Breaking boundaries became almost second nature for Liverpool actress Rita Tushingham in the early 1960s.
She filmed the first inter-racial kiss on screen with Paul Danquah in the 1961 movie A Taste of Honey.
And then she starred in the 1964 British drama The Leather Boys which featured a gay motorcyclist and violated the Hollywood production code.
On top of that, she played a woman caught up in London gang crime in A Place to Go in 1963 and a convent girl who forms a relationship with a man twice her age in Girl With Green Eyes in 1964.
It was a whirlwind start to Tushingham’s film career – and one which earned her a string of awards and nominations in Britain and abroad.
She won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for A Taste of Honey, as well as the BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for Best Newcomer.
Tushingham went on to appear in a wide variety of film and TV roles including the movies Doctor Zhivago in 1965 and Under the Skin with Samantha Morton in 1997.
She also played neighbour Celia Higgins in Carla Lane’s sitcom Bread in the 1980s, dating the Boswell family’s second oldest brother Jack (Victor McGuire).
Born in Garston in March 1942, Tushingham grew up in Hunt’s Cross and went to Heatherlea School. Her father ran three grocery shops.
She then attended the La Sagesse School in Aigburth (later part of St Julie’s Catholic High School) and secretarial college.
But her over-riding ambition was to be an actress. This took her to the Shelagh Elliott-Clarke School before becoming an assistant stage manager at Liverpool Playhouse.
While Tushingham was learning stagecraft, young Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney was writing her pioneering play A Taste of Honey.
It told the story of 17-year-old working class girl Jo and her relationship with a young black sailor called Jimmy in the back streets of Salford. Jo also had to cope with her 40-year-old alcoholic mother Helen.
Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey when she was 19. The play was produced by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in London in May 1958 and transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End in February 1959.
The highly acclaimed movie version, directed and scripted by Tony Richardson, premiered at London’s Leicester Square Theatre in September 1961. It was hailed as a beacon of the new genre of kitchen-sink realism.
A 19-year-old Tushingham played Jo with former Oldham repertory actress Dora Bryan as Helen. Paul Danquah took the role of sailor Jimmy.
Although the film was banned in several countries, Bryan won Best Actress at the 1962 BAFTA awards while Delaney and Richardson landed a Writer’s Guild of Great Britain Award.
There was no less controversy about the 1964 British drama The Leather Boys, starring Tushingham as Dot, the wife of motorcyclist Reggie (Colin Campbell).
Set in Bethnal Green, the movie explored the tensions of gang culture against the backdrop of the growing relationship between Reggie and his gay friend Pete (Dudley Sutton).
Manchester band The Smiths used clips of Tushingham’s performance in the video for their 1987 single Girlfriend in a Coma.
Tushingham played a very different role in Richard Lester’s 1965 comedy The Knack… And How To Get It about the tortuous love life of nervous teacher Colin (Michael Crawford) in sexually liberated London.
She portrayed shy and inexperienced Nancy Jones, newly arrived in the capital and searching for a place to live. After an incident-filled journey transporting a cast iron bed across London, she ends up in relationship with Colin.
Based on the play by Ann Jellicoe, The Knack won the Palme d’Or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics’ Association.
In 1967, Tushingham starred with Lynn Redgrave in the comedy Smashing Time written by Liverpool-born jazz and blues-singer George Melly.
The plot involved the escapades of two girls from the north of England in the London of the Swinging 60s. It also starred Michael York, Anna Quayle, Irene Handl, Arthur Mullard and Wallasey actor Geoffrey Hughes.
As well as her extensive cinema and TV work, Tushingham appeared in a series of plays for the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in the early 1960s. These included the stage version of The Knack, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.
She played Celia Higgins in Bread for 11 episodes in 1988.
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