Jill Bennett (British actress)

Nora Noel Jill Bennett (24 December 1931 – 4 October 1990) was an English actress, and the fourth wife of playwright John Osborne.

Jill Bennett
Jill Bennett in trailer for The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)
Nora Noel Jill Bennett

(1931-12-24)24 December 1931
Died4 October 1990(1990-10-04) (aged 58)
London, England, United Kingdom
Cause of deathSuicide
Years active1951–1990
Willis Hall (m. 19621965)

John Osborne (m. 19681978)

Early life

She was born in Penang, the Straits Settlements, to British parents, educated at Prior's Field School, an independent girls boarding school in Godalming, and trained at RADA. She made her stage début in the 1949 season at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, and her film début in The Long Dark Hall (1951) with Rex Harrison.


Bennett made many appearances in British films including Lust for Life (1956), The Criminal (1960), The Nanny (1965), The Skull (1965), Inadmissible Evidence (1968), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Julius Caesar (1970), I Want What I Want (1972), Mister Quilp (1975), Full Circle (1977) and Britannia Hospital (1982). She also appeared in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), Lady Jane (1986) and Hawks (1988). Her final film performance was in The Sheltering Sky (1990).

She made forays into television, such as roles in Play for Today (Country, 1981), with Wendy Hiller, and as the colourful Lady Grace Fanner in John Mortimer's adaptation of his own novel, Paradise Postponed (1985). Among several roles, Osborne wrote the character of Annie in his play The Hotel in Amsterdam (1968) for her. But Bennett's busy schedule prevented her from playing the role until it was screened on television in 1971.[1]

She co-starred with Rachel Roberts in the Alan Bennett television play The Old Crowd (1979), directed by Lindsay Anderson.

Personal life

She was the live-in companion of actor Godfrey Tearle in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She was married to screenwriter Willis Hall and later to John Osborne. She and Osborne divorced acrimoniously in 1978. She had no children.


She died by suicide in October 1990, aged 58, having long suffered from depression and the brutalising effects of her marriage to Osborne (according to Osborne's biographer).[2] She did this by taking an overdose[3] of Quinalbarbitone. Osborne, who was subject during her life to a restraining order regarding written comments about her, immediately wrote a vituperative chapter about her to be added to the second volume of his autobiography. The chapter, in which he rejoiced at her death, caused great controversy.[4]

In 1992, Bennett's ashes, along with those of her friend, the actress Rachel Roberts (who also died by suicide, in 1980), were scattered by their friend Lindsay Anderson on the waters of the River Thames in London. Anderson, with several of the two actresses' professional colleagues and friends, took a boat trip down the Thames, and the ashes were scattered while musician Alan Price sang the song "Is That All There Is?" The event was included in Anderson's autobiographical BBC documentary Is That All There Is? (1992).


Year Title Role Notes
1951The Long Dark HallFirst murdered girl
1952Moulin RougeSarah
1954Hell Below ZeroGerda Petersen
1954Aunt ClaraJulie Mason
1956The Extra DaySusan
1956Lust for LifeWillemien
1960The CriminalMaggie
1965The SkullJane Maitland
1965The NannyAunt Pen
1968The Charge of the Light BrigadeMrs. Duberly
1968Inadmissible EvidenceLiz
1970Julius CaesarCalpurnia
1972I Want What I WantMargaret Stevenson
1975Mister QuilpSally Brass
1977Full CircleLily Lofting
1981For Your Eyes OnlyJacoba Brink
1982Britannia HospitalDr. MacMillan: Medicos
1986Lady JaneMrs. Ellen
1988HawksVivian Bancroft
1990The Sheltering SkyMrs. Lyle(final film role)

Theatre career

  • Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, 1949 season
  • Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, St Martin's Theatre, December 1949
  • Anni in Captain Carvallo, St. James' Theatre, August 1950
  • Iras in Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra, St. James' Theatre, May 1951 (opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh)
  • Helen Eliot in The Night of the Ball, New Theatre, January 1955
  • Masha in The Seagull, Saville Theatre, August 1956
  • Mrs. Martin in The Bald Prima Donna, Arts Theatre, November 1956
  • Sarah Stanham in The Touch of Fear, Aldwych Theatre, December 1956
  • Isabelle in Dinner With the Family, New Theatre, December 1957
  • Penelope in Last Day in Dreamland and A Glimpse of the Sea, Lyric Hammersmith, November 1959
  • Susan Roper in Breakfast for One, Arts Theatre, April 1961
  • Feemy Evans in The Showing Up of Blanco Posnet, and Lavinia in Androcles and the Lion, Mermaid Theatre, October 1961
  • Estelle in In Camera (Huis Clos), Oxford Playhouse, February 1962
  • Ophelia in Castle in Sweden, Piccadilly Theatre, May 1962
  • Hilary in The Sponge Room, and Elizabeth Mintey in Squat Betty, Royal Court, December 1962
  • Isabelle in The Love Game, New Arts Theatre, October 1964
  • Countess Sophia Delyanoff in A Patriot for Me, Royal Court, June 1965
  • Anna Bowers in A Lily in Little India, Hampstead Theatre Club, November 1965
  • Imogen Parrott in Trelawney of the Wells, National Theatre at the Old Vic, August 1966
  • Katerina in The Storm, National Theatre at the Old Vic, October 1966
  • Pamela in Time Present, Royal Court, May 1968 at the Duke of York’s Theatre, July 1968 (for which she won the Variety Club and Evening Standard Awards for Best Actress)
  • Anna Bowers in Three Months Gone at the Royal Court in January 1970; at the Duchess Theatre in March 1970,
  • Frederica in West of Suez, Royal Court, August 1971; Cambridge Theatre, October 1971
  • Hedda in Hedda Gabler, Royal Court, June 1972
  • Amanda in Private Lives (briefly taking over for Maggie Smith), Queen's Theatre, June 1973
  • Leslie Crosbie in The Letter, Palace Theatre, Watford, July 1973
  • Isobel Sands in The End of Me Old Cigar, Greenwich Theatre, January 1975
  • Fay in Loot, Royal Court, June 1975
  • Sally Prosser in Watch It Come Down, National Theatre at the Old Vic, February 1976 at the National Theatre at the Old Vic; March 1976 at the Lyttelton Theatre
  • Mrs. Shankland and Miss Railton-Bell in Separate Tables, Apollo Theatre, January 1977
  • Mrs. Tina in The Aspern Papers (1978); The Queen in The Eagle Has Two Heads (1979); and Maggie Cutler in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1979); all at the Chichester Festival Theatre
  • Gertrude in Hamlet, Royal Court, April 1980
  • Alice in The Dance of Death, Royal Exchange Manchester, October 1983
  • Janine in Infidelities, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 1985; at the Donmar Warehouse in October 1985; and revived at the Boulevard Theatre in June 1986
  • Queen Elizabeth I in Mary Stuart, Edinburgh Festival, August 1987
  • Miss Singer in Exceptions, New End Theatre, Hampstead, July 1988
  • Anne in Poor Nanny, King's Head Theatre, March 1989

Radio theatre

Masha in The Three Sisters/TRI SESTRY, BBC Home Service Radio 1965. Directed by John Tyneman. Cast included Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave and Wilfrid Lawson.


  1. Heilpern, John (2006). John Osborne: a patriot for us. Chatto & Windus / Google Books. p. 357. ISBN 0701167807.
  2. Heilpern, pp. 412–3, 443–4
  3. Upton, Julian (2004). Fallen Stars: Tragic Lives and Lost Careers. Headpress/Critical Vision. p. 117. ISBN 978-1900486385.
  4. Heilpern, p. 444

Theatre sources

  • Who’s Who in the Theatre, 17th Edition, Vol. 1. (Gale Research, 1981.)
  • 25 Years of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Richard Findlater, ed. (Amber Lane Press, 1981.)
  • Theatre Record (periodical indexes)

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