Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Imogen Hassall?



A repost from earlier this year. Imogen Hassall would have celebrated her 73rd birthday today, so here is a small tribute to the much-missed, very talented actress who sadly died back in 1980.


So many of the actors who appeared in the Carry On films are well known to us. Their lives have been well documented both on screen and off. While we always love hearing about them, sometimes it can feel a bit repetitive or that we are collectively raking over old coals.

I want to start an occasional series of blog posts looking at some of the lesser known actors who appeared in Carry On films. Sometimes we will know a fair amount about them but for whatever reason they have not garnered much publicity. Others will be a complete mystery. 

So far I've written about Carry On supporting actors Gail Grainger, Marianne Stone, Esma Cannon and Carol Hawkins. Very different supporting actresses, each providing something special in the films they popped up in. Today I want to write about Imogen Hassall. It's rather a tragic story but one definitely worth sharing. 

Carry On fans will instantly remember Imogen for her role as Jenny Grubb, a character transformed from dowdy and prim to the object of Terry Scott's desire in Carry On Loving. Imogen Hassall was terrific in the film, putting in an assured performance opposite Scott and alongside other younger performers (namely Jacki Piper, Julian Holloway and Richard O'Callaghan) who were drafted in to help update the series as they entered the 1970s. I love the scene where Terry Scott first meets Jenny, her mother (the fabulous Joan Hickson) and the rest of the family. It is pure farce and Imogen displays fine comic timing.

Sadly this was Imogen's only role in the Carry Ons which I still can't understand. I thought she was a natural so I just don't get why she didn't come back for more. Perhaps she asked for more money or just wanted to get away from the role of glamour girl? Who knows. Whatever the reason, it's a great shame.

Away from the Carry Ons, Imogen Hassall appeared in some classic television and film of the era. She cropped up in The Avengers, The Champions, The Persuaders, Softly Softly and Jason King. On the big screen she started off with two small roles in Norman Wisdom films The Early Bird and Press For Time. She progressed to larger parts in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Incense for the Damned, Take a Girl Like You and a rather strange film called White Cargo. Imogen starred opposite a young David Jason in the latter film. Jason recounts his memories of working with her on this quite dreadful film in his recent memoirs.

Having trained at the Royal Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in the early 1960s, Imogen went on to spend a season working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. From what I have read, this is the kind of work she really wanted to concentrate on, however sadly it just wasn't to be. As she became increasingly well known for her glamorous image, Imogen was quickly pigeon-holed by the media and casting directors as only capable of playing certain roles. One can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for someone who was clearly talented.

Imogen Hassall was given the nickname "The Countess of Cleavage" by the press, mainly due to the series of scantily clad glamorous roles she played in her early career. Finding it difficult to escape this image, offers of serious work seemed to dry up for the actress who later in her career was mostly known for her appearances at glitzy film premieres. Imogen, who was married twice, sadly took her own life in November 1980 at the young age of just 38. What a terrible waste. Who knows what Imogen Hassall could have gone on to achieve both personally and professionally? 

On the DVD commentary for Carry On Loving, both Jacki Piper and Richard O'Callaghan spoke fondly of Imogen, sharing many happy memories of working with her on the film. It was nice to hear them talk of her but sadly such a shame she was not still with us to share her own memories.


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