Peggy Mount

Peggy Mount
Peggy Mount

Peggy Mount obituary in “The Guardian” in 2001.

Peggy Mount was born in 1915 in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex.   She came to fame in Britain in the 1950’s with a series of films in which she played battleaxes and bossy mother-in-laws such as “Sailor Beware”.   She appeared on many television programmes such as “Inspector Morse” and had her own TV show “The Larkins”.   She died in 2001.

Dennis Barker’s obituary in “The Guardian”:

Peggy Mount, who has died in a nursing home after a long illness, aged 86, was the last of the time-honoured British battleaxes, equally at home in the broadest of farces or in Brecht. Her professional stock-in-trade as a stage and television actress was a voice that could have made a regimental sergeant major tremble and a figure, suggesting an ample corsage filled with concrete, that wordlessly and hilariously forbade the taking of liberties.

Behind this facade, which caused her no little personal unhappiness, was a kind, down-to-earth woman who never severed her links with Southend, near where she was born, never forgot old friends (her Southend costume maker served her for over a generation) and sometimes made new ones as she did her shopping around Islington, north London, where latterly she lived.

To an older generation, she will be most vividly recalled as the overwhelmingly raucous Emma Hornett, iron-fisted ruler of a nominally military household in both the stage and film versions of Sailor Beware. Falling back on the attitudes of a “poor little woman” only when it suited her, Emma Hornett, in fact, hardly allowed the menfolk in her menage to get a word in edgeways. The conception and execution was explosively funny in the seaside postcard tradition.

Yet producers were slow to see her star quality. When she first appeared in Philip King’s play in 1955, after labouring hard and inconspicuously in repertory in the Midlands and the north of England for many years, she was asked her age at a press lunch. She pointed to the press release. “It says on that bit of paper 35, but really I’m 38,” she said briskly. She had learned by then not to back off from unpleasant facts – such as that, in her view, she was fat and ugly, something that her not very clever family had dunned into her.

Peggy Mount was born in Leigh-on-Sea, the daughter of an invalid father who died when she was 10, leaving her in the sole care of a mother who had litle time for her. Wanting to help the stretched family finances, she became a secretary, devoting rare threepences to buying “late doors” tickets sold five minutes before curtain-up at local theatres. She also visited London theatres when she could, vowing to have her name up there in lights one day, though not really believing it possible for someone as unattractive as she felt herself to be.

She hung around one Southend theatre when Harry Hanson’s Hanson Players were there for a season. A member of the company suggested to the director that he see the stage-struck girl in a local amateur production (she was then known as the Amateur Queen of Southend). Her first job with the Hanson Players was at Keighley in 1944. At Worthing, she played the part of an eccentric guest, created by Martita Hunt, in The Sleeping Prince. She stayed with the company for three years and then stepped into the part of Emma Hornett at Worthing.

Though Peggy Mount was a smash hit in the role, the management wanted an established star to take it into the West End. It was only after they had failed to find one for a whole year that they settled on Peggy Mount. The play and she ran for more than three years. She became a star from its London first night at the Strand theatre in January 1955. From then on, she was in constant demand for battleaxe parts. She was Ada Larkin in the ITV series about the Larkin family, her playing only slightly toned down from Sailor Beware.

From 1960, she moved into classical parts on stage, the first fulfilling her ambition to play the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Before this Franco Zeffirelli production at the Old Vic, she revealingly gave a potted estimate of Ma Larkin that could as easily have applied to herself: “She has aggressive common-sense; she sees life clearly.” But she also remarked gloomily that her Ma Larkin “may easily ruin us – the audience and critics may not accept that noisy woman in Shakespeare”. As usual her pessimism was proved wrong.

Through the 1970s and 1980s she continued with a mixture of prestigious stage classics and lucrative television series. Her Mrs Malaprop in Belgrade Theatre’s touring production of Sheridan’s The Rivals was hailed as “the play’s vociferous focal point”.

Her roles in the classics were rarely other than well received. With Kenneth Williams in the Feydeau farce Signed and Sealed, she did cause one critic to say that her coquettish flouncing as an eager bride was not as funny as Mount the awesome matriarch; but her first appearance at the National Theatre, in Goldini’s Il Campiello, was praised. And Her Mother Courage was exceptional. Her unsentimental view of the title role was perfectly Brechtian in showing Mother Courage not merely as a survivor of cruel misfortunes to be sympathised with, but also as an unseeing dupe of the greed and corruption of the political system.

Her successes in classic roles alone would have given many other actresses a self-satisfaction which always eluded her. Despite her few loyal friends (she once marooned three of them on a sand bank at low tide off Foulness when she took them out in her sailing boat, appropriately called Dragon), her jam-making and knitting for friends’ children and grandchildren, she saw herself as essentially alone. She never married, and though she sometimes said she wished she had, neither she nor her friends really thought it was for her. The wounds of her family background were too deep.

·Peggy Mount, actor, born May 2 1918; died November 13 2001.

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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