On this day in history : 23rd February 1892 – The birth of character actress Kathleen Harrison – known for her Cockney characters but best remembered for her role as Mrs Huggett….
Kathleen was born in the Lancashire town of Blackburn – she studied at RADA during 1914-15…. She then spent some time in Argentina and Madeira after marrying John Henry Beck in 1916…. The couple had three children, two sons and a daughter….
Returning to England in the 1920s Kathleen made her stage debut as Mrs Judd in ‘The Constant Flint’ at Eastbourne’s Pier Theatre in 1926…. She had already made her film debut in 1915, with a part in ‘Our Boys’…. In 1927 she appeared in London’s West End for the first time, as Winnie in ‘The Cage’ at the Savoy Theatre…. She was to appear in several other West End plays….
In 1931 her film career started in earnest with a part in ‘Hobson’s Choice’…. She was to go on to appear in some fifty films up to the mid 1970s, including ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’, ‘The Ghost Train’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Scrooge’…. She appeared on the small screen in the BBC production of Dickens’s ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ and ‘Our Mutual Friend’….
But it was the Huggetts trilogy of films that she was best known for….where she appeared opposite Jack Warner and Petula Clark…. The Huggett family were first introduced in the 1942 film ‘Holiday Camp’…. Kathleen played East End chairwoman Ethel Huggett, with Jack Warner as her onscreen husband, Joe and Hazel Court as their daughter, Joan – and whom had a baby…. The family also consisted of their son, Harry, played by Peter Hammond and Jimmy Hanley as Jimmy, Joan’s boyfriend….
The film centred around a working class London family’s first visit to a holiday camp – and was the sixth most popular film at the British Box Office in 1947….and so leading to the trilogy of Huggett films…. The first, ‘Here Come the Huggetts’ in 1948 replaced the family children with three daughters, Jane (Jane Hylton), Susan (Susan Shaw) and Pet (Petula Clark)…. The film revolved around the chaos caused by the arrival of Ethel’s niece and the upcoming wedding of the now engaged Joan and Jimmy….
The second film, ‘Vote for Huggett’ saw Joe stand for election – and then the third, ‘The Huggetts Abroad’, where the family emigrate to South Africa and get involved in diamond smuggling…. Both of the latter films were released in 1949; a fourth film, ‘Christmas with the Huggetts’, was in the pipeline but never happened…. A radio series, ‘Meet the Huggetts’, ran between 1953 and 1962 and was a big hit with listeners, even if it was disliked by the critics….
Kathleen always claimed to be six years younger than what she really was….but she came clean in 1992 and received a telegram from the Queen for her 100th birthday…. She died in 1995 at the age of 103….