Obituary: Rona Anderson, actress and wife of Gordon Jackson

Gordon Jackson and Rona Anderson
Gordon Jackson and Rona Anderson
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Born: 3 August, 1926, in Edinburgh. Died: 23 July 2013 in London, aged 86

Rona Anderson was a bright and energetic actress who captivated audiences with her winning smile, fine diction and compelling stage presence. Although she spent much of professional life in London after she married the Scottish actor Gordon Jackson, she often returned to Scotland and is fondly remembered for a memorable season at the Pitlochry Festival in 1996. That year she joined a first class company led by stars such as Jimmy Logan and Edith Macarthur.

Anderson appeared widely in London’s West End and was in such popular television shows as the long-running sitcom Bachelor Father opposite Ian Carmichael and joined her husband as his television wife in The Professionals.

Edith Macarthur spoke with much affection about Anderson yesterday to The Scotsman. “I first met Rona when we were teenagers and we had parts at the Ardrossan Amateur Dramatic Society. She was as lovely and enchanting then as she was all her life. We remained close friends and both she and Gordon were always generous and supportive – very dear friends to me and many others.

“We shared a dressing room that year at Pitlochry and I have such happy memories of her and our summer together. We were both in the Floors of Edinburgh, which was a great success – Rona played the innkeeper with immense gusto.”

Rona Anderson, the daughter of James and Evelyn Anderson, had been educated in Edinburgh and in Ottawa to where she was evacuated in the early years of the war. She had displayed a keen interest in the theatre in her youth and studied drama at the Glover Turner-Robertson School in Edinburgh. Anderson learnt her stage craft with companies around Scotland, but made her professional debut in 1945 at the Garrison Theatre in Salisbury. She then did seasons at the Citizens in Glasgow.

Anderson was becoming established as an actor of quality with much flair and charm and was cast in a film, Floodtide – a romantic drama set in the grim grandeur of the Clydeside shipyards in 1949. On the set she met the film’s star, Gordon Jackson, and they married two years later. Her next movie was as Alice with Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol.

She continued to get rewarding film roles, but her final movie was in the hugely successful The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), which memorably starred Maggie Smith as the crème de la crème Edinburgh school mistress. Anderson was the chemistry mistress of “the Brodie gels” who had her eyes set on the music master Mr Lowther – played by Gordon Jackson.

Anderson made two prestigious visits to the Edinburgh Festival. She was in the world premiere of James Bridie’s play The Queen’s Comedy at the Lyceum Theatre in 1950. It was an important debut at the Festival also for the Citizens Theatre and the play was directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Anderson played Venus alongside a host of leading Scottish actors including Duncan Macrae, James Cairncross and Stanley Baxter. She returned for the 1960 Festival appearing as Miriam Braidfute in Sydney Goodsir Smith’s epic play The Wallace at the Assembly Hall.

The production of The Wallace gained much notoriety when Guthrie, the scheduled director, walked out and in a letter to the Festival director complained of the “overcautious and parsimonious attitude” of the executive committee. He was hastily replaced by Peter Potter.

Anderson appeared regularly in the West End and was often cast in Brian Rix comedies (Let Sleeping Wives Lie) and had a major role in Whose Life is it Anyway? in 1978 alongside her friend and neighbour in Hampstead Tom Conti. Anderson was also seen in a major drama, Savages, two years later starring Paul Scofield at the Comedy Theatre.

In 1981, Anderson played Princess Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, in the Ray Cooney comedy Her Royal Highness at the Palace Theatre, London with Marc Sinden as Prince Charles. The publicity cheekily read “Come and see Her Royal Highness at The Palace”.

For some years Anderson concentrated on bringing up her two boys, but she did appear in various television dramas such as, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Dixon of Dock Green and The Labours of Erica with Brenda Blethyn.

Anderson was a much-loved figure in Scottish theatre who brought to the numerous character roles she played a zest and involvement that audiences much admired.

“Rona was almost too beautiful for the cameras.” Macarthur suggested. “She had excellent features and that radiant smile, but she was a touch pale in appearance. She just loved being in Scotland. When she returned, she travelled north with her cats and while we were at Pitlochry she bought a wee house in Moulin as a holiday home. Rona was always a delightful and gracious friend.”

She is survived by her two children, Graham and Roddy.