Anyone growing up in Britain in the 60s and 70s will remember the remarkable and loveable Barbara Mitchell. If you don’t remember the name you will certainly remember her face. She was an accomplished actress whose adaptable and empathetic style allowed her to move effortlessly from stage to screen. Barbara lived with her husband, rep actor, Rex Graham and their two children Jeremy and Mel in Crescent Road in Kingston upon Thames.
Barbara’s career spanned 2 decades and after establishing herself in theatre she moved into films and television. She played support roles in Ealing comedies and British film dramas but Barbara is perhaps better known for her television appearances in the early 70s. In 1970 she landed the part of Ruth Politt, daughter of the eponymous Ada in the highly successful ‘For the Love of Ada’. Irene Handl played, widow, Ada Cresswell, who struck up a relationship with a grave digger (Wilfred Pickles) after he had buried her first husband. Ruth (Barbara) and on-screen husband , Jack Smethurst, did not approve of the relationship and subsequent marriage.
This gentle and poignant situation comedy created by Vince Powell and Harry Driver ran for 4 series over 27 weeks. In September 1971 the show took the number one slot in ratings for 3 of the 4 weeks. For the remaining week it shared top ratings with The Fenn Street Gang, the sequel to Please Sir which both starred Barbara Mitchell as the camp, over-protective mother of Frankie Abbott.
One of Barbara’s on-screen contemporaries was the well-loved comedy actress Peggy Mount. Barbara and Peggy were great friends. They appeared together in the extremely popular comedy, The Larkins. Barbara played Hetty Prout and Peggy, the legendary battle-axe Ada Larkin. Peggy became godmother to Barbara’s son Jeremy who was born in 1962.
Barbara also starred in Beryl’s Lot which ran from November 1973 to June 1977. The storylines revolved around Beryl Humphries (Carmel McSharry), a woman hitting a mid-life crisis who went on a crusade of self- improvement. Barbara played neighbour Vi Tonks bringing her own brand of sympathy and wisdom to this very successful series from Yorkshire Television which ran for an amazing 52 episodes.
Barbara married actor Rex Graham. Following a career in the Gurka’s in Burmah Rex trained at RADA and became well established in rep and played opposite Barbara in productions of ‘The Lady’s not for Burning’ and ‘Whiteoaks’ .
Pictured bottom right: Barbara, Rex and children Melanie and Jeremy pictured at their home in Kingston Crescent Road in 1971 the family lived here until around 1980. Barbara sadly died from breast cancer in 1978 at the age of 47 and Rex died in 1991. Jeremy still lives in Kingston with his wife, Kate and son, Joseph.
There is very little to be found on the Internet about Barbara which is surprising considering her substantial contribution to British comedy and drama in theatre, film, television and radio. This feature is a small tribute to a great personality who dedicated her life to entertainment.
Images owned by J Langstaff
Barbara Mitchell in The Goodies
Barbara Mitchell in Please Sir! film 1971 (at 2:50 mins)
Barbara Mitchell in the Larkins