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Susan Johnston, OBE (née Wright; born 7 December 1943) is an English actress known for playing Sheila Grant in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside (1982–1990), Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy The Royle Family (1998–2000, 2006, 08–2010, 2012), Grace Foley in the BBC drama Waking the Dead (2000–2011), Gloria Price in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street (2012–2014) and Miss Denker in the ITV drama Downton Abbey (2014–2015). She won the 2000 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress and was nominated for the 2000 BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance for The Royle Family.

Sue Johnston
Susan Wright

(1943-12-07) 7 December 1943 (age 75)
Years active1980–present
Crime Traveller
The Royle Family
Waking the Dead
Jam and Jerusalem
Coronation Street
Being Eileen
Downton Abbey
Spouse(s)Neil Johnston
(m. 1967; div. 1970)
David Pammenter
(m. 1976; div. 1980)

Early lifeEdit

Johnston was born in Warrington, Lancashire, and grew up in Prescot, also in Lancashire. She is the daughter of Fred and Margaret Jane Wright (née Cowan). She was educated at Whiston Infants School, Eccleston Park Junior School and Prescot and Huyton Grammar School for Girls which she left aged 17 after one year of her A-level course, having decided to become an actress.[1]

After working as a Higher Grade tax inspector, when her boyfriend was one of the pop group The Swinging Blue Jeans, she worked for Brian Epstein. From the age of 21, Johnston attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Acting careerEdit

Johnston made her television debut, aged 38, with a minor recurring role on Coronation Street in the summer of 1982. She played the role of Mrs. Chadwick, the wife of a bookmaker.[2]

From 1982 to 1990, she appeared as Sheila Grant in the soap opera Brookside. She appeared in the show's first ever episode on 2 November 1982 – aired on the day that Channel 4 went on air – and her last episode was aired in September 1990, when the character was written out of the series following her divorce from Bobby Grant (Ricky Tomlinson) and remarriage to Billy Corkhill (John McArdle).

Since then she has appeared in many drama series and films, including Inspector Morse, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Brassed Off and My Uncle Silas. In 1992, Johnston appeared in the three-part award-winning drama Goodbye Cruel World, in which she portrayed a woman coming to terms with a muscle-wasting illness.[3]

Johnston may be best known as Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy series The Royle Family, appearing with her former on-screen husband in Brookside, Ricky Tomlinson, from the show's inception in September 1998 until it ended at Christmas 2000. She also appeared in a one-off special which aired in October 2006. From 2000 to 2011, she starred in the television series Waking the Dead, in which she played the role of psychological profiler Grace Foley, alongside Trevor Eve.[4]

In 2004, she appeared in one episode of the series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which she traced her family tree.[5]

She starred in Jennifer Saunders's comedy drama Jam & Jerusalem on BBC One, alongside Joanna Lumley, Maggie Steed and David Mitchell. The first series aired in 2006, the second series began on New Year's Day 2008 and the third in August 2009. Also in 2008, she played Affery Flintwinch in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit. In May 2008 it was confirmed Johnston would return as Barbara Royle for another episode of The Royle Family, which aired on Christmas Day 2008 on BBC One.[6] The show returned for further Christmas specials in 2009, 2010 and 2012. She shared a role with Billie Piper in the television adaptation of A Passionate Woman which aired on BBC One on 11 April 2010.[7]

On 2 April 2012, Coronation Street series producer Phil Collinson announced Johnston had joined the soap opera as Gloria, the mother of Stella Price (played by Michelle Collins). She made her first screen appearance on 5 September 2012.[8] It was announced in June 2013 that Johnston would leave the soap opera in 2014 to pursue other acting roles.[9] She departed on 21 February 2014.[10]

In December 2011, she played Eileen Lewis in the BBC one-off drama Lapland, a role which she reprised in 2013 for a series, Being Eileen.[11][12]

In May 2014 it was announced that Johnston would guest star in the fifth series of the period drama Downton Abbey. She played Denker, a lady's maid to the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith.[13]

In 2018 Johnston played Ivy-Rae in the BBC drama series, Age Before Beauty and in August 2019, she played Joan in the second series of Hold the Sunset.

Personal lifeEdit

Johnston has campaigned on behalf of the Labour Party and has been a long-time gay rights campaigner.[14] She is a supporter of Liverpool F.C. and Warrington RLFC.

In 1967, she married her first husband Neil Johnston and became pregnant at the age of 24. She suffered a miscarriage shortly after and the couple later divorced but she kept his surname as her professional name.[15] She has one son Joel from her second marriage to David Pammenter.[16] She has one grandchild.[17]

Despite playing the role of heavy smoker Barbara Royle in The Royle Family, Johnston gave up smoking in 1978, but had to smoke low-tar cigarettes while playing the role.This was because the cast and crew including herself could not stand the smell of herbal cigarettes. In fact, in most episodes of The Royle Family you will notice Johnston's character Barbara when lighting a cigarette didn't actually inhale. She also very seldom put the cigarette to her lips. In the final two Christmas specials Barbara wasn't seen smoking at all. Sue Johnston is strongly opposed to smoking.[18]

Johnston was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours.[19] In November 2010, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Chester at Chester Cathedral.[20]

In 1989 Johnston, assisted by Lesley Thomson, published her first book, a memoir titled Hold on to the Messy Times. In 2011, she published another memoir titled Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother.

In 1970, Johnston was sexually attacked at the age of 27 which inspired her storyline in Brookside as Sheila Grant, where she was raped.[21]

In her autobiography, Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother, she states that she was originally going to be called Margaret Jane Wright, after her mother and grandmother, but her father thought that it would be best to call her Susan.



Title Year Role Directed by
Brassed Off
Mark Herman
Preaching to the Perverted
Stuart Urban
Antonia Bird
New Year's Day
Mrs. Fisher
Suri Krishnamma
Imagine Me & You
Ol Parker
500 Miles North
Luke Massey
Golden Years
John Miller
Walk Like a Panther
Dan Cadan


Title Year Role Notes
Coronation Street 1982 Mrs. Chadwick 3 episodes
Brookside 1982–90 Sheila Grant 118 episodes
Goodbye Cruel World 1982 Barbara Grade Miniseries – 3 episodes
In Suspicious Circumstances 1992 Edith Rosse Episode 2.2 – "Maundy Money"
Inspector Morse 1992 Mrs. Bailey Episode 6.4 – "Absolute Conviction
Screenplay 1992 Miriam Johnson Episode 7.4 – "Bitter Harvest"
A Touch of Frost 1992 Phyllis Bowman Episode 1.3 – "Conclusions"
Full Stretch 1993 Grace Robbins 6 episodes
Luv 1993 Terese Craven 18 episodes
Performance 1994 Mistress Overdone Episode 4.2 – "Measure for Measure"
Medics 1992–95 Ruth Parry 29 episodes
Into the Fire 1996 Lyn Miniseries – 3 episodes
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates 1996 Helga Allowby Episode 2.2 – "Poison Pen"
Crime Traveller 1997 Kate Grisham 8 episodes
Verdict 1998 Hazel De Vere Q.C. Episode 1.3 – "The Doctor's Opinion"
Duck Patrol 1998 Val Rutland 6 episodes
The Jump 1998 Maeve Brunos 4 episodes
Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll 1999 Irma Brookes Miniseries
My Uncle Silas 2001–03 Mrs. Betts 9 episodes
Cutting It 2004 Caroline Ferraday Episode 3.4
The Street 2006 Brenda McDermott Episode 1.2 – "Stan"
Little Dorrit 2008 Affery Flintwinch Miniseries – 7 episodes
Jam & Jerusalem 2006–09 Sal Vine 3 seasons – 16 episodes
A Passionate Woman 2010 Betty 2 episodes
Waking the Dead 2000–11 Dr. Grace Foley 9 seasons – 92 episodes
Sugartown 2011 Margery 3 episodes
Gates 2012 Miss Hunter 5 episodes
The Royle Family 1998–2000
Barbara Royle 25 episodes
Being Eileen 2013 Eileen Lewis 7 episodes
Coronation Street 2012–14 Gloria Price 169 episodes
Downton Abbey 2014–15 Miss Denker 8 episodes
Rovers 2016 Doreen
Kiri 2018 Celia Grayson Guest role – 1 episode
The Good Karma Hospital 2018 Virginia Series 2
Age Before Beauty 2018 Ivy-Rae
Hold the Sunset 2019 Joan

Television film

Title Year Role Notes
The Things You Do for Love: Against the Odds 1998 Pat Phoenix
Score 2001 Maggie
Happy Together 2002 Val
The Turn of the Screw 2009 Sarah Grose Broadcast on BBC One
Lapland 2011 Eileen Lewis

Additional credits

  • Brookside: The Lost Weekend ... Sheila Corkhill (1997 video special)
  • Brookside: Friday the 13th ... Sheila Corkhill (1998 video special)
  • The Unseen Royals ... Narrator (1999 TV documentary)
  • Caring for the Recently Deceased ... Marjoram Bryon (2014 short)


  1. ^ Daily Mail Weekend Interview. 31 March 2012, p. 6
  2. ^ Sue Johnston returns to Coronation Street as Stella Price's mother. (29 August 2012); retrieved 4 January 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Who Do You Think You Are? with Sue Johnston". Who Do You Think You Are?. 26 October 2004. BBC. BBC Two.
  6. ^ BBC in talks with Aherne and Cash over Royle Family return. Guardian (7 May 2008); retrieved 4 January 2013.
  7. ^ =
  8. ^ "Sue Johnston to play Stella's mum Gloria". 27 May 2011. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  9. ^ "Sue Johnston to leave 'Coronation Street'". 20 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  10. ^ "'Coronation Street': Gloria Price star Sue Johnston to leave soap – Coronation Street News". Digital Spy. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  11. ^ "BBC One commissions new six part comedy series, 'Lapland'". BBC. BBC Online. 4 October 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  12. ^ "Being Eileen". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  13. ^ "BBC News – Sue Johnston to join Downton Abbey as lady's maid". 29 May 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Never larger than life: Ruth Rolands meets the Brookside star and gay rights campaigner". Gay Times. Millivres (131). August 1989. ISSN 0950-6101. The dangers of that Clause [28] really hit me and I felt angry. I've got to come in on this, I thought — so I did. That's when I 'came out' as an ally of gays.
  15. ^ "Sue Johnston: My secret battles with depression and bulimia". Daily Mirror. 22 August 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  16. ^ The Guardian
  17. ^ Sue Johnston: 'I took Corrie job to be closer to grandson' – Coronation Street News – Soaps,, 11 August 2012; retrieved 4 January 2013.
  18. ^ "Drama – People Index Sue Johnston". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  19. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 11.
  20. ^ "Brookside veterans Phil Redmond and Sue Johnston reunited at graduation". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  21. ^ "Sue Johnston: 'Night I thought stranger was going to kill me'". Mirror. 24 August 2011.

External linksEdit