Sue Johnston

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For the deputy provost of Halifax College, see Halifax College.
Sue Johnston
Born Susan Wright
(1943-12-07) 7 December 1943 (age 71)
Warrington, Lancashire, England, UK
Years active 1980-present
Television Brookside
The Royle Family
Waking the Dead
Jam and Jerusalem
Coronation Street
Being Eileen
Downton Abbey
Spouse(s) Neil Johnston (1967)
David Pammenter (1976-1980)

Susan Johnston (née Wright), OBE (born 7 December 1943) is a BAFTA nominated English actress known for playing Sheila Grant in the soap opera Brookside (1982–90), Grace Foley in Waking the Dead (2000–11), Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy The Royle Family (1998–2012) and Gloria Price in Coronation Street (2012–14).

Early life[edit]

Johnston was born in Warrington, Lancashire and grew up in Prescot, Lancashire. She was the daughter of Fred and Margaret Jane Wright. 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 career[edit]

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 gave a tour de force performance in the three-part award winning drama Goodbye Cruel World, in which she portrayed a woman coming to terms with a muscle-wasting illness. She was supported by Alun Armstrong as her husband and Jonny Lee Miller.

Johnston is also well known for her role 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 Johnston starred in the television series Waking the Dead, in which she played the role of psychological profiler Grace Foley, alongside Trevor Eve.

In 2004, she appeared in one episode of the series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which she traced her family tree.[3] 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.[4] The show returned for further Christmas specials in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Johnston shared a role with Billie Piper in the television adaptation of A Passionate Woman which aired on BBC One on 11 April 2010.

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.[5] It was announced in June 2013 that Johnston would leave the soap opera in 2014 to pursue other acting roles.[6] She departed on 21 February 2014.[7]

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.[8][9]

In May 2014 it was announced that Johnston will guest star in the fifth series of the period drama Downton Abbey. She will play Denker, a lady's maid to the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith.[10]

Johnston currently portrays Julie in the BBC Radio 4 series Love in Recovery.

Personal life[edit]

Johnston has campaigned on behalf of the Labour Party and has been a long-time gay rights campaigner.[11] 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.[12] She has one son Joel from her second marriage to David Pammenter.[13] She has one grandchild.[14]

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 whilst playing the role; however, she is now completely anti-smoking.[15]

Johnston was appointed OBE in the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours.[16]

In November 2010, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Chester at Chester Cathedral.[17]

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.[18]

In her autobiography, Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother, 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. She takes the surname Johnston, from her first husband.

Selected television and film roles[edit]


  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 on 2013-01-04.
  3. ^ "Who Do You Think You Are? with Sue Johnston". Who Do You Think You Are?. 26 October 2004. BBC. BBC Two. 
  4. ^ BBC in talks with Aherne and Cash over Royle Family return. Guardian (7 May 2008). Retrieved on 2013-01-04.
  5. ^ "Sue Johnston to play Stella's mum Gloria | Coronation Street News – ITV Soaps". 27 May 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2012. [dead link]
  6. ^ "BBC News - Sue Johnston to leave Coronation Street". 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  7. ^ "'Coronation Street': Gloria Price star Sue Johnston to leave soap - Coronation Street News - Soaps". Digital Spy. 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  8. ^ "BBC One commissions new six part comedy series, Lapland". BBC. BBC Online. 4 October 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Being Eileen". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "BBC News - Sue Johnston to join Downton Abbey as lady's maid". 2014-05-29. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  11. ^ "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. 
  12. ^ "Sue Johnston: My secret battles with depression and bulimia". Daily Mirror. 22 August 2011. Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
  13. ^ "I'm too old for sex scenes, says Royle Family actress Sue Johnston". Daily Mail (London). 12 August 2009. 
  14. ^ Sue Johnston: 'I took Corrie job to be closer to grandson' – Coronation Street News – Soaps. Digital Spy (11 August 2012). Retrieved on 2013-01-04.
  15. ^ "Drama - People Index Sue Johnston". BBC. Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59090. p. 11. 13 June 2009.
  17. ^ "Brookside veterans Phil Redmond and Sue Johnston reunited at graduation". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  18. ^ "Sue Johnston: 'Night I thought stranger was going to kill me'". Mirror. 24 August 2011. 

External links[edit]