Jan Francis (1947-) b. London, England, UK.
Janet Stephanie Francis was born on 5 August 1947, and was raised at Streatham in south London. Leaving Grammar School in South Norwood at 16 with “a handful of ‘O’ levels, she won a scholarship to the Royal Ballet Senior School, and, graduating in 1965, she toured extensively with the Royal Ballet Touring Company in the U.K., Europe and America.
In 1967 Janet (as she was till known then) became a member of Ballet For All – a body set up to extend the audience for ballet by creating a mixed performance by dancers from the Royal Ballet with actors in performances of words, dance and music at smaller venues throughout the country.
Janet’s ballet career was, however, cruelly interrupted by a knee injury which required a long lay-off for operations and recuperation. Although she fully recovered from this, and, indeed, danced again – at one point alongside Dame Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake – she had decided during her period of convalescence that her future actually lay in acting rather than in dance.
It was at Cheltenham Repertory Company that Jan (as she now became) made her first appearance as an actress, appearing there in a season of plays from 1969 to 1970. More stage roles followed in 1971, as well as her first TV part, and it was in television that she then went on to develop her career. Her first major starring role was as Yvette in the BBC’s second world war drama Secret Army, which was first aired in 1977. Then followed major roles in ITV’s The Good Companions, and the BBC’s Love Story: A Chance To Sit Down.
Arguably Jan’s most significant role however came in 1983 with the first series of Just Good Friends, written by John Sullivan (of Only Fools and Horses fame) where, playing Penny Warrender, she starred alongside Paul Nicholas. The show proved immensely popular, drawing huge viewing figures, and extended to three series, the last being in 1986. Following a return to stage work in 1989, she took on another major TV role in the ITV comedy series Stay Lucky with Dennis Waterman. In 1991 Jan won the accolade of Best Actress in the TV Times Awards.
Leading parts in host of television productions in more recent years have included: Under The Hammer (Maggie Perowne) 1994; Spark (Colette) 1997; Micawber (Lady Charlotte) 2002; Heartbeat (Vivienne Keen) 2002; Where The Heart Is (Jean) 2005; Twisted Tales (Penny Merchant) 2005; Bad Girls (Catherine Earlham) 2006; Diamond Geezer (Kate) 2007; New Tricks (June Parker) 2007; The Invisibles (Janet Rigby) 2008; Collision (Christine Edwards) 2009; U Be Dead (Irene Pemberton) 2010.
Jan’s film roles have been as Mina Van Helsing in Dracula in 1979, and as Jo in Champions in 1984. In addition Jan has been very busy with a plethora of voice-over and audio book work, and during 2007/8 made a number of guest appearances at various special events, as well as modelling for Austin Reed’s Country Casuals fashion collection.
Jan is married to writer Martin Thurley (known professionally as Thomas Ellice), has two daughters Jo (herself now working in television production) and Anna, and lives in the delightful village of Woodchurch in Kent.
© Simon Nickerson 2009