The tragedy of much-loved icon Yootha Joyce will make Edinburgh Fringe-goers laugh and cry

AT the height of her fame in the Seventies, millions of viewers tuned every week to watch the latest trials and tribulations of Mildred and her layabout husband George in the hit sitcom George & Mildred.
Testament of Yootha
- Caroline Burns CookeTestament of Yootha
- Caroline Burns Cooke
Testament of Yootha - Caroline Burns Cooke

The pairing, who first appeared together as supporting characters in another long-running sitcom, Man About The House, won the hearts of viewers of all ages. Little could they know as they watched those final episodes in 1979 how ill the actress who brought Mildred to life really was... Yootha Joyce was dying, slowly.

Her last appearance was the 1980 feature film George and Mildred. In the summer of that year she passed away suffering from liver failure at the age of just 53 - the inquest into her death revealed she had been drinking upwards of half a bottle of brandy a day for 10 years.

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The story of the much-loved icon is brought to life this Fringe in Testament of Yootha, a new one-woman play written by and starring Caroline Burns Cooke.

Cold parents, wartime deprivation, no luck in love and typecasting all played their part in her pressing the self destruct, yet throughout she laughed, loved and hid behind a mask of wit and professionalism, impressing all she met.

Testament of Yootha finds Burns Cooke embodying the tragic star, who remained a magnetic ball of energy to the end.

She says, “In my teens, Man About the House and George & Mildred were always on TV.

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“Mildred was a fantastic character but Yootha, who had worked in the theatre with famous director Joan Littlewood, became trapped by the success of that one iconic TV role.

“It was absolutely full-time for her for many years, recording the TV shows then touring the country and public appearances opening supermarkets and the like.

“There was literally no escape from the public and she was under an awful lot of pressure.

“There was no one there to make her eat, she was drinking a bottle of brandy a day for the last 10 years of her life, and she was very thin towards the end.

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“She was living on fags and nerves, she was lonely and wanted to be loved. There is sadness there behind the eyes.”

Using pastiches of period songs and a cast of supporting roles, including Joan Littlewood and Brian Murphy, she tells the tale of a fabulous woman and actress who “could have been a contender”.

She adds, “But Testament of Yootha is not all gloom and despair.

“I am hoping people will go away feeling uplifted. It’s got a lot of sadness, but she is a very funny character at the same time.”

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Testament of Yootha, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Turret, 12.15pm, £8.50-£9.50,