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News > AOS Alumnae News > Farewell to Joan Blackham

Farewell to Joan Blackham

Emma Hands remembers friend, actress and fellow Alice Ottleian

We were saddened to learn of the death of Joan Blackham (AOS 1955-63). Joan retained a close interest in the School and had planned to visit the new Performing Arts Centre this year, a visit that was prevented because of the Covid restrictions. Emma (Griffiths) Hands (AOS 1981-87) knew Joan through their careers and kindly provided a copy of Joan’s obituary which appeared in Equity Magazine.

Emma also shared her first meeting with Joan which feels like an encounter that will resonate with Alice Ottleians (and learner drivers of a certain vintage) everywhere, as well as recalling Joan’s professional achievements and loyalty to the School.

'It was at a Theatre Awards Ceremony back in the 1990’s that I met Joan Blackham. Dressed in my best velvet jacket for this prestigious occasion, a waiter approached with a large tray of glasses, brimming with champagne. He tripped and deposited the whole tray all over me. My velvet jacket appeared coated in glue and my hair stuck to my face as if I’d used a pot of Brylcreem. I was mortified.

I was standing next to a tall elegant woman who, out of kindness, determined to put me at my ease. It was Joan. She made me laugh and we fell into conversation of a more general nature:

“After this bash I’ve got a long drive to Worcester to visit my family” she said.

“Ah, I know Worcester well,” I interjected.

“There’s a coincidence! We live in St George’s Square,” Joan added.

“Oh, I remember it well. The place you had to start your dreaded driving test.”

“Yes, that’s right. It’s next to where I went to school.” She beamed.

I said no more. I simply began singing Candida Retaque. She didn’t bat an eyelid. Instead, being a loyal Alice Ottley girl and an actress to boot, instantly joined in before we peeled into laughter and she offered me a handkerchief to wipe away the worst excesses on the champagne from my face.

On a professional note, Joan had an excellent career as a highly skilled comic character actress. She is immortalised in To The Manor Born working with Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles. Her TV appearances included Home To Roost, Inspector Morse, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Judge John Deed, Midsomer Murders and Doctors. She also appeared in films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, at the RSC in productions such as King Lear and in 2008 she toured in the popular Gary Barlow musical Calendar Girls. This was a varied and long-lasting career.

Meanwhile she was always a loyal supporter of everything Alice Ottleian. She persuaded me to attend a number of events talking to pupils about school days gone by, amusing them with stories of a stricter regime under previous headmistresses. The fun anecdotes combined with her professional achievements encouraged them to see they belonged to a long tradition of Alice Ottley girls who could go out into the world and follow their dreams. Joan will be missed by the arts industry and by Alice Ottleians in equal measure'.

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