Saturday, 31 December 2011

Jan Francis

My introduction to Jan Francis, was like most people, as Vince Pinner's straight and elegant girlfriend in Just Good Friends.

From the off, it's clear Penny is from another world. Blessed with sprouting from a better class of family than Vince, she had opportunities Vince hadn't. He had the temerity to jilt her, yet she remains convinced he's the missing piece of the puzzle. In many ways she's right. Vince represents daring, risk, spontaneity, simplicity and relaxation. These are all elements missing from her own safe, neurotic upbringing and ghoulish first marriage. Through him she needs to experience opportunities for growth. Vince offers her an irresistible package, and the viewer a universal truth: opposites attract. What's less clear is how this mutual arrangement - when both have flirted with the other side - will shape-up long-term.

It's this unease which forms the spine of the comedy, and what Jan Francis brought to the role of Penny was an engaging balance between naivity and shrewdness. Francis is confident and self-possessed as Penny. With wit Penny would bat away the superbity of her mother. Penny is confused and frightened, yet to take pot shots at her own mother while living under her rules, is brave. Francis adds dimension and plausibility to the role.

 The pairing with Paul Nicholas resulted in many corporate opportunities, including adverts for Schreiber kitchens, Cadbury's Wispa and Lloyds bank. Francis's first TV appearance is widely reported to have been in 1971, but actually it was in 1969 for The Ken Dodd Show - Doddy's Christmas Bizarre (aired on Boxing Day) - now missing, believed wiped. An archive trawl reveals her looking suitably foxy in this newspaper teaser...
Before a long career in television she was a rep actress and dancer. Salvaged from her successful, but occasionally erring career are highlights which include playing a TV Producer in the 70s thriller Casting The Runes, a worthy addition to a notable decade of television suspense. She appeared in some best-forgotten telly too, of course and lest we not neglect 1975's Churchill's People (as yet not reissued). Most recently, Francis appeared on TV in May 2011, in an interview for The Comedy Genius of John Sullivan.

 Trivia Fact: Jan Francis wasn't the only actress to play a Penny Warrender on TV. There was a Penny Warrender (played by Sandra Dickinson) in the 1983 series TRIANGLE.

 Jan Francis (born 5 August, 1947, Westminster, London)

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