Kent Life interviews Juliette Kaplan

PUBLISHED: 12:28 27 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:12 20 February 2013

Kent Life interviews Juliette Kaplan

Kent Life interviews Juliette Kaplan

Last of the Summer Wine's Juliette Kaplan talks about playing the character that made her famous in a solo show at the Margate Theatre Royal this month

Just Pearl

Last of the Summer Wines Juliette Kaplan talks about playing the character that made her famous in a solo show at the Margate Theatre Royal this month

Shes a tough little Jewish grandma in black jeans with a swagger in her step and a voice she likens to Donald Duck and claims she was born with, but possibly has something to do with a lifetime spent smoking.

Juliette Kaplan, 72, is a million miles away from the character she is best known for playing - Pearl in Last of the Summer Wine but she has a great deal to thank the beloved TV series that got axed in 2010 after 26 glorious years, because the BBC wanted new, young, fresh blood.

After having the sheer nerve to phone up Roy Clarke, its author, and ask how would you like to write me a one-woman show? in 2003 Just Pearl was launched onto an unsuspecting British public.

And on 28 April Juliette is appearing at the Margate Theatre Royal to perform her solo show in aid of Pilgrims Hospice Thanet - its first outing since touring to packed audiences in more than 40 venues nine years ago.

When I first started it took and hour and a half to turn into Pearl and 20 minutes to get ready to go out, now its 20 minutes to get into character and an hour and half to go out! she says.

Weve met at her flat in Westgate-on-Sea and it isnt long before Juliette has whisked my photographer and I down to the seafront for some pictures. Just back from a month visiting one of her daughters in Barbados and recovering from a slipped disc, she is craving the sun and cant wait for the long summer days spent in her beach hut until late with her fellow beachlovers.

Born in Bournemouth to Jewish parents who split up when she was little, Juliette was taken to her fathers native South Africa when she was six months old. She went to Jewish government school in Johannesburg then to a convent in Pretoria before spending a formative year in New York when she was 11.

I just fell in love with the place. New York turned me into a little guttersnipe and I have never moved on, she laughs, lighting her umpteenth cigarette. When we came back I was 12 and hadnt taken my 11-plus so they put me in a secondary modern because by that time we couldnt afford private education.

Because of my Brooklyn accent mixed with a strong South African accent, my mother sent me to drama school in Bournemouth to polish up my voice. And that was it it was never even discussed. I went to after-school drama classes and my mum said she would let me carry on there if I got a teaching qualification. So I did

Juliettes first professional engagement was dancing as Salome in Voice in the Wilderness, which certainly got the film some publicity. It also led to her estranged father reading all about her in a South African newspaper and telling his three children from his second marriage: that girl is your sister.

An astonishing 35 years later, Juliettes two half brother and half sister finally caught up with their famous sibling and a highly emotional reunion took place.

Her roots also led Juliette to her husband. Being a good little Jewish girl (on a very small wage), whenever she was on tour she always made sure she got in touch with the local Jewish community.

Once you went to a different town all the mothers with unmarried sons would invite you for tea, she explains. And thats how she met Harold. I landed up in Margate for two weeks in Waters of the Moon, playing the juvenile in 1957/8. And I never left.

The couple got married in Margate and Harold ran a tea gardens and beach caf before opening Regal Gifts in Margate with a friend, which they expanded into 11 shops from Hastings to Dartford.

Then tragedy struck. My husband died very suddenly in 1981, at the age of 54, which meant I had to take care of the gift shops with his partner. I knew nothing about shopkeeping. Nothing. At one point I was in the shop during the day then on stage in Folkestone in the evening performing, she says.

Then in 1984 I had a meeting about a tour of this play called Last of the Summer Wine and was asked if I could do a Yorkshire accent. I was furious. I am an actress, I said! Then I was told the part requires a very aggressive actress and I said oh, just give me the script!

Next day I had a recall, went back to London and told them I couldnt keep on running up and down the motorway, they either wanted me or they didnt. Its no skin off my nose. By the time I got home there was a message on the answerphone youve got the part.

We were going to do three weeks on tour and then the season at Bournemouth, which was my home town. Pearl was my mothers name, and I knew something was odd. Apparently it had been performed at Eastbourne the previous year but the actress playing Pearl said the part was too small so I got the part by default. My kids (she has three) said it was type casting.

To Juliettes great delight, she was then written into the TV series as a permanent character after Alan Bennett and Roy Clarke came to see the play and decided they wanted to write the eternal triangle into a TV version. I told my son and all he said was: whos going to look after the shop?

From being booked to do one scene in one episode, Juliettes part grew and grew, though she does say with practised exasperation: My speciality has always been American Jewish, then I ended up basing my career on a North Country woman!

So what of her fellow cast members? We were all based at the same hotel, the Huddersfield Hotel, and used to meet every night for drinks in the conservatory. It was a great time, she says. And it must have provided wonderful company, too, for Juliette, who never remarried (I always say when asked, why make one man miserable if you can make 100 men happy? she quips.)

She was particularly friendly with the late Kathy Staff, who played the formidable Nora Batty. I worshipped and adored Kathy, she was a truly nice person, and it was she who told me, this company likes your work, why dont you ask them about panto? My first panto was in Tunbridge Wells (playing the back end of the cow) and I then did one every year. I loved it.

Juliette recalls how Kathy, who always had a family conference about every part she was offered, once got one that was far too saucy so she gave it to her friend. The play was called Dirty Dusting and I got the part. It was the story of three old age pensioner office cleaners who were made redundant by a young lad because of their age, so they take over one of the offices and set up a telephone sex line called Telephone Belles.

So why is she back on stage again and waking up with nightmares about re-learning a script she hasnt performed for so long - just for one night?

I had a very close friend who was in the Hospice last year and I want to make sure the Hospice keep going so they can keep a place for me! I do think the Hospice needs supporting and once the BBC axed Summer Wine, my daughter said go on, itll be a challenge. So I said yes.


Favourite place in Kent

The sea, of course St Mildreds Bay, and I do love Viking Bay. Driving through the Alkham Valley is just beautiful. I also have a flat in London but I love it here best as you come back, you can feel the air getting fresher.

Favourite pub or restaurant

The Fayreness in Broadstairs. I always used it to learn my lines there. Have a bit of lunch and smoke like a chimney. Now of course I have to smoke outside. I refuse to give up Ive been smoking since I was 14. New York turned me into a slob and I maintain the right to be one.

Favourite place to eat

Im a carnivore, my favourite food is steak, so the pubs in St Nicholas are fantastic for me The Rising Sun, The Bell and in Margate Im down at the beach cafs. The Rose Inn at Wingham is very good too.

Favourite place to shop

I love Westgates shops, especially Cocos Boutique, and in this little village area where I am weve got everything. Westgate has got my bridge club, a cinema and a railway station in the middle of town, so its easy to escape when I need to go up to London. But if I can avoid the shops I will, I make a list twice a year, work out what I want, go out and buy it.

Juliette live

What: Juliette Kaplan in Just Pearl

Where: Theatre Royal, Margate CT9 1PW

How: 0845 130 1786 (box office) or 01227 787787 (ticket agent New Marlowe, Canterbury) or

When: 28 April, 7.30pm

How much: tickets 10 and 15, in aid of: Pilgrims Hospice Thanet

More from People

Monday, December 21, 2020

So you think you know your county? Take our New Year quiz and put that local knowledge to the test | Words: Adam Jacot de Boinod

Read more
Sunday, December 13, 2020

Kent has always been noted for its rebellions, its involvement in the Peasants’ Revolt 635 years ago its most famous manifestation. But what were those other Kent rebellions?

Read more
Thursday, December 10, 2020

Kent Life spends a festive morning with Christmas Bake Off star Jane Beedle in her Faversham home. Article first published in Dec 2019

Read more

With light at the end of the Covid tunnel at last, we take heart from how Kent recovered from previous calamities, from the 1930s depression to two world wars and the credit crunch. Article first written in July 2020

Read more

We’re all familiar with blue plaques, but could Kent Life come up with 10 notable births in our county – avoiding the most obvious ones? See if you agree

Read more
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

How the sheep farming heritage of Romney Marsh, an area of great natural beauty but high unemployment, helped inspire the creation of Romney Tweed | Writer: Sarah Sturt - Pictures: Manu Palomeque

Read more
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Who was your favourite doctor? Tom Baker regularly appears in the top two in Dr Who polls, is still acting and would never rule out a come-back | Words: Bernard Bale

Read more
Thursday, November 19, 2020

You might think you’re a bit of an expert on Kent but when the clock starts counting down, simple facts may start to elude your memory...

Read more

Pets are proving a lifesaver for many, providing companionship and consistency in uncertain times, as these Kent Life readers reveal

Read more
Thursday, November 19, 2020

Working closely with the most seriously ill of patients, Joanna Mitchell knows only too well the difference it can make when they are cared for at home.

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Latest Competitions & Offers

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Latest from the Kent Life