Jean Fergusson, who played Marina in Last of the Summer Wine for 25 years, has died at the age of 74.
Fergusson played the opinionated Marina in 216 episodes of the show from 1985.
She also appeared several times in ITV soap Coronation Street, most recently playing the part of Dorothy Hoyle until 2011.
She also had a theatre career and was nominated for an Olivier award in 1998 for playing British comic, actress and music hall performer Hylda Baker.
The actress’s death comes after that of her former Last of the Summer Wine colleague Juliette Kaplan in October.
Comedy actress Vicki Michelle, best known for ‘Allo ‘Allo, paid tribute to Fergusson.
Fergusson was born on 30 December 1944, and grew up in the village of Woolley near Wakefield.
“I have very fond memories of a happy childhood, and going to the village school – long closed now, of course,” she said in 2009. “We’d stretch a line across the road and make that into our ‘tennis net’. There was so little traffic back then that we rarely had to take it down.”
The family later moved to Wales, where Fergusson learned her acting craft at The Castle (the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama).
Before getting the role of Marina in Last of the Summer Wine, Fergusson had forged a successful career in theatre and was rarely out of work.
Stage origins of Marina
Her first job at the Oldham Coliseum lasted two years and saw her in a variety of roles and touring productions around the UK.
Fergusson also appeared in several television shows, including All Creatures Great Small, Crossroads and The Practice, before taking on the role that would define her for the next two decades.
- The Very Last of the Summer Wine
Set in West Yorkshire, Last of the Summer Wine, which began in 1973 and ended in 2010, soon became the nation’s favourite comedy. At its peak it was watched by 18 million people.
Its success came from the seemingly incongruous mix of madcap capers carried out by a group of young at-heart pensioners.
Fergusson’s casting as the mini-skirt wearing, peroxide blonde Marina, was in fact first performed in a stage version of the show.
‘We battled through’
The character was such a hit that TV director Roy Clarke decided to incorporate Marina – along with the characters of Howard and Pearl – into his television series.
Hapless Howard was the love of Marina’s life and the pair would travel up hill and down dale on their bikes or scooter, when Howard managed to find time away from his domineering wife Pearl.
Marina’s outfits were characteristically skimpy and as Fergusson grew older, she admitted to having become less and less comfortable, in more ways than one.
“Funnily enough more towards the end [of the series], I was always the one in the low-cut blouse and the mini skirt or the shorts,” she said when appearing on quiz show Pointless Celebrities in 2017.
“When I got – shall we say – a little bit older, it wasn’t quite the same getting all dressed up in the morning in a pair of little mini shorts and a very low-cut blouse.
“But we battled through. We got on the bike and off we went.”
Bicycle had to be sold
While making Last of the Summer Wine in the 1990s, Fergusson was researching and writing the one-woman show She Knows, You Know! about the life and decline of Hylda Baker.
Fergusson had admired Baker since her childhood and when she took the show to London’s West End stage she found herself receiving the Olivier nomination for best entertainment show.
Fergusson’s first foray into Coronation Street came whilst she was still making Last of the Summer Wine. In 1999, she arrived to play the role of Mrs Mallett. She later returned to the soap after the end of Last of the Summer Wine to play Dorothy Hoyle from 2010 to 2011.
In 2014, Fergusson sold off the bike she was given from Last of the Summer Wine, when she moved from Yorkshire to London and realised she had no space for it. It made £500 at auction.
“If I could have kept it, I would have done,” said Fergusson, “but I’ll let some wonderful fan have the pleasure of it.”
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