[I was looking for whether Susan was older or younger than Mick, but her obituary made interesting reading on its own, especially the part about their childhood]
London Times, October 2, 1995
HEADLINE: Susan Fleetwood
Susan Fleetwood, actress, died of cancer on September 29 aged 51. She was born on September 21, 1944.
WITH her expressive, dark eyes, handsome, mobile face and impeccable vocal delivery, Susan Fleetwood was for more than twenty years a leading figure on the classical English stage. From an early age she displayed such immense maturity that from the outset it was difficult not to think of her in terms of a much older generation of actresses, the Thorndikes and the Ashcrofts. It is astonishing to reflect that her electrifying Regan or her imperious Portia for the Royal Shakespeare Company of the 1960s and 1970s were played when she was still in her twenties. And yet up to thirty years later she was able to replicate girlish self-doubt or ingenue bemusement where they were called for in some of her television roles.
Indeed, her dramatic gifts and physical attributes enabled her to translate effortlessly to the small screen. There, she was properly in her element in the heavier kind of drama, though her performance as Kate Phillips in the BBC1 detective series Chandler & Co, seen as recently as this year, was an immensely successful feature of the channel's more popular output. To her film roles, too, though they were not numerous, she always brought unforgettable quality.
To the public who did not know her, it would have come as a surprise to learn that this achievement was sustained in parallel with a battle against cancer which had lasted for ten years. Among her later roles, her Arkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1991, was a triumph of innate accomplishment and sheer courage over the debilitating ravages of the disease.
Susan Maureen Fleetwood was born at St Andrews, the daughter of an RAF officer. Her brother Mick was to become drummer of the band Fleetwood Mac. Since her father chose to keep his children with him while he went on overseas postings, rather than packing them off to boarding school, she had a peripatetic childhood. She spent several years in Egypt in the period before the Suez crisis and then went to Norway where her father had a Nato job. There she had her first taste of drama with the role of Joseph in a school production of the famous Old Testament story.
With a precocious brother and sister, both of whom were interested in the arts in one form or another, she grew up as an articulate child, although the scant formal side of her education left her with reading difficulties that were to haunt her for some years.
When her parents returned to England she chose to help them to renovate the Thames barge they lived in rather than to be sent to school. Broadmindedly, they seem not to have objected. But the local education authority did, and she was tracked down and hauled off to school.
Since she was apparently incapable of passing her 11-plus, the choice had to be a convent school and it was to the influence of a nun there, who perceived what drama could do for this unconventional child, that Susan Fleetwood ever afterwards attributed her embarking on the right career path.
At 16 she won a scholarship to RADA from where, in 1964, she toured the United States, playing Lady Macbeth and Rosalind in As You Like It in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. Terry Hands, a contemporary at RADA with whom she was later to live for nine years, played Orlando. When she returned from America she went to Liverpool with a group of actors, which had Hands at the centre of it.
There she became a founder-member of the Everyman Theatre, which had encouragement from Liverpool City Council. It was hard, ill-paid work, but the commitment was unremittingly to serious drama, and this shaped her outlook on what the theatre should be.
This formative experience, which included teaching and performing in local schools, lasted three years. At the end of that period she was offered jobs at both the National and Royal Shakespeare theatres.
She decided to follow Hands to Stratford, and, unlike many young actresses who have to spend an apprenticeship playing soldiers, townsfolk or murderers, soon made her mark. In 1968 her baneful Regan in King Lear electrified audiences. Her Cassandra in John Barton's production of Troilus and Cressida was also an arresting one.
But, though she became well established at the RSC, she began to appreciate the drawbacks of working for the same company, and in 1970 went touring with the Cambridge Theatre Company. With them she did her first Seagull (as Nina), an experience that was to instil into her a love for Chekhov which never left her. She also toured with the Prospect Theatre, as Lady Rodolpha in The Way of the World and as Ophelia.
But, as was bound to happen, the RSC could never be far from the centre of her career and she was back at Stratford by 1972, playing Portia opposite Eric Porter's Shylock, the Woman of Canterbury in Murder in the Cathedral and a Bondwoman in The Island of the Mighty (the production of which so displeased its co-authors John Arden and his wife Margaret D'Arcy that they picketed the Aldwych Theatre and vowed never to write for the stage again).
By now Susan Fleetwood was unassailably established on the classical stage and it was only a question of which roles she would add to her repertoire as the years went on. A notable landmark was her Pegeen Mike in a production of The Playboy of the Western World at the Old Vic in 1975. This was the more remarkable in that she was the only English member of an otherwise all-Irish cast.
During the 1980s she became increasingly involved with films, including Heat and Dust (1982), a version of Ruth Prawer Jabhvala's novel of India, scripted by the writer herself, and White Mischief (1987), an account of the murder of Lord Erroll in Kenya's Happy Valley. But a film which meant a great deal to her was The Sacrifice directed in Sweden in 1985 by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The director, then in exile, was also by then suffering from cancer (he died shortly afterwards) and a close artistic rapport sprang up between him and his leading lady.
Meanwhile, a television career had burgeoned; besides the popular success of Chandler & Co there was a recent version of Jane Austen's Persuasion and the enigmatic portrayal of the long-suffering Leonora Ashburnham in a fine account of Ford Madox Ford's novel The Good Soldier (1981).
But nothing could weaken her allegiance to the stage. As long as she was able, she continued to engage the major classic roles. A delightful Beatrice in the RSC's Much Ado About Nothing in 1990 was followed by a remarkable account of Chekhov's Madame Arkadina at the Barbican in the following year, which plumbed all the depths of The Seagull's subtleties. Had illness not cut short her career, Susan Fleetwood clearly had much more to give as she entered maturity. Her death removes one of its most gracious personalities from the English stage.
She never married.
[THEY HAD A MEMORIAL SERVICE THE FOLLOWING YEAR]
June 10, 1996
HEADLINE: Miss Susan Fleetwood
A celebration for the life and work of Miss Susan Fleetwood, actress, was held yesterday at St James's, Piccadilly. The Rev Donald Reeves officiated.
Mr Gawn Grainger read the lesson. Miss Brenda Blethyn read Her Praise by W.B. Yeats and Mr Brian Cox read Sonnet XVIII by Shakespeare. Mr Michael Coveney gave an address. Mr Mick Fleetwood, brother, Ms Mopsy Heath, Ms Linda Clifford, Mr Luke Jones, Miss Angela Pleasence, Mr Peter Eyre, Mr John Tams and Friends and Mr Michael Gough also took part.
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