Glenda May Jackson was born on May 9, 1936 at 151, Market Street, Birkenhead, a daughter to bricklayer Harry Jackson and cleaner Joan née Pearce, and her childhood was played out in Cheshire’s Wirral peninsula. There was no silver spoon, rather a two-up-two-down, an outside lav and three younger sisters competing for space. She grew up in a household that was avowedly Labour-supporting; a background that would influence her later career. She attended West Kirby County Grammar. Aged 16 (c.1952) Glenda was a counter girl at Boots but would also be taking her first steps in an acting career, having a bash at amateur dramatics in Hoylake to where the family had moved shortly after her birth (21, Lake Place). Her first appearance for Hoylake’s YMCA Players came in a J.B. Priestley mystery in 1952. The lass who’d been named after a Hollywood star, Glenda Farrell (1904-71), then applied for a grant for London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), gaining a scholarship in 1954.

On August 2, 1958, aged 22, she married Roy Hodges, a relatively unsuccessful theatre producer whom she’d met while on a six-month season in Crewe where he was acting as stage manager. The next seven years or so would be marked by financial struggle for the pair of them. Reflecting later on her move into acting, Glenda asserted she’d had no real ambition in that direction, but that she knew: 'There had to be something better than the bloody chemist’s shop’ (with apologies to Boots).

Great British Life: Glenda Jackson with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise when she appeared in one of the plays what Ernie wrote. (c) BBCGlenda Jackson with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise when she appeared in one of the plays what Ernie wrote. (c) BBC

As a performer she was forthright, someone who knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to voice it. This didn’t always endear her to those holding the purse strings and the cast list, so plum roles didn’t always drop her way. Jackson’s first film appearance came in 1963 in This Sporting Life alongside Richard Harris, the same year she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Her big break though, was in 1964, when she landed the part of Charlotte Corday in a play about the French Revolution and her bathtub murder of Jean-Paul Marat. It was a performance that enabled her to make her debut on Broadway (1966). The following year she was playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as well as reprising the role of Corday in the film version of Marat/Sade which starred Ian Richardson as Marat and Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade. Although a member of the supporting cast, she shone, and her first truly starring role followed in Negatives (1968).

Glenda won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the adaption of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1970) in which her headstrong artist romped with Oliver Reed. Her artistic sincerity was shown by the authenticity of the scenes given that the two actors detested one another, by all accounts. Glenda had no issues with stripping off if the role demanded it and that applied equally to stage and screen. Her first bit of naturist acting came in the RSC’s Theatre of Cruelty when one of her roles was playing Christine Keeler famed for her part in the so-called Profumo Affair, the 1960s' British political scandal). The realisation that Glenda Jackson could do comedy, as well as gravity, came when she appeared several times on The Morecambe & Wise Show, larking about in Ernie’s plays. In the 1971 Christmas special she appeared as Cleopatra, foreshadowing her own West End starring role as the Egyptian queen at the end of the decade. By her own admission, her career had peaked; it doesn’t get any better than starring in an Ernie Wise play. Half-a-dozen years later she’d pop up as Cleo again but this time more soberly with the RSC in Anthony and Cleopatra. In the same year (’71) she had two bashes at playing Elizabeth I, most notably opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots, performances which had historians praising her accurate portrayal of the virgin queen.

Great British Life: Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave in a promotional shot for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971). moviestillsdb.comGlenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave in a promotional shot for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971).

A second Best Actress Oscar was gained for the comedic A Touch of Class (1973) when her fashion designer appeared alongside George Segal’s US businessman. She had managed to win two Academy Awards without even setting foot in Hollywood. Her two Oscars would sit alongside a plethora of other awards including a couple of BAFTAs, a Golden Globe, a Tony, and a trio of Emmys, as well as numerous honorary doctorates, and of course, a CBE in 1978. She was also nominated for two further Oscars. Had she won, she probably wouldn’t have turned up in person to collect them as she didn’t bother with the two she did win; awards didn’t always sit well with her and fame was certainly not her holy grail. She once said of her two Oscars: ‘Nice presents for a day. But they don’t make you any better’. Her marriage meanwhile ended in 1976; she wouldn’t wed a second time. She had one son, Daniel Pearce Jackson Hodges, a Mail on Sunday senior columnist, born in 1969.

Jackson turned her back on fame by taking a lengthy break from acting when she launched a parliamentary career, winning the Hampstead and Highgate seat for Labour in 1992 and continuing as a serving member of parliament until 2015, although the 2010 general election was a close-run thing when she retained the seat (by then Hampstead and Kilburn) by a mere 42 votes after the inevitable recount, the narrowest majority of any constituency at that parliament. She was a conviction politician. For all her fame and fortune she cared about individual people and wanted to make a difference to their lives. She ruffled feathers in the corridors of power in the same way she had among directors and producers. When New Labour gained power in 1997 Jackson became a junior transport minister (parliamentary under-secretary) but it was a brief elevation (to 1999), her opposition to the Iraq war ensuring there’d be no more posts like this. Twice (2000 and 2005) she ran unsuccessfully for London Mayor while her name was also mentioned as a possible future Labour leader. That may not have happened but she does remain the only MP to have won an Oscar. Her appearance on Desert Island Discs (1998) was memorable for her luxury item, a tub and towels, a throwback to the lack of an indoor bathroom growing up.

Great British Life: Glenda Jackson won her second Oscar playing Vicki Allessio opposite George Segal's Steve Blackburn in the comedy, A Touch of Class (1973). moviestillsdb.comGlenda Jackson won her second Oscar playing Vicki Allessio opposite George Segal's Steve Blackburn in the comedy, A Touch of Class (1973).

After Jackson stood down from parliament in 2015 she returned to acting, starring as King Lear the following year, which saw her play both the West End and Broadway, and then in 2019, a TV drama highlighting dementia would win her both a BAFTA and an EMMY for best actress. She had come back and had come back strong. Her final screen appearance would be with Michael Caine in The Great Escaper (2023), a film in which the painful subject of dementia is explored once again.

Glenda Jackson died on June 15, 2023 aged 87. This titan of an actor and constituency MP listed her favourite downtime pursuits as reading Jane Austen, cooking and gardening. She overcame humble origins to achieve greatness, noted for her portrayals of strong, emancipated women and holding centre stage with her clear diction and speaking voice that boomed out, commanding attention and respect. She was totally honest about herself and would never try to make out that she was something she wasn’t. Glenda was the real deal: unvarnished and free of vanity.

Great British Life: One of Glenda Jackson's final roles in Mothering Sunday (2021). moviestillsdb.comOne of Glenda Jackson's final roles in Mothering Sunday (2021).