that John will hurt her and how he just doesn’t understand what a remarkable woman Hattie really is, Le Mesurier refuses to leave the marital home. He says he wants to see the ending – how it ends! I felt like shouting ‘wake up man – it’s not a film or a script – it’s your life and your wife at stake here!’
There’s an uncomfortable ‘This is your Life’ scene which was wonderfully cringeworthy and very awkward for Hattie who has to play Happy Families to her fans. Gentleman Le Messier gives Hattie her divorce, siting himself as the adulterer (he has eventually met his future wife Joan Mallin). I don’t know whether to feel sorry for Hattie or not.
She was a very versatile competent actress, a quite beautiful looking woman, very feminine and obviously attractive to the opposite sex. Yet still she lacked self-confidence. Today she would be classed as Big and Beautiful and celebrate this. She lived in another time though – but have things really changed, are we still not obsessed with body image? . In the scene where her and Le Mesurier go to court for their divorce, she overhears a reporter saying something like ‘You might have known that it would be a thin bird he ran off with…’ That is so typical of the attitude towards the overweight still and SO not true in Le Mesurier and Hattie’s case!
There’s a wonderful interview with Hattie’s son Robin here about what he thought of ‘Hattie’
For a list of Hattie’s film theatre radio and television appearances – see here – she accomplished quite a lot!
Meet the cast and read what they have to say about ‘Hattie’ here
Ruth Jones quote here
Hattie and John in happier times image from here with a brief account of Hattie’s life