Yootha Joyce Needham (20 August 1927 – 24 August 1980), known as Yootha Joyce, was an English actress best known for playing Mildred Roper opposite Brian Murphy in the sitcom Man About the House (1973–1976) and its spin-off George and Mildred (1976–1979).
Yootha Joyce Needham
20 August 1927
|Died||24 August 1980 (aged 53)|
|Alma mater||Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
(m. 1956; div. 1969)
Joyce was born Yootha Joyce Needham in Wandsworth, London, the only child of musical parents Percival ("Hurst") Needham, a well-known singer, and Jessica Revitt, a concert pianist. She was named "Yootha", a Maori name, after a New Zealand dancer in her father's touring company, a name she would later say she "loathed and detested". Joyce's biography states that her heavily pregnant mother went for a walk on Wandsworth Common during an interval of one of her husband's performances and began feeling contractions. Searching for a house to call an ambulance, Joyce's mother came across a nursing home where she gave birth to Joyce. Joyce spent her early years living in a basement flat in Bennerley Road, Wandsworth although she spent a lot of time living with her maternal grandmother while her parents were out touring. Initially educated at the Battersea Central Co-educational School, at the start of the Second World War, aged twelve, Joyce was evacuated to Petersfield in Hampshire where she attended Petersfield County High School for Girls. Although Joyce later said that she "hated" her time in Petersfield, she and the other female evacuees from Battersea would use the local church hall there for acting, dancing and singing.
By the time Joyce moved back to London in 1941, her parents had moved to live on Gladstone Road in Croydon, where her grandmother had moved in. She completed her education at Croydon High School. Upon leaving school at fifteen, Joyce's family were not encouraging due to the fact that she could not sing or play the piano like her parents and stated that she "wasn't much good at anything". Inspired by her performances at Petersfield, Joyce became determined to "break the family tradition" and become "a straight dramatic actress". Despite her parents calling her ambition to become an actress a "disgrace", Joyce applied for a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). After a successful audition, she began there in September 1944 alongside Roger Moore who was a fellow student. Her first performance was playing Lydia Bennet in a production of Pride and Prejudice.
Undeterred by the fact that Joyce's director said that she "had nothing to offer the profession", she began working as an assistant stage manager at her local theatre, The Grand in Croydon during the summer holidays as well as joining a repertory company where she starred in productions including Escape Me Never and Autumn Crocus. Starting back at RADA in September 1945, Joyce dropped the "Needham" from her name and began using the stage name "Yootha Joyce" saying "it seemed less of a mouthful... being stuck with Yootha is enough". It was in early 1946 that Joyce left RADA after finding both the school and the headmaster unduly strict and unencouraging. She then toured with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).
In 1956 she married the actor Glynn Edwards. It was through Edwards that she first came to prominence in the renowned Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop, appearing at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be.  Joyce made her first television appearance in 1962 in an episode of Brothers in Law, a sitcom about a young lawyer alongside a young Richard Briers and went on to make her film debut in Littlewood's film Sparrows Can't Sing (1963). Needham and Edwards divorced in 1968 but remained close friends, to the extent that she used to console him after his subsequent relationships broke down.
In the 1960s and 1970s Joyce became a familiar face in many one-off sitcom roles and supporting parts in films, with her first main recurring role being Miss Argyll, frustrated girlfriend of the title star Milo O'Shea in three series of Me Mammy (1968–71); most of the tapes of that series are now lost. Prior to that, she played a cameo role in Jack Clayton's The Pumpkin Eater (1964) as a psychotic young woman opposite Anne Bancroft, delivering a performance that has been called one of the "best screen acting miniatures one could hope to see." She also had a featured role (as brassy housekeeper Mrs Quayle) in Clayton's next film Our Mother's House (1967), a dark drama starring Dirk Bogarde, which dealt with a group of young children who conceal the death of their single mother to prevent being split up. She also appeared in the Hammer Horror film Fanatic (1965) as a villain. Joyce used her talent for playing villains in television series such as The Saint, The Avengers and Jason King.
Her talent for comedy was also used to good effect in programmes such as Steptoe and Son and On the Buses. She made appearances in the films Catch Us If You Can (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Charlie Bubbles (1967), as well as TV spin-off films Nearest and Dearest (1972), Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width (1973) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973). She also appeared as customer Mrs. Scully in the pilot episode of Open All Hours (1973).
It was not until 1973 that Joyce acquired a starring role, when she was cast as man-hungry Mildred Roper, wife of sub-letting landlord George, in the sitcom Man About the House. This series, which starred Richard O'Sullivan, Paula Wilcox, Sally Thomsett and Brian Murphy as George Roper, ran until 1976, deriving its comic narrative from two young women and a young man sharing the flat above the Ropers.
When the series ended, a spin-off was written that featured the Ropers: George and Mildred, which was first broadcast in 1976. The couple were seen moving from the London house in Myddleton Terrace in the previous programme and into a newer suburban property in Peacock Crescent, Hampton Wick. Much of the new series centred on Mildred's desire to better herself in her new surroundings, but always being thwarted, usually unwittingly, by her ineffectual husband's desire for a quiet life.
Final years and deathEdit
A feature film was made of George and Mildred in 1980, but this was to be her last work. Amidst growing concern over her health, she was admitted to hospital in the summer of 1980. Joyce died in hospital of liver failure four days after her 53rd birthday on 24 August 1980. Her co-star and good friend Brian Murphy was at her bedside. Joyce's funeral took place on 2 September 1980 at Golders Green Crematorium where she was cremated.
At the inquest into her death, it was revealed that she had been drinking upwards of half a bottle of brandy a day for ten years and recently very much more, and that she had, in the words of her lawyer Mario Uziell-Hamilton, become a victim of her own success, and dreaded the thought of being typecast as Mildred Roper. The pathologist stated that Joyce's liver was twice the normal size and that her heart and lungs had also suffered because of her drinking; Joyce's cause of death was given as cirrhosis of the liver. Joyce's biography implies that she turned to drink to steady her nerves, particularly after her divorce and subsequent failed relationships, lack of work, typecasting and lack of privacy due to the popularity of Mildred Roper, and had become depressed.
Joyce appeared posthumously in her last recorded television performance, duetting with Max Bygraves on his variety show Max singing the song, poignantly named For All We Know We May Never Meet Again. The episode was aired on 14 January 1981. The actor/comedian Kenneth Williams wrote of the performance that "...she looked as though she was crying..." He also went on to mention her in a later entry in his diary (9 April 1988, just days before his death) that "there was a break in her voice when she got to [the line] tomorrow may never come... she was a lady who made so many people happy and a lady who never complained".
In 1986 the Smiths used an image of Joyce on the sleeve of their UK single release "Ask" and the German release of "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", thereby adding her to what would become a significant set of musical releases, made iconic by their notable design (other Smiths 'cover stars' included Truman Capote, Terence Stamp, Elvis Presley, Pat Phoenix, Viv Nicholson and Billie Whitelaw).
In 2001 a tribute documentary entitled The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce was broadcast by ITV, which featured Glynn Edwards as well as many of her co-stars and friends, including Sally Thomsett, Brian Murphy, Nicholas Bond-Owen and Norman Eshley, talking about memories and their relationships with Joyce.
In 2014 a biography was written by Paul Curran, entitled Dear Yootha... The Life of Yootha Joyce, to which contributions were made by those who knew and worked with her, including Glynn Edwards, Murray Melvin and Barbara Windsor. Curran also published The Yootha Joyce Scrapbook containining rare and unseen photographs detailing events from Joyce's life.
|1963||Sparrows Can't Sing||Yootha|
|1963||A Place to Go||Woman in Wash House||Uncredited|
|1964||The Pumpkin Eater||Woman at Hairdressers||Uncredited|
|1965||Catch Us If You Can||Nan|
|1966||A Man for All Seasons||Avril Machin|
|1967||Stranger in the House||Shooting Range Girl|
|1967||Our Mother's House||Mrs. Quayle|
|1967||Charlie Bubbles||Woman in Cafe|
|1970||Fragment of Fear||Miss Ward-Cadbury|
|1971||All the Right Noises||Mrs. Bird|
|1971||The Road Builder||Mrs. Palafox|
|1971||Burke & Hare||Mrs. Hare|
|1972||Nearest and Dearest||Rhoda Rowbottom|
|1973||Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width||Mrs. Finch|
|1973||Steptoe and Son Ride Again||Freda - Lennie's Wife|
|1973||Frankenstein: The True Story||Hospital Matron|
|1974||Man About the House||Mildred Roper|
|1980||George and Mildred||Mildred Roper|
|1962||Brothers in Law||Mrs. Trench||Episode: "Separation Order"|
|1962||Armchair Theatre||Cissy||Episode: "The Fishing Match"|
|1962||Z Cars||Clara Smales||Episode: "Full Remission"|
|1962||Benny Hill||Bella||Episode: "Cry of Innocence"|
|1963||Corrigan Blake||Abigail||Episode: "The Removal Men"|
|1962||Benny Hill||Elvira Crudd||Episode: "Mr. Apollo"|
|1963||Z Cars||Mrs. Gilroy||Episode: "The Main Chance"|
|1963||Steptoe and Son||Delilah||Episode: "The Bath"|
|1963||Comedy Playhouse||Mrs. Wilson||Episode: "Impasse"|
|1963||Rita||Episode: "A Clerical Error"|
|1964||The Wednesday Play||Rosalind Arnold||Episode: "The Confidence Course"|
|1964||ITV Play of the Week||The Woman||Episode: "I Can Walk Where I Like Can't I?"|
|1964||Dixon of Dock Green||Mrs. Gates||Episode: "Child Hunt"|
|1964||ITV Play of the Week||Jane Willows||Episode: "A Tricycle Made for Two"|
|1964||Story Parade||Ruth Cowley||Episode: "A Travelling Woman"|
|1964||ITV Play of the Week||Vera Maine||Episode: "Gina"|
|1964||Diary of a Young Man||Mrs. Baggerdagger||Episode: "Money"|
|1964||Dixon of Dock Green||Mabel Davies||Episode: "The Night Man"|
|1964||Redcap||Magda||Episode: "A Town Called Love"|
|1965||Frankie Howerd||Drunk Woman||Episode: #1.6|
|1965||Dixon of Dock Green||Landlady||Episode: "Forsaking All Others"|
|1965||Theatre 625||Jane Matthews||Episode: "Try for White"|
|1965||Cluff||Flo Darby||Episode: "The Convict"|
|1965||The Wednesday Thriller||Mrs. Seam||Episode: "The Babysitter"|
|1965||Six of the Best||Doris||Episode: "Charlie's Place"|
|1965||Steptoe and Son||Avis||Episode: "A Box in Town"|
|1965||Theatre 625||Miss Binnington||Episode: "Portraits from the North: The Nutter"|
|1966||Dixon of Dock Green||Joyce Watson||Episode: "You Can't Buy a Miracle"|
|1966||No Hiding Place||Hilda Myers||Episode: "Ask Me If I Killed Her"|
|1966||The Saint||Jovanka Milanova||Episode: "The Russian Prisoner"|
|1966–1967||The Wednesday Play||Miriam Green||3 episodes|
|1966||George and the Dragon||Irma||Episode: "Merry Christmas"|
|1967||Turn Out the Lights||Monica Nolan||Episode: "A Big Hand for a Little Lady"|
|1967||Thirty-Minute Theatre||Agnes||Episode: "Teeth"|
|1967||The Avengers||Miss Lister||Episode: "Something Nasty In The Nursery"|
|1967||Market in Honey Lane||Kay Fowler||Episode: "The Birds and the Business"|
|1967||This Way for Murder||Mrs. Dyberg||Episode: #1.3|
|1967||Harry Worth||Ingrid||Episode: "Four's a Crush"|
|1968||City '68||Hilda||Episode: "Love Thy Neighbour"|
|1968||ITV Playhouse||Phoebe / Mrs. Bewley||Episode: "Your Name's Not God, It's Edgar"|
|1968–1971||Me Mammy||Miss Argyll||All 22 episodes|
|1969||Armchair Theatre||Alice||Episode: "Go on... It'll Do You Good"|
|1969||BBC Play of the Month||Mademoiselle Motte||Episode: "Maigret at Bay"|
|1969||ITV Sunday Night Theatre||Erica Seydoux||Episode: "A Measure of Malice"|
|1969||W. Somerset Maugham||Elvira||Episode: "Lord Mountdrago"|
|1969||Dixon of Dock Green||Mrs. Harper||Episode: "Reluctant Witness"|
|1970||Manhunt||Denise||Episode: "Fare Forward, Voyagers"|
|1970||The Misfit||Pamela||Episode: "On Reading the Small Print"|
|1970||Conceptions of Murder||Maria Kurten||Episode: "Peter and Maria"|
|1972||Jason King||Sister Dryker||Episode: "If It's Got to Go - It's Got to Go"|
|1972||Tales from the Lazy Acre||Mrs. Gaynor||Episode: "The Last Great Pint-Drinking Tournament"|
|1972||The Fenn Street Gang||Glenda||Episode: "The Woman for Dennis"|
|1973||Comedy Playhouse||Lil Wilson||Episode: "Home from Home"|
|1973||Seven of One||Mrs. Scully||Episode: "Open All Hours"|
|1973||On the Buses||Jessie||Episode: "The Allowance"|
|1973–1976||Man About the House||Mildred Roper||All 39 episodes|
|1974||The Dick Emery Show||Vicar's Wife||Episode: #13.4|
|1976–1979||George and Mildred||Mildred Roper||All 38 episodes|
- "Yootha Joyce - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- Curran, Paul (2014). Dear Yootha...: The Life of Yootha Joyce. Mossy Books. ISBN 9-781494-911645.
- Follows, Stephen (2004). "Joyce, Yootha [real name Yootha Joyce Needham] (1927–1980), actress". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74665. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) (subscription required)
- Radio Times, 7–13 August 1971, p.4
- Robert Michael "Bobb" Cotter (4 June 2013). The Women of Hammer Horror: A Biographical Dictionary and Filmography. McFarland. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4766-0201-1.
- "National Portrait Gallery – Person – Yootha Joyce (Yootha Joyce Needham)". npg.org.uk.
- The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce ITV 2001
- Neil Sinyard (2000). Jack Clayton. Manchester University Press. pp. 109, 110. ISBN 0-7190-5505-9.
- Bruce Eder (2016). "Yootha Joyce - Biography - Movies & TV - NYTimes.com". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
- "Yootha Joyce – Funeral Directors and services – Family Announcements Announcements". family-announcements.co.uk.
- The Guardian
- "Yootha Joyce died an alocholic - inquest told". Belfast Telegraph. 16 September 1980.
- The Times, 16 September 1980
- Len Brown (7 April 2010). Meetings With Morrissey. Omnibus Press. p. 444. ISBN 978-0-85712-240-7.
- Kenneth Williams; Russell Davies (24 June 1993). The Kenneth Williams diaries. HarperCollins. p. 799. ISBN 978-0-00-255023-9.
- Warner Music. "The artwork of the Smiths – in pictures". the Guardian.
- "The Unforgettable". RadioTimes.
- "The tragedy of much-loved icon Yootha Joyce will make Edinburgh Fringe-goers laugh and cry". Edinburgh News. 5 August 2019.