Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Legendary Jill Summers

I'm currently reading Paul O'Grady's latest memoir, Open The Cage, Murphy and it's a cracking book. I'm a big fan of Paul and always have been. As well as his turn as the legendary Lily Savage, he fronts the wonderful For The Love Of Dogs programme from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and declares himself a lifelong Corrie fan.

About half way through the book, Paul talks about his friendship with the late, great Jill Summers, famous to long-standing Street viewers as Phyllis Pearce. I've read about Jill in the past but it was touching to read about how close Paul and JIll were, how much he loved her and to hear more about the magnificent lady. They appeared together as panellists on a game show in the early 1990s and struck up a friendship formed over a few scoops in the hotel bar.

Sadly most of Paul's Jill Summers stories cannot be printed as they are so outrageous! I'd love to know what they are! Jill was an absolute legend in Corrie. She was part of the show for fourteen years and kept appearing long after being beset by serious and debilitating health problems. Jill was a trouper, with a career in the entertainment business dating back many years. Fame came late in life with her part as the gravel-voiced old age pensioner, resplendent with her purple hair and lust for Percy Sugden. 

While mainly a comedy character, popping up for scene stealing cameos in Jim's Cafe or in the Rovers, there was a slight sadness in Phyllis. She was a lonely old lady who spent her days making her pension last, taking jobs at the cafe or latterly as Des Barnes' housekeeper, but there was always hope in her portrayal. Phyllis brightened up the screen every time she appeared, her fruity laugh and twinkly eyes always a highlight. One of my favourite Phyllis moments was a scene with Alma in the cafe, decrying the ageing process when she looks in the mirror, "I don't know who that old woman looking back is, but it isn't me."

Jill Summers started her working life in the cotton mills of Lancashire before turning her hand  to hairdressing. Later, she would join ENSA and travel abroad to entertain the troops during the Second World War. Developing her variety act, Jill toured the music halls until television came calling, first of all with a small role as cleaner Bessie Proctor in Coronation Street in 1972. It would be a further ten years before she was cast as Phyllis Pearce. From what I've read, her role in Corrie and the cast she worked with meant the world to her. Although her appearances were rare by the mid 1990s, she kept coming back for more and we were always glad she did.

They don't make them like Jill Summers any more and we're worse off for it. They also don't create characters in Coronation Street like Phyllis these days. Jill was a class act and Phyllis an absolute joy. 

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Humpty Dumpty said...

Phyllis and Jill Summers were a match made in heaven. Sadly, we won't see characters like Phyllis again because the jobs they did in Corrie don't exist these days. The wonderful actors who came from music hall and the clubs often took the tragi-comedy roles like tea lady, charlady, lollipop people, caretaker. There's still a potential place for a community centre cleaner/warden. Phyllis would have been great and what comedy there could have been between her and Yasmeen.

Tvor said...

You will recall the corrie locations tour we bloggers took a couple of winters ago. The man that led us, Mark Llewellin, also knew Jill Summers very well and he told us much the same thing, that she could be very naughty and was an utter delight!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. A much missed actress and character.......

Stephen said...

I couldn't agree more. Phyllis was great, and I always got the impression that Ms Summers was a sweetheart.

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