BIG READ: Sid James died in Audrey's arms
Danny La Rue and Harry Secombe went to her wedding, she lived next door to Francis Rossi and Sid James died in her arms.
And Audrey Jeans’s own life was cruelly cut short when the hugely popular variety entertainer from Portsmouth died aged 48 in a hit-and-run incident with a car.
I recently asked if there was anyone who remembered Audrey and readers did not disappoint.
Audrey started as a dancer but became an all-rounder being able to put over a comical song as well as those of a more traditional nature. She seems to have been much-loved by all who met her.
At 14 she appeared in pantomime in Exeter, dancing as well as understudying Cinderella. She would go on to appear on stage, radio and television for the rest of her theatrical life.
As a result of my appeal I met Audrey’s sister-in-law Pat and nephew David.
Pat was married to Audrey’s brother Ken and they told me more about the star of stage and screen.
Audrey was born in Riga Terrace, Landport, although the family later moved to near Fawcett Road and then back to Landport in Longs Road.
When she returned from Australia, where she had appeared with Arthur Askey, she considered giving up the stage and worked in a greengrocer’s in Lake Road, Portsmouth. After a year she tried again and the rest is history.
The family name was Jennings and her mother’s maiden name was Bolton. When Audrey first went into the theatre she called herself Fay Bolton.
She was first married, aged 24, to accountant Harry Frank and famously wore a pair of pink wellies under her wedding dress. There had been heavy rain in London the week before the service in Wimbledon and, being the comedienne she was, that footwear was just the ticket.
Afterwards there was a reception on the Thames aboard the Tattershall Castle and the guest list included Danny La Rue, John Inman, Barry Cryer and Harry Secombe.
The couple later bought a house in Purley, Surrey, where their next door neighbour was Francis Rossi, the lead guitarist with Status Quo. They had a daughter, Tracy, who now lives in Seaford.
But with Audrey’s nomadic lifestyle, travelling the country, the marriage failed.
Throughout her showbiz life she appeared with just about every celebrity going – any star from the 1950s or ’60s.
But one of the saddest events in her life came when she was on stage with legendary comic actor Sid James in the farce The Mating Season.
They were appearing at the Sunderland Empire and on opening night James collapsed and died on stage from a heart attack.
During the show James suddenly stopped acting, although most of the audience didn’t realise. Co-star Audrey started fluffing her lines and ad-libbing. James collapsed on to a couch and Audrey shouted into the wings for the curtains to be closed. She held him but it was too late.
David became one of Audrey’s favourite nephews and she took him to many of the theatres she appeared in.
In later years Audrey bought 5, Highbury Grove on the Highbury Estate, Cosham, for her mother. Audrey visited many times, sometimes twice a month when not touring. When she went for a drink in the Portsbridge pub she would walk in wearing an expensive fur coat and held court.
In 1978 Pat’s husband got a job at Greenwich and he moved the family to Kent. As Audrey worked on cruise ships leaving from Tilbury she would often visit the family and stay overnight. Pat remembers her helping clean the windows in that fur coat!
In late 1980, the year of her divorce, she married Cyril Giddy, a director of Thompson Publishing.
The couple went to France for their honeymoon and drove to La Rochelle. One evening, either going to or coming from a restaurant, they were about to cross a road when a car drove into them killing Audrey instantly. She was 48. Her husband suffered a broken arm and leg. The hit-and-run driver was never caught.
The first the family knew of the accident was when Pat received a phone call from someone speaking in pidgin English. He was trying to explain what had happened but it was very difficult. Eventually a member of the British consulate came on the phone and explained. The family was devastated as was the rest of show business when word spread.
Audrey’s body was flown home by air ambulance but Cyril, severely injured, had to remain in France until well enough to travel home. he then spent another two-months in Kingston Hospital.
Even then there was a problem as he was an only child and had no children of his own to nurse him. Although he had many wealthy friends who visited him they were, at the end of the day, only colleagues and no one offered him a home so Pat took him in. She and the family nursed him for six weeks.
Cyril was too unwell to attend the funeral which was held at Portchester Crematorium. Many showbiz people arrived to mourn Audrey including Jimmy Tarbuck and Mike Yarwood. Afterwards a wake was held at the Crow’s Nest pub in Hazleton Way, Cowplain, with several celebrities turning up.
A few months later there was a memorial service at St Paul’s Church (the actors’ church), Covent Garden where many stars of stage, screen and theatre turned up. The late Jack Douglas gave the eulogy while Julia McKenzie sang an aria.
Audrey’s ashes were interred at Waterlooville Cemetery’s garden of remembrance. Cyril never got over his new wife’s death and died five years ago.
As a final epitaph Pat told me that Audrey was ‘one of Portsmouth’s own’.
‘She was loving, beautiful, generous, well-dressed with no airs or graces and a friend to all. We all loved her so very dearly.’