Remembering Ann Emery, stalwart performer on TV’s Rentaghost and onstage as Grandma in Billy Elliot

stream_imgRemembering ANN EMERY (12 March 1930 to 29 September 2016), stalwart performer on TV’s Rentaghost and on stage as Grandma in Billy Elliot, plus many other shows.

Born in London in 1930, actress Ann Emery was the half sister of comedy actor Dick Emery. Ann mainly worked on television and in stage musicals, her most celebrated appearances being on BBC Television in Rentaghost (1976-81) playing Ethel Meaker who, with her husband Harold (Edward Brayshaw) rents out ghosts to the general public from their home in south Ealing.

The series was a great success and proffered any number of guest appearances by the likes of Molly Weir as Hazel McWitch, Lynda La Plante as Tamara Novek, Stephen Calcutt as Leonardo Da Vinci, Johnnie Clayton as Shakespeare, Eric Deacon as Beethoven and other guests including Christopher Biggins, Sam Kelly, Frank Mills, Kenneth Connor, Paddie O’Neill and Aimi MacDonald.

Ann Emery was educated at Mrs Smith’s School for Young Ladies and the Cone Ripman School, which subsequently became the Arts Educational School in west London. As she was an excellent tap dancer, Ann’s first appearance on stage was in the pantomime of Babes in the Wood at the King’s Theatre in Hammersmith. She first appeared on television as a dancer in Without Love (1956) with Alfred Burke, Hilda Fenemore, Barbara Couper and Billie Whitelaw. She went on to do more television, including appearing with her brother on his weekly Dick Emery Show during 1969 and later in the mid-1970s.

Billy Elliot performed at The Palace Theatre VictoriaAfter Rentaghost, there was a TV version of Aladdin and the Forty Thieves (1984), in which Ann played the Empress, and the odd appearance on The Bill. She was in another BBC children’s television series, 17 episodes of Julia Jekyll and Harriet Hyde (1995-98), a junior take on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, in which young Julia is a sweet little schoolgirl until someone says ‘Harriet Hyde’, when she turns into a hideous monster.

It was essentially a comedy and Ann played Mrs Rocket opposite Olivia Hallinan as Julia and John Asquith as Harriet. Ann was the cleaner in Miami 7 (1999), a TV series with S Club 7. On film she was Nan in Wednesday (2007), Rob Sorrenti’s short drama about two people, born on the same day in the same place, who meet up later in life.

Musicals were never far away during Ann’s career. She toured in Kander and Ebb’s 70, Girls, 70 which started out at Chichester with Dora Bryan in 1992. She appeared in the Trevor Nunn production of My Fair Lady at the National Theatre and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. She was also in Hard Times at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Martin Guerre at the Prince Edward, and in Cats at the New London Theatre.

Destined to play mums and nans, perhaps Ann’s greatest achievement was in the Elton John/Lee Hall musical of Stephen Daldry’s film of Billy Elliot in which she created the role of Grandma, a part she played at the Victoria Palace from 2005 until 2010 under the direction of Stephen Daldry.

Ann then left the show to play Mother Dear opposite Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith in Betty Blue Eyes, the Stiles and Drewe musical based on Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function. Although it was a delightfully charming show, it only caught the public’s attention for a mere six months during 2011 at the Novello Theatre in London.

However, Ann was happy to return to Billy Elliot and carry on playing Grandma again until she retired in 2014, the year when she also appeared in the filmed version of the Billy Elliot stage musical.

Much loved in the profession, Ann Emery was appointed Queen Ratling of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings in 1986.

Michael Darvell

Readers may also be interested in:

Ann EmeryBilly Elliot’s original Grandma – dies at 87 – News

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