23 February 1892|
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
|Died||7 December 1995
Merton, London, England
|Spouse(s)||John Henry Beck (1916–60, his death, 3 children)|
Kathleen Harrison (23 February 1892 – 7 December 1995) was a prolific English character actress best remembered for her role as Mrs Huggett (opposite Jack Warner and Petula Clark) in a trio of British post-war comedies about a working-class family's misadventures. To modern viewers she may be best remembered as the charwoman Mrs Dilber opposite Alastair Sim in the 1951 film A Christmas Carol, and as a Cockney charlady who inherits a fortune in Mrs Thursday.
Life and career
Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, Harrison was one of the first 84 pupils of St Saviour's and St Olave's Church of England School in 1903. She studied at RADA in 1914–15, and then spent some years living in Argentina and Madeira before making her professional acting debut in the UK in the 1920s.
Harrison made her stage debut as Mrs. Judd in The Constant Flirt at the Pier Theatre, Eastbourne in 1926. The following year she appeared in London's West End for the first time as Winnie in The Cage at the Savoy Theatre. Her subsequent West End plays included A Damsel in Distress, Happy Families, The Merchant and Venus, Lovers' Meeting, Line Engaged, Night Must Fall—also acting in the 1937 film version—Flare Path, The Winslow Boy and Watch It Sailor!.
She had already made her film debut with a minor role in Our Boys in 1915, when she appeared in the 1931 film Hobson's Choice. Another 50 films followed, including Gaslight, In Which We Serve and Caesar and Cleopatra, before making her name in later films.
Before and during World War II, she played small parts in numerous British films, including The Ghost Train (1941), In Which We Serve (1942), Temptation Harbour (1947), Oliver Twist (1948) and a small but scene-stealing role as Mrs. Dilber in Scrooge (1951, entitled A Christmas Carol in the US).
Harrison also played Kaney in The Ghoul (1933) and the matriarch in Mrs. Gibbons' Boys (1962), as well as two BBC productions of Charles Dickens's novels, Our Mutual Friend and Martin Chuzzlewit. She later commented that Dickens was her favourite author. As her cinema appearances became less frequent, Harrison turned to television. In 1966, she starred on television as Mrs Thursday, a charwoman who inherits £10 million and the controlling interest in a major company, opposite Hugh Manning, who later appeared in the soap opera Emmerdale Farm.
The Huggett family
The Huggett family made their first appearance in Holiday Camp (1947). Harrison played the London East End charwoman Mrs Huggett. The actress continued with the role, alongside Jack Warner as her screen husband, in Here Come the Huggetts, Vote for Huggett and The Huggetts Abroad, as well as a radio series, Meet the Huggetts, which ran from 1953 to 1961. Although disliked by critics, almost immediately it became one of the most popular programmes of the decade. Five years later, Harrison turned down the title role in writer Jeremy Sandford's acclaimed BBC play Edna, the Inebriate Woman, which later won Patricia Hayes a Best Actress on TV Award.
Kathleen married John Henry Beck in 1916, 3 children were born to them, 2 sons and 1 daughter. Kathleen always pretended to be six years younger than her age, but in 1992 she owned up to reaching 100 and received her telegram from the Queen. Kathleen died in 1995 at the age of 103. She was predeceased by her husband John and a son. She was one of Britain's oldest actresses at the time of her death.