Very popular actors on TV are often not given proper recognition for their acting talent, but Stuart Jeffries treated Jill Gascoine as the accomplished, serious-minded actor that she was. Just before she finished her seven years playing Maggie Forbes, the sympathetic policewoman in The Gentle Touch and the lead in a follow-up series, I offered her a role in a new play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Scrape Off the Black by Tunde Ikoli (1987). The part was that of a racist mother who was very tough on her mixed-race children and hardly ever moved from her sofa all day, except to play bingo. She wore no make-up and committed herself totally to the role.
Unsurprisingly she had to persuade her agent to accept the job because Stratford East in those days only paid the Equity minimum, which was around £60 a week, plus £1 per week extra for every year you had had your Equity card, up to 15 years. As I heard her say to that agent, “I have to play this part because, after seven years of playing the same role, I have to find out if I’m still an actor.”
At Dundee rep in the mid-1960s, Jill Gascoine was a key member of a small company that also included Vivien Heilbron, Charmian May and Stephen Yardley, performing in a converted church filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifting in from the foyer. She brought an infectious enthusiasm to the many roles she played in the two-weekly rep cycle. As a teenager I attended many of these productions: Jill and her colleagues left me with a love of the theatre for which I will always be grateful.