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Yootha Joyce

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Yootha Joyce
Joyce on the sleeve of "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" by The Smiths, 1986
Yootha Joyce Needham

(1927-08-20)20 August 1927
Wandsworth, London, England
Died24 August 1980(1980-08-24) (aged 53)
Marylebone, London, England
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
(m. 1956; div. 1969)

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 (1973–1976) and its spin-off George and Mildred (1976–1979).[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Yootha Joyce Needham was born in Wandsworth, London, the only child of musical parents Percival "Hurst" Needham, a singer, and Jessie Maud (née Revitt), a concert pianist.[3][4] She was named "Yootha" after a New Zealand dancer in her father's touring company, a name she would later say she "loathed and detested".[5] Joyce's biography states that her heavily pregnant mother went for a walk on Wandsworth Common during an interval of one of her husband's performances and began feeling contractions; searching for a house to call an ambulance, she came across a nursing home where she gave birth.[3]

The family lived in a basement flat at Bennerley Road, Wandsworth, although Joyce spent much time living with her maternal grandmother, Jessie Rebecca Revitt, while her parents were touring.[3] Initially educated at the Battersea Central Co-educational School, Joyce was evacuated at the start of the Second World War to Petersfield, Hampshire, where she attended Petersfield County High School for Girls. Although Joyce later said that she "hated" her time in Petersfield, she and the other female evacuees from Battersea would use the local church hall there for acting, dancing and singing.[3] By the time Joyce returned to London in 1941 her parents resided on Gladstone Road in Croydon, joined by her grandmother. She completed her education at Croydon High School.

Joyce's family were not encouraging of her career. She could not sing or play the piano like her parents, who stated she "wasn't much good at anything"; however, inspired by her performances at Petersfield, Joyce became determined to "break family tradition [...] and become a straight dramatic actress".[3] Despite her parents' disdain,[3] Joyce successfully auditioned for a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), beginning in September 1944, alongside Roger Moore. Her first performance was playing Lydia Bennet in a production of Pride and Prejudice.

Undeterred by her director saying that she "had nothing to offer the profession", Joyce began working as an assistant stage manager at The Grand in Croydon during the summer holidays, and joined a repertory company where she starred in productions including Escape Me Never and Autumn Crocus.[3] Starting back at RADA in September 1945, Joyce dropped the "Needham" from her name and began using the stage name "Yootha Joyce" saying "it seemed less of a mouthful... being stuck with Yootha is enough".[3] Joyce left RADA in early 1946, finding it unduly strict and unencouraging.[6]


Following her departure from RADA, Joyce toured the UK in many repertory theatre groups, including the Harry Kendall Players, the Reginald Salberg Players, the Jack Rose Players and the Harry Hanson Players, and received many positive reviews of her performances.[3] In 1955, following a dry period of work, Joyce applied for work at a further repertory group based at the King's Theatre in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in a production entitled The Call of the Flesh. The producer, Glynn Edwards accepted her audition and the two became good friends, and later lovers.[3] Touring the UK in The Call of the Flesh the play was billed as "daring", "naked", "raw" and "gripping" and was a huge success. The theatre director Joan Littlewood was in the audience at one of the performances and was impressed to the extent that she asked Edwards to join her Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.[3]

By 1956, Joyce and Edwards had moved in together and rented a flat in Hampstead. During one of Littlewood's productions, Littlewood began looking for more female parts and Edwards suggested Joyce. She joined the production and became a member of the Theatre Workshop alongside other contemporaries including Barbara Windsor, Murray Melvin, Victor Spinetti, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, and Brian Murphy.[3] Joyce married Edwards on 8 December 1956. She would confide in Edwards that her greatest fear was being without work, and that she thought every job she had would be her last.[3] Although she appeared in a large number of Littlewood's productions, Joyce first came to prominence in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be. [7] Joyce made her first television appearance in 1962 in an episode of Brothers in Law, a sitcom about a young lawyer, alongside a young Richard Briers, and went on to make her film debut in Littlewood's film Sparrows Can't Sing (1963). Joyce and Edwards divorced in 1969 but remained close friends, to the extent that she used to console him after his subsequent relationships broke down.[8]

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 star Milo O'Shea, in three series of Me Mammy (1968–71); most of the episodes of that series are 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."[9] 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 (1965) 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.[2]

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 was affected by her long-term alcoholism.[10]

A feature film version of George and Mildred (1980) was 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 was at her bedside.[11] Joyce's funeral took place on 3 September 1980 at Golders Green Crematorium, where she was cremated.[12] Her ashes were scattered on the crocus lawn in the grounds of the crematorium.[3]

At the inquest into Joyce's death, it was revealed that she had been drinking up to half a bottle of brandy a day for ten years and recently very much more,[13] 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.[14][2] The pathologist stated that Joyce's liver was twice the normal size and that her heart and lungs had also suffered because of her drinking; Joyce's cause of death was given as portal cirrhosis of the liver.[13] Joyce's biography implies that she turned to drink to steady her nerves, particularly after her divorce and subsequent failed relationships, loneliness, typecasting, lack of other work, and lack of privacy due to the popularity of Mildred Roper, and had become depressed.

Joyce appeared posthumously in her last recorded television performance, duetting with Max Bygraves on his variety show Max singing the song "For All We Know We May Never Meet Again". The episode was aired on 14 January 1981. The actor/comedian Kenneth Williams wrote in his diary of the performance that "she looked as though she was crying... as she got up [and left the set] one had the feeling she never intended to return."[15] He also went on to mention her in a later entry in his diary (9 April 1988, just days before his own death) that "there was a break in her voice when she got to [the line] tomorrow may never come... she was a lady who made so many people happy and a lady who never complained".[16]


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 design (other Smiths 'cover stars' included Truman Capote, Terence Stamp, Elvis Presley, Pat Phoenix, Viv Nicholson, Billie Whitelaw and Shelagh Delaney).[17]

In October 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.[18]

In 2014, a biography was written by Paul Curran, 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. Curran also published The Yootha Joyce Scrapbook containing rare and unseen photographs detailing events from Joyce's life in 2015 and released a third book entitled Yootha Joyce: Pieces of a Life in 2021.

In 2019, a one-woman play depicting Joyce's life, titled Testament of Yootha, was performed by Caroline Burns-Cooke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[19]



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
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
1974 Man About the House Mildred Roper
1980 George and Mildred Mildred Roper


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 Z-Cars Mrs. Gilroy Episode: "The Main Chance"
1963 Steptoe and Son Delilah Episode: "The Bath"
1963 Comedy Playhouse Mrs. Wilson Episode: "Impasse"
1963 Rita Episode: "A Clerical Error"
1964 The Wednesday Play Rosalind Arnold Episode: "The Confidence Course"
1964 ITV Play of the Week The Woman Episode: "I Can Walk Where I Like Can't I?"
1964 Dixon of Dock Green Mrs. Gates Episode: "Child Hunt"
1964 ITV Play of the Week Jane Willows Episode: "A Tricycle Made for Two"
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 Dixon of Dock Green Mabel Davies Episode: "The Night Man"
1964 Redcap Magda Episode: "A Town Called Love"
1965 Frankie Howerd Drunk Woman Episode: #1.6
1965 Dixon of Dock Green Landlady Episode: "Forsaking All Others"
1965 Theatre 625 Jane Matthews Episode: "Try for White"
1965 Cluff Flo Darby Episode: "The Convict"
1965 The Wednesday Thriller Mrs. Seam Episode: "The Babysitter"
1965 Six of the Best Doris Episode: "Charlie's Place"
1965 Steptoe and Son Avis Episode: "A Box in Town"
1965 Theatre 625 Miss Binnington Episode: "Portraits from the North: The Nutter"
1966 Dixon of Dock Green Joyce Watson Episode: "You Can't Buy a Miracle"
1966 No Hiding Place Hilda Myers Episode: "Ask Me If I Killed Her"
1966 The Saint Jovanka Milanova Episode: "The Russian Prisoner"
1966–1967 The Wednesday Play Miriam Green 3 episodes
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 Eunice Argyll All 22 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 Comedy Playhouse Lil Wilson Episode: "Home from Home"
1973 Seven of One Mrs. Scully Episode: "Open All Hours"
1973 On the Buses Jessie Episode: "The Allowance"
1973–1976 Man About the House Mildred Roper All 39 episodes
1974 Comedy Playhouse Unknown Episode: "Bird Alone" (pilot not broadcast)
1974 The Dick Emery Show Vicar's Wife Episode: #13.4
1976–1979 George and Mildred Mildred Roper All 38 episodes


  1. ^ "Yootha Joyce – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie.
  2. ^ a b c Lawson, Mark (15 August 2023). "'Naughty rather than dirty': 50 years of Man About the House, the sitcom that introduced sex to British TV". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Curran, Paul (2014). Dear Yootha...: The Life of Yootha Joyce. Mossy Books. ISBN 9-781494-911645.
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ Radio Times, 7–13 August 1971, p. 4
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "National Portrait Gallery – Person – Yootha Joyce (Yootha Joyce Needham)". npg.org.uk.
  8. ^ The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce, ITV, 2001
  9. ^ Neil Sinyard (2000). Jack Clayton. Manchester University Press. pp. 109, 110. ISBN 0-7190-5505-9.
  10. ^ Eder, Bruce (2016). "Yootha Joyce – Biography – Movies & TV". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Yootha Joyce – Funeral Directors and services". family-announcements.co.uk.
  12. ^ "Whole lotta love". The Guardian. 9 March 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2022.
  13. ^ a b "Yootha Joyce died an alcoholic – inquest told". Belfast Telegraph. 16 September 1980.
  14. ^ The Times, 16 September 1980
  15. ^ Len Brown (7 April 2010). Meetings With Morrissey. Omnibus Press. p. 444. ISBN 978-0-85712-240-7.
  16. ^ Williams, Kenneth (24 June 1993). Davies, Russell (ed.). The Kenneth Williams Diaries. HarperCollins. p. 799. ISBN 978-0-00-255023-9.
  17. ^ Warner Music (12 August 2013). "The artwork of the Smiths – in pictures". The Guardian.
  18. ^ "The Unforgettable". Radio Times.
  19. ^ "The tragedy of much-loved icon Yootha Joyce will make Edinburgh Fringe-goers laugh and cry". Edinburgh News. 5 August 2019.

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