Yootha Joyce

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Yootha Joyce
Actress Yootha Joyce.jpg
Yootha Joyce Needham

(1927-08-20)20 August 1927
Wandsworth, London, England
Died24 August 1980(1980-08-24) (aged 53)
London, England
Years active1945–1980
(m. 1956; div. 1968)

Yootha Joyce Needham (20 August 1927 – 24 August 1980), known as Yootha Joyce, was an English actress best known for playing Mildred Roper opposite Brian Murphy in the sitcom Man About the House and its spin-off George and Mildred.[1]

Early life[edit]

Needham was born in Wandsworth, London, the only child of musical parents Percival Henry John ("Hurst") Needham, a well-known singer, and Jessica Revitt, a concert pianist.[2] She was named "Yootha", a Maori name, after a New Zealand dancer in her father's touring company.[3] She was evacuated to Hampshire during the Second World War. She left school (Lady Edridge Grammar School for Girls in South Norwood) at fifteen, then trained at RADA where Roger Moore was a fellow student, and after that toured with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).[4]

In 1956 she married the actor Glynn Edwards. 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[5] and going on to make her film debut in Sparrows Can't Sing (1963). Needham and Edwards divorced in 1968 but remained close friends, to the extent that she used to console him after his subsequent relationships broke down.[6]


In the 1960s and 1970s Joyce 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); most of the tapes of that series are now lost. Prior to that, she played a cameo role in Jack Clayton's 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."[7] She also had a featured role (as brassy housekeeper Mrs Quayle) in Clayton's next film Our Mother's House (1967), a dark drama starring Dirk Bogarde, which dealt with a group of young children who conceal the death of their single mother to prevent being split up. She also appeared in the Hammer Horror film Fanatic as a villain. Joyce used her talent for playing villains in television series such as The Saint, The Avengers and Jason King.

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 (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Charlie Bubbles (1967), as well as TV spin-off films Nearest and Dearest (1972), Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width (1973) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973). She also appeared as customer Mrs. Scully in the pilot episode of Open All Hours (1973).

Mildred Roper[edit]

It was not until 1973 that Joyce 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, Sally Thomsett and Brian Murphy as George Roper, ran until 1976, deriving its comic narrative from two young women and a young man sharing the flat above the Ropers.

When the series ended, a spin-off was written that featured the Ropers: George and Mildred, which was first broadcast in 1976. The couple were seen moving from the London house in Myddleton 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 ineffectual husband's desire for a quiet life.

Final years and death[edit]

Joyce's high-profile roles in the two sitcoms concealed her alcoholism.[8]

A feature film was made of George and Mildred in 1980, but this was to be her last work. Amidst growing concern over her health, she was admitted to hospital in the summer of 1980. Joyce died in hospital of liver failure four days after her 53rd birthday on 24 August 1980. Her co-star and good friend Brian Murphy[9] was at her bedside. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.[10]

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 dreaded the thought of being typecast as Mildred Roper.[11]

She appeared posthumously in her last recorded television performance, duetting with Max Bygraves on his variety show Max singing the song, poignantly named For All We Know We May Never Meet Again. The episode was aired on 14 January 1981. The actor/comedian Kenneth Williams wrote of the performance that "...she looked as though she was crying..."[12] He also went on to mention her in a later entry in his diary (9 April 1988, just days before his death) that she was "a lady who made so many people happy and a lady who never complained".[13]

In popular culture[edit]

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, Viv Nicholson and Billie Whitelaw).[14]


In 2001 a tribute documentary entitled The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce was broadcast by ITV, which featured Glynn Edwards as well as many of her co-stars and friends, including Sally Thomsett, Brian Murphy, Nicholas Bond-Owen and Norman Eshley, talking about memories and their relationships with Joyce.[15]


In 2014 a biography was written, entitled Dear Yootha... The Life of Yootha Joyce, to which contributions were made by those who knew and worked with her, including Glynn Edwards, Murray Melvin and Barbara Windsor.



Year Title Role
1963 Sparrows Can't Sing Yootha
1963 A Place to Go Woman in Wash House Uncredited
1964 The Pumpkin Eater Woman at Hairdressers Uncredited
1965 Fanatic Anna
1965 Catch Us If You Can Nan
1966 Kaleidoscope Museum Receptionist
1966 A Man for All Seasons Avril Machin
1967 Stranger in the House Shooting Range Girl
1967 Our Mother's House Mrs. Quayle
1967 Charlie Bubbles Woman in Cafe
1968 Luther Katharina Luther TV movie
1970 Fragment of Fear Miss Ward-Cadbury
1971 All the Right Noises Mrs. Bird
1971 The Road Builder Mrs. Palafox
1971 Burke & Hare Mrs. Hare
1972 Nearest and Dearest Rhoda Rowbottom
1973 Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width Mrs. Finch
1973 Steptoe and Son Ride Again Freda - Lennie's Wife
1973 Frankenstein: The True Story Hospital Matron TV movie
1974 Man About the House Mildred Roper
1980 George and Mildred (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1962 Brothers in Law Mrs. Trench Episode: "Separation Order"
1962 Armchair Theatre Cissy Episode: "The Fishing Match"
1962 Z Cars Clara Smales Episode: "Full Remission"
1962 Benny Hill Bella Episode: "Cry of Innocence"
1963 Corrigan Blake Abigail Episode: "The Removal Men"
1962 Benny Hill Elvira Crudd Episode: "Mr. Apollo"
1963 Steptoe and Son Delilah Episode: "The Bath"
1964 Story Parade Ruth Cowley Episode: "A Travelling Woman"
1964 ITV Play of the Week Vera Maine Episode: "Gina"
1964 Diary of a Young Man Mrs. Baggerdagger Episode: "Money"
1964 Redcap Magda Episode: "A Town Called Love"
1965 Cluff Flo Darby Episode: "The Convict"
1965 Steptoe and Son Avis Episode: "A Box in Town"
1965 Theatre 625 Miss Binnington Episode: "Portraits from the North: The Nutter"
1966 No Hiding Place Hilda Myers Episode: "Ask Me If I Killed Her"
1966 The Saint Jovanka Milanova Episode: "The Russian Prisoner"
1966 George and the Dragon Irma Episode: "Merry Christmas"
1967 Turn Out the Lights Monica Nolan Episode: "A Big Hand for a Little Lady"
1967 Thirty-Minute Theatre Agnes Episode: "Teeth"
1967 The Avengers Miss Lister Episode: "Something Nasty In The Nursery"
1967 Market in Honey Lane Kay Fowler Episode: "The Birds and the Business"
1967 This Way for Murder Mrs. Dyberg Episode: #1.3
1967 Harry Worth Ingrid Episode: "Four's a Crush"
1968 City '68 Hilda Episode: "Love Thy Neighbour"
1968 ITV Playhouse Phoebe / Mrs. Bewley Episode: "Your Name's Not God, It's Edgar"
1968-1971 Me Mammy Miss Argyll All 21 episodes
1969 Armchair Theatre Alice Episode: "Go on... It'll Do You Good"
1969 BBC Play of the Month Mademoiselle Motte Episode: "Maigret at Bay"
1969 ITV Sunday Night Theatre Erica Seydoux Episode: "A Measure of Malice"
1969 W. Somerset Maugham Elvira Episode: "Lord Mountdrago"
1969 Dixon of Dock Green Mrs. Harper Episode: "Reluctant Witness"
1970 Manhunt Denise Episode: "Fare Forward, Voyagers"
1970 The Misfit Pamela Episode: "On Reading the Small Print"
1970 Conceptions of Murder Maria Kurten Episode: "Peter and Maria"
1972 Jason King Sister Dryker Episode: "If It's Got to Go - It's Got to Go"
1972 Tales from the Lazy Acre Mrs. Gaynor Episode: "The Last Great Pint-Drinking Tournament"
1972 The Fenn Street Gang Glenda Episode: "The Woman for Dennis"
1973 Seven of One Mrs. Scully Pilot for "Open All Hours"
1973 On the Buses Jessie Episode: "The Allowance"
1973-1976 Man About the House Mildred Roper All 39 episodes
1974 The Dick Emery Show Vicar's Wife Episode #13.4
1976 to 1979 George and Mildred Mildred Roper All 38 episodes


  1. ^ "Yootha Joyce - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  2. ^ Follows, Stephen (2004). "Joyce, Yootha [real name Yootha Joyce Needham] (1927–1980), actress". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74665. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) (subscription required)
  3. ^ Radio Times, 7–13 August 1971, p.4
  4. ^ Robert Michael "Bobb" Cotter (4 June 2013). The Women of Hammer Horror: A Biographical Dictionary and Filmography. McFarland. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4766-0201-1.
  5. ^ "National Portrait Gallery – Person – Yootha Joyce (Yootha Joyce Needham)". npg.org.uk.
  6. ^ The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce ITV 2001
  7. ^ Neil Sinyard (2000). Jack Clayton. Manchester University Press. pp. 109, 110. ISBN 0-7190-5505-9.
  8. ^ "Yootha Joyce - Biography - Movies & TV - NYTimes.com". nytimes.com.
  9. ^ "Yootha Joyce – Funeral Directors and services – Family Announcements Announcements". family-announcements.co.uk.
  10. ^ The Guardian
  11. ^ The Times, 16 September 1980
  12. ^ Len Brown (7 April 2010). Meetings With Morrissey. Omnibus Press. p. 444. ISBN 978-0-85712-240-7.
  13. ^ Kenneth Williams; Russell Davies (24 June 1993). The Kenneth Williams diaries. HarperCollins. p. 799. ISBN 978-0-00-255023-9.
  14. ^ Warner Music. "The artwork of the Smiths – in pictures". the Guardian.
  15. ^ "The Unforgettable". RadioTimes.

External links[edit]