'Her private life will surprise'

Ruth Jones on Hattie Jacques

‘There was more to Hattie Jacques than the public persona of the Carry On films – her private life will surprise.’ So says Ruth Jones, who is playing the comedienne in a new BBC Four drama.

In contrast to her matronly image, Jacques had a hot-blooded affair with a younger man while she was married to Dad’s Army star John Le Mesurier. She met John Schofield while filming Carry On Cabby in the early Sixties, and conducted their affair in the marital home – while Le Mesurier slept in a separate room.

‘My understanding is that Hattie loved John Le Mesurier very much and it was a wonderfully warm and close relationship,’ says Jones. ‘But John Schofield offered a raw passion and romantic nature that Le Mesurier could not compete with – and that Hattie never quite expected in her life.

‘However, Hattie could never stop loving the man she married and I think that is what makes the drama so interesting.’

When the marriage did break up, Le Mesurier allowed the press to blame him, in order to save Jacques' public image. It was his second marriage, and his third – to actress Joan Malin – caused similar heartache when she left him for Tony Hancock, only to return a year later. That story was covered in a former BBC Four Curse Of Comedy drama, Hancock and Joan.

Richard Osborne, from producers Angel Eye, says: ‘We had the idea of doing a drama about Hattie Jacques, partly because we felt many of the TV biographies about comic performers from that period were about men. Then we heard Andy Merriman's book Hattie Jacques, The Authorised Biography, was about to be published, so we optioned it.’

Producer Seb Barwell added: ‘It's a challenge to put someone's life on screen in 90 minutes. We never wanted to do a "cradle to grave" biopic. Our aim all along was to find a contained story that was worthy of a film. We all agreed to focus on the relationship with John Schofield – and keep within that limited timeframe. Scriptwriter Stephen Russell has captured the voices of Hattie and John Le Mesurier beautifully.

‘When I spoke to Robin Le Mesurier, Hattie and John's son, and said that we wanted Ruth Jones to play Hattie, he thought she would be absolutely perfect.‘

Jones was more than happy to take the role. She said: ‘The Carry On films are a British institution, they're so funny – I was very privileged to be playing Hattie Jacques.

‘Hattie famously said in an interview “If you're fat you're funny,” so I really wanted to see the person behind the funny fat persona. Sometimes people don't look beyond the character and I can understand that feeling and where Hattie was coming from.’

She feels the same stereotypes don't exist today: ‘I don't think we have quite the same over-simplified view of the world. Fat Friends explored similar subject matter. Nessa, my character from Gavin And Stacey, has fun with her size and is comfortable with it.

‘I feel lucky that there are more roles for larger actors. I don't think I've experienced the same stereotyping Hattie Jacques seemed to face in her acting roles.

‘I love working in a team, in an ensemble. I don't know if I'm wholly comfortable always being in the spotlight. I was thinking: Oh God. It's Ruth Jones throughout the whole of the drama. What if people don't like me?’

‘But it's definitely one of the best jobs I've done and I really wanted to do her justice. I think from the script to screen, everything has been done with the greatest of respect to her

‘I think she loved performing and she loved the public. She also did a lot of charity work. Something I read about, which I loved, is she would sell her autographs, or only give them out, on the condition people would donate to a charity.

‘I felt a real affection for Hattie. With this role, I was able to get a glimpse of what it must have been like to be Hattie Jacques and, when filming was all over, I knew I was going to really miss her.’

  • Hattie airs on BBC Four on January 19.

Published: 4 Jan 2011

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