Yootha Joyce

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Yootha Joyce
Born Yootha Joyce Needham
(1927-08-20)20 August 1927
Wandsworth, London, England, UK
Died 24 August 1980(1980-08-24) (aged 53)
London, England, UK
Cause of death
Liver failure
Other names Yootha Joyce
Spouse(s) Glynn Edwards (1956 - 1968) (divorced)

Yootha Joyce (20 August 1927 – 24 August 1980) was an English actress, best known for playing Mildred Roper in Man About the House and George and Mildred.

Early life[edit]

Yootha Joyce Needham was born in Wandsworth, London, the only child of musical parents Hurst Needham, a well-known singer, and Jessica Revitt, a concert pianist. Her mother named her "Yootha" after the Maori word for "joy",[1] although it is actually an indigenous Australian Aboriginal name meaning "thirsty".[2] Joyce was evacuated to Hampshire during World War II. She left school at 15, then trained at RADA where Roger Moore was a fellow student and toured with Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

In 1958,[1] she married the actor Glynn Edwards, best known for playing Dave, landlord of the Winchester Club in Minder. 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 and going on to make her film debut in Sparrers Can't Sing (1963). Joyce and Edwards divorced in 1968 but remained close friends, to the extent that she used to console him after his subsequent relationships broke down.[1]


In the 1960s and 1970s, she 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). Prior to that, she played a cameo role in 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."[3]

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, A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Charlie Bubbles, (1967) as well as TV spin-off films Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width (1973), Nearest and Dearest (1972) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973). She also appeared as a customer in the pilot episode of Open All Hours (1973) and in Our Mother's House (1967), a 'dark' movie about a family of young children which starred Dirk Bogarde.

Mildred Roper[edit]

It was not until 1973 that she 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 and Sally Thomsett, as well as Brian Murphy, as George Roper, ran until 1976 and found comedy from two young women and a young man sharing the flat above the Ropers.

When the series ended, a spin-off was written featuring the Ropers; George and Mildred was first broadcast in 1976. The couple were seen moving from the London house in Middleton 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 lifeskills-lacking husband's desire for a quiet life.

Final years and death[edit]

Yootha Joyce's high-profile roles in the two sitcoms concealed her alcoholism.

A feature film was made of George and Mildred in 1980, but this was her last work. Amidst growing concern over her health she was admitted to hospital in the summer of 1980. Yootha Joyce died in hospital of liver failure four days after her 53rd birthday on 24 August 1980. Her good friend Brian Murphy, who played her screen husband George Roper[citation needed], was at her bedside. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.

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 that she had, in the words of her lawyer Mario Uziell-Hamilton, become a victim of her own success and the thought of being typecast as Mildred Roper.[4]

She made her last television appearance, shown after her death, on Max, Max Bygraves' variety show, on 14 January 1981. She sang the Carpenters' song "For All We Know". At the end of this performance, she told Bygraves, "Thanks, I enjoyed that." The actor/comedian Kenneth Williams recorded in his diary 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) that 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 and Billie Whitelaw).

In 2001, a tribute documentary entitled The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce was broadcast by ITV, which featured many of her co-stars and friends, including Sally Thomsett, Brian Murphy and Norman Eshley, talking about memories and their relationships with Yootha Joyce.

Television roles[edit]

Year Title Role
1963 Steptoe and Son - The Bath Delia
1965 Steptoe and Son - A Box in Town Avis
1966 The Saint - The Russian Prisoner Jovanka Milanova
1967 The Avengers - Something Nasty In The Nursery Miss Lister
1968 to 1971 Me Mammy Miss Argyll
1972 Jason King Sister Dryker
1973 Seven of One - Pilot for "Open all Hours" Mrs Scully
1973 On the Buses Jessie
1973 to 1976
1976 to 1980
Man About the House
George and Mildred
Mildred Roper



  1. ^ a b c The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce ITV 2001
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Neil Sinyard (2000). Jack Clayton. Manchester University Press. pp. 109, 110. ISBN 0-7190-5505-9. 
  4. ^ The Times, 16 September 1980

Man About The House (1974)

External links[edit]