For many, Merseyside actress Jean Boht will forever be associated with Carla Lane’s bittersweet comedy Bread, broadcast from 1986 to 1991.
She played Dingle family matriarch Nellie Boswell to perfection on the sitcom which attracted an audience of 20 million viewers at its peak.
But Bread is only one element of Boht’s broad career which stretches from learning her trade at Liverpool Playhouse to the ground-breaking TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff.
She has appeared on Merseyside TV series Z Cars, police drama Juliet Bravo and acted alongside Jeremy Irons on the West End stage.
She played Mrs Carter in BBC’s maritime soap Triangle, set on a ferry between Felixstowe, Gothenburg and Amsterdam, and was Mrs Leivers in the 1981 TV serial Sons and Lovers based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence.
In 1993, she landed a lead role in the ITV sitcom Brighton Belles, Britain’s version of the American smash-hit series The Golden Girls.
Despite a talented cast, which also included Sheila Hancock, Wendy Craig and Sheila Gish, the programme never took off – and was pulled six episodes into its run.
Many felt the cut-off came too early. Hancock said: ‘It should have worked. The four of us are all old comedy hands and the initial scripts showed potential for growth.’
Just like The Golden Girls, Brighton Belles revolved around four women sharing a house later in life. Boht played Josephine, the British version of Sophia Petrillo portrayed by Estelle Getty in the American original.
Hancock played Josephine – Dorothy in the US version – and Annie, portrayed by Craig, was the British equivalent of Rose.
Gish played Bridget, the Brighton Belles’ equivalent of man-eater Blanche, portrayed in the US by Rue McClanahan.
Critics have come up with various reasons for the show’s demise. Perhaps the biggest was that TV audiences were already familiar with the dialogue and storylines from The Golden Girls – and didn’t want to see a British copy.
The Golden Girls was described as being close to perfection as a sitcom – so why produce a replica?
Lack of originality was never a problem for Bread, the Liverpool sitcom starring Boht as Nellie, the steely matriarch of the Boswell clan.
Its creator, West Derby writer Carla Lane, already had a powerful pedigree with the much acclaimed sitcoms The Liver Birds (1969-78) and Butterflies (1978-83).
In Bread, Lane’s meticulously observed scripts captured all the humour and pathos of a family literally on the breadline. Their collective schemes to keep their heads above water formed the backbone of the series.
Boht, as Ma Boswell, ruled her Dingle home with a rod of iron, always demanding that money was on the dinner table before anyone could eat.
One of her essential props was a cordless phone, stored in her apron, which she always answered with the words ‘Hello, Yes?’
Usually on the other end of the line was her clandestine park-bench friend Derek, played by Peter Byrne.
Nellie’s philandering husband Freddie, portrayed by Liverpool actor Ronald Forfar, divided his time between the Boswell household and Irish femme fatale Li-Lo Lil (Eileen Pollack).
Born in Bebington in March 1932, Boht attended Wirral Grammar School for Girls before undergoing her theatre training at the Liverpool Playhouse.
Her first TV appearance was on the Granada crime series Mr Rose in 1968 followed by the teenage drama Scene in 1970.
She played Mrs Hamilton in another Carla Lane sitcom, I Woke Up One Morning, staged in a drying-out unit for alcoholics.
The series, which also starred Liverpool actor Michael Angelis, ran for two seasons from March 1986. It focused on the antics of inmates coming to terms with their lot – or desperately trying to get a drink!
As well as TV, Boht has appeared in a number of films. Recent roles have included Mary in the 2004 British independent movie Mothers and Daughters and Mrs Davidovitz in the 2008 dark comedy The Understudy.
In 2010, Boht starred as Glad in the 15-minute movie Bad Night for the Blues, written and directed by Anfield-born film-maker Chris Shepherd.
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