Margaret John

Margaret John (14 December 1926 – 2 February 2011) was a Welsh, BAFTA award-winning actress, best known for her role as Doris O'Neill in Gavin & Stacey. She has been described, by fellow actress Ruth Jones, as "an absolute national treasure".[5]

Margaret John
Born(1926-12-14)14 December 1926[1]
Died2 February 2011(2011-02-02) (aged 84)[2]
Swansea, Wales[3]
Years active1956–2011
Notable work
A Bit of Tom Jones?
The Boy Merlin
The District Nurse
Eyes Down
High Hopes
Gavin & Stacey
Game of Thrones
Spouse(s)Ben Thomas (1974–1978) (d. 1978)[4]

Early life

Born in Swansea, as a child she wanted to be a nurse or vet, but she could not stand the sight of blood.[1] She occasionally acted at school with her sister Mair. Spotted while acting in a chapel pagent competition, after an audition John trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, graduating in 1950.[6]


Margaret John's first public appearances were at Swansea's Grand Theatre, where she had small parts in weekly repertoire.[7] Not being a fluent Welsh speaker, she at times found Welsh language productions challenging.[5] After appearances on radio and in the theatre, she made her television debut in 1956 in a Welsh language drama.

Her television roles included appearances on episodes of The First Lady, The Troubleshooters, Softly, Softly, The Mike Yarwood Show, Doomwatch, Blake's 7, Secret Army, Lovejoy, My Family, High Hopes, The District Nurse, Casualty, and Doctors. On Radio 4, she appeared on Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting and played Mrs Stone, the school secretary, in the original ten series of King Street Junior from 1985 to 1998.[8]

In a career that spanned more than fifty years, she appeared in such television programmes as: Coronation Street, Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars, Doctor Who, Little Britain, Emmerdale, Last of the Summer Wine, Crossroads, Gavin & Stacey and The Mighty Boosh. In the early 1980s, she enjoyed a long run on ITV's daily soap opera Crossroads as doctors' receptionist Marian Owen. Between 2007 and 2010, she portrayed Doris in Gavin & Stacey.[8]

At the 18th BAFTA Cymru Film, Television and Interactive Media Awards on 17 May 2009, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, in a ceremony hosted by Gethin Jones, John was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.[9]

In September 2009, John appeared in the graphic short film Cow by director Peter Watkins Hughes warning of the dangers of texting while driving.[10]

Also in 2009, John appeared in The Vagina Monologues; prior to that, she had not appeared on stage since the 1980s, when she appeared in Medea at London's Young Vic Theatre, with Dame Eileen Atkins. John subsequently appeared on stage in Calendar Girls at the Wales Millennium Centre from 27 July to 7 August 2010 and at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, from 9 to 14 August 2010, alongside fellow Welsh actress Ruth Madoc, playing Lady Cravenshire, the judge of the WI's cake competition.[11] She also starred in the 2009 low-budget film A Bit of Tom Jones?, a bawdy farce about the Welsh singer's penis.[12]

In March 2010, she appeared in the BBC One Wales programme Margaret John – National Treasure, which featured clips from the last 50 years of television and special guest interviews with, among others, Ruth Jones, Eve Myles and Joanna Page. The programme was broadcast again, in tribute to John, on 5 February 2011.[5] She also featured in a short BBC video in which she cooked Welsh cakes for St. David's Day.[13]

Her last appearance on screen, broadcast one month after her death, was in Game of Thrones as Old Nan, an elderly servant in the Stark household, who was slated to be a recurring character.[14]

Personal life

Aged 48, she married Ben Thomas, a viola player who performed with both the London Symphony Orchestra and Frank Sinatra.[15] He died aged 39, three years after they married, and she did not remarry. They had no children.[4]

John regularly worked for many charities, including: Sport Relief, Children in Need, Comic Relief, the PDSA and the George Thomas Hospice. She was also the face of the National Lottery AdvantAGE campaign, created to provide opportunities for older people.[4]


Margaret John died in hospital in Swansea on 2 February 2011 after a brief battle with liver cancer.[16]

Just before her death, Swansea University awarded her an Honorary Fellowship for her exemplary and inspiring character in relation to old age, particularly as she continued acting until she became ill shortly before her death. The award was received on her behalf by a nephew, Chris Davies, at a ceremony in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.

Selected film and television appearances

1960How Green Was My ValleyBronwenBBC adaptation[17]
1967Z-CarsBetty NutallEpisode: "When Did You Last See Your Father?"
1968Doctor WhoMegan JonesSerial: "Fury from the Deep"
1973Seven of OneMrs OwenEpisode: "I'll Fly You for a Quid"
1977Last of the Summer WineFoggy's ladyfriendEpisode #26: "Who Made a Bit of a Splash in Wales Then?"
1977–1978Pobol y CwmClare LeyshonRegular Role
1978–1984CrossroadsMarian Owen
1978Blake's 7ArbiterEpisode: "The Way Back"
1999–2008High HopesMrs Elsie Hepplewhite
2005The Mighty BooshNanatooEpisode: "Nanageddon"
2006Doctor WhoGranny ConnollyEpisode: "The Idiot's Lantern"
2007–2010Gavin & StaceyDoris O'Neill
2007Run Fatboy RunLibby's Grandmother
2009A Bit of Tom Jones?
CowJoyce Richards
2011Game of ThronesOld NanPosthumous

Last appearance


  1. "Margaret John". London: Daily Telegraph. 2 February 2011.
  2. McCarthy, James (2 February 2011). "Gavin & Stacey star dies". Wales Online. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  3. "Gavin & Stacey actress Margaret John dies at 84". BBC News. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  4. "Margaret John". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. 2 February 2011.
  5. Margaret John – National Treasure,; accessed 6 March 2015.
  6. "Swansea Life - News, views, gossip, pictures, video - Wales Online".
  7. "Margaret John: Actress acclaimed for her portrayal of the saucy".
  8. Margaret John on IMDb
  9. Nations & Regions Awards Archived 22 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 6 March 2015.
  10. "Graphic film about dangers of texting is internet hit",; accessed 6 March 2015.
  11. Price, Karen (29 April 2010). "Margaret John stars in Calendar Girls". Western Mail. Cardiff, Wales: Trinity Mirror. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  12. "Gavin & Stacey star Margaret John dies",; accessed 6 March 2015.
  13. "Margaret John's St David's Day Video",; accessed 6 March 2015.
  14. "Gavin & Stacey star Margaret John dies",; accessed 6 March 2015.
  15. "Margaret John". IMDb.
  16. "Gavin & Stacey star Margaret John dies". Guardian. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
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