Sue Johnston

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Sue Johnston

Susan Wright

(1943-12-07) 7 December 1943 (age 78)
Years active1980–present
Crime Traveller
The Royle Family
Waking the Dead
Jam and Jerusalem
Coronation Street
Being Eileen
Downton Abbey
Spouse(s)Neil Johnston
(m. 1967; div. 1970)
David Pammenter
(m. 1976; div. 1980)

Susan Johnston OBE (née Wright; born 7 December 1943) is an English actress. She is known for portraying Sheila Grant in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside (1982–1990), Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy The Royle Family (1998–2000, 2006–2012), Grace Foley in the BBC drama Waking the Dead (2000–2011), Gloria Price in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street (2012–2014) and Miss Denker in the ITV drama Downton Abbey (2014–2015). She won the 2000 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress and was nominated for the 2000 BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance[1] for The Royle Family.

Early life[edit]

Johnston was born on 7 December 1943 in Warrington, Cheshire, and grew up in Prescot, also in Lancashire.[2] She is the daughter of Fred and Margaret Jane Wright (née Cowan).[citation needed]

After working as a Higher Grade tax inspector,[2] 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.[3]

Acting career[edit]

Johnston made her television debut, aged 38, with a minor recurring role on Coronation Street in the summer of 1982, playing the role of Mrs. Chadwick, the wife of a bookmaker.[4]

From 1982 to 1990, she appeared as Sheila Grant in the soap opera Brookside. She appeared in the show's debut episode on 2 November 1982 – broadcast on the first day 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 appeared in the three-part award-winning drama Goodbye Cruel World, in which she portrayed a woman coming to terms with a muscle-wasting illness.[5]

She was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1998, when she was surprised by Michael Aspel at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.[citation needed]

Johnston may be best known 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, she starred in the television series Waking the Dead, in which she played the role of psychological profiler Grace Foley, alongside Trevor Eve.[6]

In 2004, she appeared in one episode of the series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which she traced her family tree.[7]

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.[8] The show returned for further Christmas specials in 2009, 2010 and 2012. She shared a role with Billie Piper in the television adaptation of A Passionate Woman which aired on BBC One on 11 April 2010.[9]

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.[10] It was announced in June 2013 that Johnston would leave the soap opera in 2014 to pursue other acting roles.[11] She departed on 21 February 2014.[12]

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.[13][14]

In May 2014 it was announced that Johnston would guest star in the fifth series of the period drama Downton Abbey. She played Denker, a lady's maid to the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith.[15]

In 2018 Johnston played Ivy-Rae in the BBC drama series, Age Before Beauty[16] and in August 2019, she played Joan in the second series of Hold the Sunset.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Johnston is a supporter of the Labour Party and has been an outspoken gay rights campaigner.[18] She is a supporter of Liverpool F.C. and St Helens R.F.C.

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.[19] She has one son, Joel, from her second marriage to David Pammenter.[20] She has two grandchildren.[21]

Johnston is staunchly opposed to smoking.[22] Despite playing the role of heavy smoker Barbara Royle in The Royle Family, Johnston quit smoking in 1978, but had to smoke low-tar cigarettes while playing the role.

Johnston was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours.[23] In November 2010, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Chester at Chester Cathedral.[24]

In 1989 Johnston, assisted by Lesley Thomson, published her first book, a memoir titled Hold on to the Messy Times.[25] In 2011, she published another memoir titled Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother.[26]

In 1970, Johnston was sexually attacked at the age of 27 which inspired her storyline in Brookside as Sheila Grant, where she was raped.[27]

In her autobiography, Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother,[28] she states that 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.



Title Year Role Directed by
1996 Brassed Off Vera
Mark Herman
1997 Preaching to the Perverted Esmeralda
Stuart Urban
1997 Face Alice
Antonia Bird
2001 New Year's Day Mrs. Fisher
Suri Krishnamma
2005 Imagine Me & You Ella
Ol Parker
2011 500 Miles North Stein
Luke Massey
2016 Golden Years Nancy
John Miller
2018 Walk Like a Panther Gladys
Dan Cadan
2022 Downton Abbey: A New Era Miss Denker
Simon Curtis


Title Year Role Notes
1982 Coronation Street Mrs. Chadwick 3 episodes
1982–1990 Brookside Sheila Grant Series regular
1992 Goodbye Cruel World Barbara Grade Miniseries – 3 episodes
1992–1995 Medics Ruth Parry 29 episodes
1992 In Suspicious Circumstances Edith Rosse Episode 2.2 – "Maundy Money"
1992 Inspector Morse Mrs. Bailey Episode 6.4 – "Absolute Conviction
1992 Screenplay Miriam Johnson Episode 7.4 – "Bitter Harvest"
1992 A Touch of Frost Phyllis Bowman Episode 1.3 – "Conclusions"
1993 Full Stretch Grace Robbins 6 episodes
1993 Luv Terese Craven 18 episodes
1994 Performance Mistress Overdone Episode 4.2 – "Measure for Measure"
1996 Into the Fire Lyn Miniseries – 3 episodes
1996 Hetty Wainthropp Investigates Helga Allowby Episode 2.2 – "Poison Pen"
1997 Crime Traveller Kate Grisham 8 episodes
1998 The Things You Do for Love: Against the Odds Pat Phoenix TV film
1998 Verdict Hazel De Vere Q.C. Episode 1.3 – "The Doctor's Opinion"
1998 Duck Patrol Val Rutland 6 episodes
1998 The Jump Maeve Brunos 4 episodes
The Royle Family Barbara Royle All 25 episodes
1999 Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll Irma Brookes All 6 episodes
2000–2011 Waking the Dead Dr. Grace Foley 9 seasons – 92 episodes
2001–2003 My Uncle Silas Mrs. Betts 9 episodes
2001 Score Maggie TV film
2002 Happy Together Val TV film
2004 Cutting It Caroline Ferraday Episode 3.4
2006 The Street Brenda McDermott Episode 1.2 – "Stan"
2008 Little Dorrit Affery Flintwinch Miniseries – 7 episodes
2006–2009 Jam & Jerusalem Sal Vine 3 seasons – 16 episodes
2009 The Turn of the Screw Sarah Grose TV film
2010 A Passionate Woman Betty 2 episodes
2011 Sugartown Margery 3 episodes
2011 Lapland Eileen Lewis TV film
2012 Gates Miss Hunter 5 episodes
2012–2014 Coronation Street Gloria Price Regular role; 169 episodes
2013 Being Eileen Eileen Lewis 7 episodes
2014–2015 Downton Abbey Miss Denker 8 episodes
2016 Rovers Doreen All 6 episodes
2018 Kiri Celia Grayson Guest role – 1 episode
2018 Moving On Kathy Episode: "Lost"
2018 The Good Karma Hospital Virginia Mileham Series 2
2018 Age Before Beauty Ivy-Rae All 6 episodes
2018 Death on the Tyne Colleen TV film
2018–2019 Hold the Sunset Joan 5 episodes
2019–2021 The Cockfields Sue All 9 episodes
2019 The Cure Bella Bailey TV film
2020 Unprecedented Violet Episode: 1.5
2021 Time June Cobden All 3 episodes
2021 Help Gloria TV film

Additional credits

  • Brookside: The Lost Weekend ... Sheila Corkhill (1997 video special)
  • Brookside: Friday the 13th ... Sheila Corkhill (1998 video special)
  • The Unseen Royals ... Narrator (1999 TV documentary)
  • Caring for the Recently Deceased ... Marjoram Bryon (2014 short)


  1. ^ "Sue Johnston on the oddness of women". Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b Lucia, Carmella de (13 September 2018). "The famous faces you may not know are from Cheshire". chesterchronicle. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  3. ^ "Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art". Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  4. ^ Sue Johnston returns to Coronation Street as Stella Price's mother. (29 August 2012); retrieved 4 January 2013.
  5. ^ "Goodbye Cruel World (1992)". BFI.
  6. ^ "BBC One – Waking the Dead". BBC.
  7. ^ "Who Do You Think You Are? with Sue Johnston". Who Do You Think You Are?. 26 October 2004. BBC. BBC Two.
  8. ^ BBC in talks with Aherne and Cash over Royle Family return. Guardian (7 May 2008); retrieved 4 January 2013.
  9. ^ "BBC – Press Office – Top British cast in Kay Mellor's A Passionate Woman for BBC One".
  10. ^ "Sue Johnston to play Stella's mum Gloria". 27 May 2011. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Sue Johnston to leave 'Coronation Street'". BBC. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  12. ^ "'Coronation Street': Gloria Price star Sue Johnston to leave soap – Coronation Street News". Digital Spy. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  13. ^ "BBC One commissions new six part comedy series, 'Lapland'". BBC. BBC Online. 4 October 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Being Eileen". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  15. ^ "BBC News – Sue Johnston to join Downton Abbey as lady's maid". BBC. 29 May 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  16. ^ bradfordzone (26 July 2018). "Age Before Beauty | Sue Johnston is Ivy-Rae Regan". Bradford Zone | TV FEATURES 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  17. ^ "BBC – Sue Johnston joins the cast as Hold The Sunset returns – Media Centre". Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ "Sue Johnston: My secret battles with depression and bulimia". Daily Mirror. 22 August 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  20. ^ Cook, Emma (10 August 2012). "Sue Johnston: My family values" – via
  21. ^ Sue Johnston: 'I took Corrie job to be closer to grandson' – Coronation Street News – Soaps,, 11 August 2012; retrieved 4 January 2013.
  22. ^ "Drama – People Index Sue Johnston". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  23. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 11.
  24. ^ "Brookside veterans Phil Redmond and Sue Johnston reunited at graduation". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  25. ^ Johnston, Sue, 1943– (1989). Hold on to the messy times. London: Pandora. ISBN 0-04-440497-2. OCLC 20088841.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Johnston, Sue, 1943- (2011). Things I couldn't tell my mother : a memoir. London: Ebury. ISBN 978-0-09-193889-5. OCLC 752824495.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ "Sue Johnston: 'Night I thought stranger was going to kill me'". Mirror. 24 August 2011.
  28. ^ Johnston, Sue, 1943– (2011). Things I couldn't tell my mother : a memoir. London: Ebury. ISBN 978-0-09-193889-5. OCLC 752824495.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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