Former Emmerdale star Jean Rogers, who grew up in Worthing, has been honoured by the Trades Union Congress for her work in gender equality.
She is the recipient of the 2017 TUC Women’s Gold Badge – recognition of her work in defending actresses against the “double whammy” of ageism and sexism.
Jean, who now lives in Eastergate, said the award was particularly pleasing as Equity is one of the smaller unions within the TUC.
“Every year just five lay union members from the whole of the movement are honoured with a Gold Badge. One is a Women’s Gold Badge. We are not aware of anyone from Equity, the actors, variety and creatives in the entertainment industry, getting one before so I am a bit chuffed. Surprised, but chuffed!
“I joined Equity back in the 1960s when you had to do 40 weeks as a probationer and then become a full member or you couldn’t work on film sets or in the West End. It was a closed shop.”
But a closed shop that Jean entered enthusiastically: “I think it is important to have that collective voice. The industry is now a pretty cut-throat place. It is dreadful, with everyone having to compete against each other. If you go back into history, that has always been the case, but I think it has got worse, particularly with the culture today that anybody can do it which has been inspired by reality TV. There is also a lot of intern work. A lot of people come into the industry thinking they are going to get famous, and very few people do. Some of us are lucky enough to have a decade of sparkly, sparkly, but that is not what it is really all about. You have to be in it for the long haul, and it is not easy.
“Everything is freelance these days. In theatre companies, you used to be able to have a contract for a year and maybe roll it forwards, but every production seems to be cast these days just before they do it, and then when it has finished, you are out of work again. The whole thing has changed, and because of reality TV, a lot of people come into the business who really ought to have thought twice.”
Jean’s particular interest emerged after she became Equity vice-president, working on gender equality with the women’s committee.
“They were trying to research the portrayal of women, how women are portrayed and the fact that once they get to a certain age, they are no longer portrayed at all and therefore don’t get employed.
“It is a question of both gender and age equality, the double whammy for women just like racism and sexism are for black women. It is not just about being slightly more than half the population but having fewer advantages. It is that ageism thing as well.”
And the answer?
“I think is it a question of awareness and making the opportunity to talk about it and so make people think.”
Jean was born in London but was five when her parents moved to Worthing to open a guest house: “I lived in Worthing until I joined the National Theatre. I went to Worthing Girls Grammar School. They did a Shakespeare Cup – and I walked away with it!”
Jean was then financed by West Sussex County Council to study drama and singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She then went on to become a regular in Emmerdale before coming full circle with a return to live in West Sussex.
“We have lived in Eastergate for six and a half years. For me, it is lovely to be back in Sussex. I am a Sussex girl!”