Jean Rogers

Jean Rogers

With a past that saw her as one one of the first big characters on Emmerdale, and a future that she hopes will see her take Presidency at trade union Equity, it would seem Jean Rogers has never stopped.

We got to put some questions to Jean about her career, why she's hoping to win votes for Equity and much more.

How did you find yourself wanting to become an actress?

When I was five my family moved from London to Worthing in West Sussex where they opened a seaside guest house. In the Winter my Dad would meet my brother and I from school and take us to meet my Mum at the 'pictures". I adored the cinema, as I did the radio. I had been to dancing lessons from the age of three but with a London accent mixed with a Sussex burr I started elocution lessons, aged seven, and discovered poetry. One day, now nine years old, having been to the cinema the night before, i remember standing in the long hall of our Edwardian house saying to myself, " I want to be an actress." I don't think I ever looked back.

Now as a soap legend after playing Dolly Skilbeck in Emmerdale for 11 years, how do you remember that part of your life?

A wonderful warm glow! I had spent the previous decade doing mostly voice work whilst I raised my two children. I made around fifteen hundred broadcasts for BBC Schools' Radio, Radios 3 and 4 and the World Service presenting and writing Listen With Mother, Poetry Corner, playing little boys and girls and other roles in Radio Drama, and I presented a BBC schools' TV programme called Watch. My children were nine and twelve when I joined the cast of Emmerdale Farm which was rehearsed and recorded in Leeds. They got used to seeing me only at weekends until they eventually moved up to Yorkshire to live with me. I remember feeling so happy to be doing television drama again. The cast were very warm and welcoming. It was a bitter sweet time though. My mother had been diagnosed with leukemia only three months earlier and she died knowing I was on a short list of six but before I got the job.

Do you still watch Emmerdale?

Not really. I dip into now and again but apart from Christopher Chittell (Eric Pollard), now Richard Thorp (Alan Turner) has died, there is no-one there I know any more. It is very popular of course, but I loved the programme in those days because it was so different from the other soaps like Coronation Street, Crossroads and Brookside. I loved the scenery, the animals and its pace. There was something rather romantic about it.

Could you ever see yourself rejoining the soap?

There was a long period when I'd have nightmares about finding myself on location, wondering why I'd agreed to be back on the show again, wishing I had resisted. I would love work on a soap again but Eastenders or Coronation Street would be fab, not Emmerdale. I don't think you should go back. It would never feel the same. I was very fond of Dolly. She was a nice girl - like a sister to me.

Today you're campaigning to become the first female President of Equity in almost 70 years, why is this so close to your heart?

It is such a challenge, and I love a challenge! When something has been that way for so long it just continues to be that way. As they get older actresses' CV's generally worsen with the lack of job opportunities whilst men on the whole can get more work and better pay and they are then perceived as having gravitas.

I think men are also seen as being safer, more protective, stronger, intelligent, focused etc etc, particularly by other men. People often talk of there being a boy's club, don't they? I want men and women to have confidence in the fact women can hold such a position too. The former president of Norwegian actors, Agnete Haaland, told me that when Norway looked at the dearth of female members on Boards they asked themselves the question "Why is it men vote for men, and women vote for... men." I want to challenge that culture.

What will you be bringing to the role if you are successful in your campaign?

As to what I think I can bring to the table as President, there are hopefully several things. Firstly, Is think the fact of having a female President after so long - seventy years - will be refreshing for the union. After all women make up more than half the population as they do of the Equity membership and I would hope my being there would bring those women confidence that their voice will be heard. I would like to think that all the membership would feel reassured that my record of issues i have been involved with and championed during my twenty years on Council, and ten as a Vice President - addressing readable television end credits, resuming a dialogue with the advertising industry after over fifteen years of stalemate, working towards a better gender balance in theatre and an equal representation of women in film and television drama, and fighting for proper remuneration rights through my work as Chairman of BECS, The British Equity Collecting Society.

I believe my election as President would send a strong message of equality and unity. A modern message at the beginning of a new century. That we are not a club. That we do not compete with each other. That as a trade union we believe in equality, fairness and we celebrate our wonderfully diversity.

For those who may not know what Equity is all about, could you please give us some details on the union and what it involves?

Equity was set up in 1930 as a trade union to look after and protect the working conditions of actors. It has a number of collective agreements which protect artists from falling below a living wage. The union also offers legal protection in the case of injury or non payment, offers a free job service, tax and NI advice and runs a number of campaigns, My theatre Matters, loePay/NoPay and more work opportunities for older actresses.

You're to take on a role in the play Home Sweet Home in September, how are you preparing for that?

We have already worked on this play and performed it in Bradford where the audiences loved it. They were very multi cultural audiences, as are the characters. My character Barbara has a husband Ron who is suffering with dementia. She is fighting to keep him off the lorazepam. The setting is a care home, but it is set in the round, on a variety stage with a chorus of old age pensioners who serve tea and sing songs. There are seven professional actors who are the backbone of the piece, beautifully written by Emma Adams, We will resume in September, playing again in Bradford, then in London at the Albany Theatre and finally in Stockton at the Arc.

The play stimulates debate about growing older in Britain - what do you think of the current British climate for those growing older?

A seven year study at Sheffield University by Professor Alan Walker concludes that organisations and employers in the UK are twenty years out of date in the way they view older people and that it is the media that distorts the image of the elderly, particularly that of older women. His research, entitled The New Dynamic's of Ageing seeks to put the record straight by showing that the elderly have much to offer. I was on a panel last November where he launched his findings and a petition was set up against sexism in the media.

The show echoes this belief. A young Indian care worker finds the courage to challenge the system and encourage a new understanding of residents like Ron who seemingly has attacked another resident but in practise has been totally mis-diagnosed and underestimated by the overworked staff. I think the play stimulates a very necessary debate, but apart from that it is very funny, whilst also managing to address important questions in a very moving way.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

Please vote for me! You can visit to find out more. Tweet #votejeanrogers

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