RIP Miriam Karlin
JAM guest Miriam Karlin has passed away at the age of 85. I've thought of her as one of the more interesting guests of the first years of the show. She was best known for her part in The Rag Trade with co-stars Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock. She was also a good friend of Kenneth Williams. She wil certainly be missed.
The Telegraph's obituary...
and in the Guardian
The Telegraph's obituary...
The star, who also appeared in films such as A Clockwork Orange and Room At The Top, died in a London hospital after a battle with cancer.
She was best known to 1960s and 1970s television viewers for her role as shop steward Paddy in The Rag Trade, who punctuated the show with her call to action: ''Everybody out''.
Her friend David Pugh, the West End theatre producer, said: ''She was a wonderful woman.''
Karlin, a patron of Dignity In Dying, had also been a committed trade unionist and supporter of humanitarian causes.
Among those today paying tribute to Mim - as she was known to friends - were Lord and Baroness Kinnock.
In a statement they said: "As an actor Miriam Karlin was superbly talented in roles of every kind. As an activist for freedom she was supremely brave and persistent.
"From the Anti-Nazi League to Amnesty and One World Action to the Burma Campaign and all enlightened causes in between, Mim was always committed, energetic, productive.
"She was an unwavering Equity trade unionist and democratic socialist. Her Labour Party membership started in the 1940s and continued through alternating periods of dedicated loyalty and vituperative frustration.
"Mim was easy to love, an infectious friend, a true comrade and a sparkling spirit. She will be mourned by all who work for justice, admire creativity and enjoy fun."
The Hampstead-born Jewish actress - who lost some of her family in Auschwitz - trained at RADA, and cut her teeth as a performer with forces entertainment organisation ENSA.
She performed in rep, making her film debut in 1952 in Down Among The Z Men.
Later roles included appearing opposite Lord Olivier in The Entertainer, and she featured in an infamously brutal scene in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. As the "Cat Lady", she was beaten to death with a sculpture, a pivotal scene in the film version of Anthony Burgess's novel.
Karlin's stage roles included Golde in the original West End production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof.
But it was her Rag Trade performance for which she will be best remembered, starring in the BBC series in the early 1960s, and again for its ITV revival in 1977.
Stage work included stints with the Royal Shakespeare Company and becoming the first woman to play the central role in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.
It was her trade union and welfare work which were recognised with an OBE.
Karlin - who never married - had been unwell for a number of years, suffering from peripheral neuropathy for a decade. And she was battling her third bout of cancer when she died.
But despite her ill health, she took to the stage as late as 2008 to appear in Many Roads to Paradise at London's Finborough Theatre.
Friend Philip Hedley, the respected theatre director, said: "She was a very brave woman and she was committed to every campaign going. She was in that great line of campaigning British left-wing actresses - along with Sybil Thorndike - who gave her her first break - and Peggy Ashcroft.
"They were down there on the picket lines. She was friends with them both and they had tremendous respect for each other."
Actor Sir Antony Sher also paid tribute today. He said: "Working with Miriam Karlin on Torch Song Trilogy was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career.
"She gave a tremendous performance as the Jewish mother, full of power and anger, but there was always a twinkle in her eye, and I was often in danger of breaking into giggles.
"There was always laughter with Miriam. A great actress. A great lady."
and in the Guardian
The actor Miriam Karlin, who has died of cancer aged 85, became famous in the early 1960s as Paddy, the militant shop steward of a London clothing firm in the BBC television comedy series The Rag Trade. As Paddy, who was always willing to signal a strike with a whistle and her catchphrase "Everybody out!", Karlin was watched by millions, and quoted by millions. But neither that success, nor her more serious roles on stage, removed the gnawing dissatisfaction she felt at not achieving something more serious. She channelled some of that feeling into promoting broadly leftwing causes as a member of the council of the actors' union Equity, and as a campaigner for the Anti-Nazi League, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Soviet Jewry.
She was born Miriam Samuels and brought up in Hampstead, north London, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish barrister, Harry Samuels, and his wife, Céline. She revered her father, who specialised in industrial and trade union law. When she was doing one of her first radio shows, Terry-Thomas's Top of the Town, she based some of the zany characters she invented and played on people who had appeared before the rent tribunal chaired by her father.
Tall and dark, she admitted to being a "pain in the neck" as a child because she would always mimic her parents' guests. After attending South Hampstead high school and Rada, she called herself a "character comedian" and appeared at music halls, as well as touring with the Entertainments National Service Association during the second world war.
Karlin made her London stage debut in The Time of Your Life at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1946. She was later spotted by a BBC producer and, in 1950, joined Peter Sellers in the radio series Variety Bandbox, centred around a hotel called Blessem Hall. They played all the characters themselves. Among her creations were Mrs Bucket and Mrs Snitchlepuffle.
After appearing in revues at the Strand and Saville theatres, she played Mrs Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank at the Phoenix theatre in 1956. For two years she played Lilly Smith, the tart with the heart, in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be (1959-60), one of London's most successful stage musicals, first at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and then at the Garrick in the West End. However, she left the cast because she felt she was getting worse, not better, in her role.
This was part of a recurring pattern of self-doubt. When The Rag Trade had been running for two years, Karlin said she would leave at the end of the second series, whatever inducements were made for her to stay. In 1962 the show made the leap – with her among the cast – to the London stage, where it flopped. However, she enjoyed her roles in a series of plays by Saul Bellow, which were staged in London in 1966. She played Golde (one of her favourite parts) in Fiddler On the Roof at Her Majesty's theatre in the West End in 1967 and took the title role in Mother Courage at the Palace theatre, Watford, in 1972.
Karlin had appeared in films since the early 1950s, taking small roles in Room at the Top (1959), The Entertainer (1960) and The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963). In 1971 she made a brief but memorable appearance in A Clockwork Orange as Catlady, who is attacked by the delinquent Alex with a phallic sculpture. In 1974 she was Aunt Rosa to Robert Powell's Mahler, in Ken Russell's biopic of the composer.
Having acquired the rights to the translated letters of Liselotte, the wife of Louis XIV's homosexual brother, Philippe, Duke of Orléans, she read from them in a one-woman show that she put on in the mid-70s. It was panned as thin and undramatic but, undeterred, she took it to Versailles, where the action was located, and to Vienna and Australia.
Karlin boasted that her artistic judgment was excellent, because every play she turned down flopped. Nevertheless, she grew more and more disssatisfied with her achievements, chiding herself, sometimes publicly, for not applying herself enough. In 1975 she was appointed OBE and, two years later, she returned to the role of Paddy in two series of The Rag Trade, still opposite Peter Jones as the hapless boss, Harold Fenner. This time it was broadcast by LWT, with less success than the original series.
The publication of her memoir, Some Sort of a Life, in 2007 revealed the full extent of her psychological and physical difficulties during this period. "Throughout my 50s the battle with my health, my weight and my addictions raged," she wrote. She had recurring back problems and peripheral neuropathy, which caused pain in her legs. She joined the Neuropathy Trust and wrote to Exit, the organisation offering advice for assisted suicide, to find out "how to depart if it got more than I could bear". Later, she was told she was in denial about her eating disorder.
None of this stopped her going on CND and miners' strike marches and refusing to pay her poll tax. When she played in The Witch of Edmonton for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1982, a letter containing five razor blades was delivered to her. The part also required her to be beaten by other members of the cast and, without padding, she was badly hurt. She told herself that she must be "really hated".
She continued to perform on stage in her 70s and appeared on primetime TV series such as Casualty, The Bill and Holby City. In 2006, while making a Miss Marple television episode, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, she was told that she had cancer and that part of her tongue would have to be removed. She worried what would happen to her if her speech was affected. But after the operation she appeared in the demanding film Children of Men (2006) as a German grandmother. In 2008 she was in Flashbacks of a Fool, starring Daniel Craig.
Karlin said that people concerned her most – supporting "the suppressed ... those minority groups who flee from home and country because they can't live with prejudice". She was unflagging in her work for such causes, but sometimes reflected sadly that she would not have had time for it had she married and had children, which she never did. She said that she had shied away from being tied down, and that in any case all the men she knew were actors, and she would never dream of marrying an actor.
Over the years, Karlin often contributed to the Guardian's letters pages, on matters ranging from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to broadcasting and funding for the arts. In 2008, at a meeting at the Young Vic in London, she called for a vote of no confidence in proposed Arts Council England cuts. Throughout her career she did things, dramatically and as a political activist, which made her intensely nervous, the hallmark perhaps of a genuinely courageous and life-affirming spirit.
Michael Billington writes: My abiding memory of Miriam Karlin is of her passionate political convictions. If ever I wrote a piece attacking cuts in government subsidy or the problems confronting grant-starved drama students, she would send a vigorously supportive letter. Miriam didn't just talk a good political game. She was also fervently active.
She was a remarkably versatile actor and enjoyed a great year with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982, including a voracious aristocrat in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Money and an earthy Mistress Quickly in the two parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV which opened the Barbican. I would have liked to have seen her in more classical roles but recall a beautiful performance she gave in Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of the Bird at the Almeida in London in 1997, as a Polish-Jewish grandmother permeated by memories of loss and separation. Above all, Miriam ("Mim" to her friends) had a fighting spirit that marked her work, both on and off stage