Obituary of Jeanne Le Mesurier | Autobiography and memory


To the general public Joan Le Mesurier, who died at the age of 90, was known for her marriage to actor John Le Mesurier and her affair with her friend, actor Tony Hancock. These relationships have been the subject of TV movies, books and endless newspaper articles, but they have never defined it. Far from being the femme fatale portrayed by those who did not know her, Joan was a woman of boundless wit, generosity and humor.

She grew up in Ramsgate, Kent, where she was born to Fred Long and his wife, Lass (née Jones), in a family where money was limited and emotions “were volatile and easily aroused; none of us has been able to hide his joy, his pain or his irritation for long ”.

Her parents were fairgrounds, and Joan spent much of her childhood in amusement parks by the sea. At 14, she left school to work long hours in the family business.

At 22, she married another showman, Douglas Malin (later known as actor Mark Eden), whom she described as “tall and dark with green eyes and [having] charm in buckets and spades ”.

Their son, David Malin (now musician and composer), was born in 1957, but soon after, Mark left her. Despite the turmoil this caused, it was typical of Joan that 14 years later she met her ex-husband’s new wife, Diana Robinson, she kissed her wholeheartedly, witnessed their marriage and Diana has remained his lifelong friend.

In 1962, she was working at the club at Peter Cook’s establishment in Soho when she met John Le Mesurier (better known as Sergeant Wilson in Daddy’s Army). A few months after marrying him in 1966, she began an 18-month relationship with troubled comedian Tony Hancock, a tumultuous affair that ended when Hancock committed suicide.

Joan wrote: “When Tony died in 1968 I was shattered but with extraordinary grace John – who was also in deep sorrow – reached out to welcome me home and we resumed a married life of ever deeper affection and trust. ” She lovingly cared for John during his years of decline.

After John’s death in 1983, Joan ran a guesthouse in Sitges, Spain, where she became known to feed the town’s wild cats. Later, back in Britain, she spent years campaigning against the export of live animals for slaughter.

Joan wrote two elegantly crafted memoirs, Lady Don’t Fall Backwards and Dear John, and could recite oars of classical poetry and lyrics by Gershwin and Cole Porter from memory. What she would want most of death, she said, would be all the unread books she left behind.

In her final months, as dementia set in, she vividly recounted childhood memories of German bombers on Pegwell Bay and her parents.

She was cared for during this time by her granddaughter, actress and director Emma Griffiths Malin, who survives her. David passed away in 2017.

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