HomeTV and MoviesEx-EastEnders star fears she ‘may have been axed for refusing to play racist’
Ex-EastEnders star fears she ‘may have been axed for refusing to play racist’
EastEnders matriarchs are usually given the most dramatic doof doof exits.
But not Rosa di Marco, who died of a heart attack off screen after she’d moved to Leicester.
At the time Louise Jameson said she was “gutted” the character she’d played for two years was unceremoniously booted from the BBC soap.
Now she reveals secret rows over a dark storyline may have led to her fictional family being culled in 2000.
Louise says: "I was really annoyed about the way my exit was announced. I was told the night before it appeared in the papers under the headline, ‘Di Marcos Axed’.
"I thought they could have run it by me a bit beforehand so I could tell my family. It just wasn’t respectful.
"Shortly before that announcement they’d wanted to run a particular story that I wasn’t happy with and I wonder if that was the beginning of my demise. They were going to make Rosa racist.
"It’s not that I wouldn’t play a racist if the overall feel was anti-racism. But when you’re in a soap, people identify you so strongly with the character you’re playing so I didn’t want to appear racist."
Louise, 68, had shaped EastEnders history perhaps more than producers knew.
In the early 1970s, while volunteering at Leyhill Prison, Glos, she met an inmate serving life for murder and encouraged his acting skills.
He was the late Leslie Grantham, who had shot taxi driver Felix Reese in the head but went on to play the soap’s most memorable villain Dirty Den Watts.
"Leslie was insecure, nervous, talented and very funny. I saw a prison production he was in and he was really good,” says Louise.
"His probation officer asked if I’d be a mate on the outside. So my former boyfriend and I got his audition speeches up to scratch. He was always completely grateful and said thanks, but all we did was facilitate a talent and he grabbed it with both hands and ran.
"The proudest moment was when he got into college. And the rest is history.”
And what a chequered history. Leslie’s years of fame, which peaked when a record 30 million viewers watched Den serve divorce papers to Angie, were ruined by a webcam sex scandal in 2004.
Leslie died, aged 71, in 2018. Louise says: "I’m sad he’s gone, because he kind of mucked up a couple of times, didn’t he? He was careless with social media. The man had come full circle. He’d lived a life.
"By the time he died he was honourable and had apologised to everyone he needed to apologise to."
It says much about Louise not just that she volunteered to help prisoners, but that she maintains friendships for decades in the showbiz world.
She holidayed with Nadia Sawalha during her EastEnders stint and June Brown, Barbara Windsor and the late Wendi Peters became confidantes.
"I was going through a tricky time around EastEnders – my marriage had split up. They were fetching cups of tea.
"I haven’t seen Barbara lately – the last time was roughly five years ago when she was very affectionate. I don’t know if she had dementia then. Her husband Scott’s been absolutely amazing – bodyguard, champion, carer – phenomenal."
Tom Baker is still Louise’s good friend since he played the fourth Dr Who and she was his scantily clad assistant Leela from 1977 to 1978.
"I see Tom once every two months. We record audio for a podcast so I get to reprise Leela, and imagine being in my 20s and running around in whatever I was supposed to be wearing.
"At the time I didn’t think it was gratuitous – in retrospect, it probably was. The director said they wanted something for the dads. Dr Who was on just after the football results, so it was quite deliberate. I’m told it won over two million extra viewers.
"But I maintain she was feisty, not educated but intelligent. Even though they took her clothes off, they did make her energised and innovative.”
Diners might do a double take to see Louise and the cast of Tenko – a 1980s TV series about women held by the Japanese as prisoners of war – enjoying London’s smart restaurants.
"I know it’s soppy and actors say it all the time, but I feel I have a second family with the Tenko cast.
"Stephanie Beacham, Veronica Roberts, Ann Bell, Stephanie Cole and Lavinia Warner who devised it. We meet up very regularly for lunch and at births, hospitals, marriages. We champion each other. We don’t want it to be a funeral because we’re not all around.”
They share news, swap scripts and privately discuss their experiences of sexual harassment at work.
"Have men at work overstepped the mark with me? Yes. But I wouldn’t dream of putting it in print. I think you’d be hard pushed to find an actress my age who couldn’t ruin a career or two because of their experiences in the 70s or 80s."
Talk during the Tenko reunions often turns to cosmetic surgery, too.
"We always chat about whether or not to have facelifts. I don’t want to go anywhere near one. I feel quite heavily against even Botox. Why would you put poison that close to your brain?”
BBC producers have cast her in new sitcom Bumps, with Amanda Redman as Anita – a woman who has a baby in her 60s. “I play her very disapproving sister,” she says. "She’s really unsympathetic but kind of hilarious.”
Louise is also directing a thriller Revenge, on tour in the UK until March 28, but of all her roles, her best has been as mother to sons Harry, 37, and Tom, 35.
She says: "I’ve been married once, not to either father, and I don’t consider it a failed marriage but a wonderful marriage that had its day.
"I have three grandsons and now my boys constantly say, ‘How did you do it?’ I love it. I’m single at the moment. Would I like to meet someone? Maybe. If it happens, it happens.
"I won’t try online dating though. Just like Botox, it’s just not for me.”
Louise Jameson is directing the play Revenge, which is touring the UK. To book tickets, visit crime and comedytheatrecompany.co.uk