Margaret Rutherford was from an age when British stars could act the socks off Hollywood’s .
OK, so they weren’t as glamorous but their magic extended beyond stage and screen and touched the hearts and minds of all who watched.
Rutherford, a former elocution teacher, was one such. A character actress of enduring appeal. She worked with such legends as Alastair Sim, Peter Sellars, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Noel Coward and Ralph Richardson.
She was the definitive Miss Marple by which other actresses measured their worth.
She was simply Marple-lous. Today Rutherford’s legacy is in safe hands. Actress Jacqueline Pilton has returned to her home town to present her one woman play Call Margaret Rutherford at Blackpool Central Library on Thursday at 7pm.
Jacqueline (pictured in character below) may not look the part but has the ability to transform herself into Rutherford. Her face is familiar from roles in soaps and sitcoms. Credits include Emmerdale, The Royal, Heartbeat and more. She played the housekeeper in the BBC’s Jane Eyre, returned to the resort with David Tennant in TV musical Blackpool.
She grew up here, encouraged by her dad to attend the Co-op Jubilee drama school where Debenhams now stands. She regularly played the Jubilee Theatre there.
“We lived at North Shore,” the actress calls. “I had speech and drama lessons with a lovely lady called Mrs Wilson and then my father, who was a civil servant at Norcross, encouraged me to go to the Co-op Jubilee drama group in the old Co-op building on Coronation Street. I did a lot of work with Betty Watson, who has a plaque at the Grand Theatre as she did such a lot for the youth theatre there. And I was in the children’s panto, of course.”
After the resort rite of passage she did drama at Manchester University and taught drama and ran her own theatre company – until she gave up teaching in her early 40s.
Together with another actress she runs a small theatre company – which brought her (literally) Promenade production of Last Tram to Starr Gate to Blackpool – based on her memories as a student conductress. She also presented another work Travels With My Boggart at Central Library for last year’s Wordpool, the literary festival which has brought her back this year.
“I was thrilled by the library’s makeover,” she admits. “I couldn’t believe it, I studied for my A-Levels there when it was all hush and quiet please. . Now it’s vibrant and bright. It’s a beautiful building and the performance space at the back of the library is excellent too. ”
A director remarked on her passing resemblance to Margaret Rutherford and an idea was born. “I’d already picked up some of her mannerisms by then as I’d seen so much of her as a child and, although it seems immodest, I’ve always been able to pick up accents.
“She was a wonderful actress but her private life was fascinating too so I decided to write a play about her and first performed it in 2000. She was just as warm as one would imagine her to be – and she was a complete innocent in many respects. I don’t want to spoil too much – you have to come and see the show! – but I get across the fact she had some nervous problems.
“She also married another complete innocent, who may well have been gay but he adored her.
“They were like two very dear friends and adopted a young man who was apparently a young women. They were completely open minded themselves.
“I’ve been doing this on and off for 13 years now and it just sells itself as people still remember her so fondly. She’s an absolute joy to portray.”
This is the first time Call Margaret Rutherford, which was shortlisted at the Buxton Festival, has been performed in the resort.
Jacqueline’s portrayal has been described as astoundingly true to life and within the play Margaret herself seems to return from the grave to tell her amazing and amusing stories but also reveal the sadness and tragedy, which, in her life time, she kept hidden from the public.
Many unknown and surprising facts about Margaret emerge, as she relates her own story as she has never done before. Thursday night’s performance is free and part of the Wordpool Presents 2013 programme, a precursor to the Wordpool Festival.
Blackpool’s now annual festival of words grows and goes from strength to strength each year. Wordpool proper runs from July 4 to July 6.
For tickets call (01253) 478080 or 478110.