An Appreciation of Jennifer Phipps

by Lynn on April 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer







An Appreciation of Jennifer Phipps.

Jennifer Phipps (“Jenny” to all who loved her) was a beguiling, quirky, compelling treasure of the theatre. She imbued her characters with a joy of and for life; at times they seemed elegant and poised at other times they seemed distracted, a bit unbalanced, but always present.

Her more than 60 years of credits, both in England, where she was born, to Canada where she lived, are easily Googled. She liked saying that when she was a young actress in England Joan Collins was a contemporary and often Jenny got the parts for which they both auditioned.

One of the most important, notable things about Jennifer Phipps is that she was absolutely beloved and loved by those who knew her and worked with her in theatre, television or film. Established actors or those just starting out all have endless stories of how she encouraged, supported or championed them. In tributes that have poured in since her death at 87 on April 17, she was a mentor to so many, not just actors but stage managers, dressers, those backstage, or anywhere in the theatre. And she was irreverent and impish generally going against convention.

It speaks volumes that on April 14, there was an early birthday party/ tribute gathering in the visitor’s lounge of the hospital where she would spend her last days. The room was filled with the likes of Christopher Newton, who headed the Shaw Festival for 22 years, Martha Henry, Canadian theatre icon, who worked with Jenny, Beatrice Campbell a Shaw stage manager, Patty Jamieson and Jenny Wright, both of the Shaw company (all three women helped organize a chain of people who took care of Jenny seeing she moved into new digs, making sure she had food, company, and was comfortable). The room was packed with those who revered, respected and loved Jenny. By this time she had slipped into a coma but it says everything that those artists came to tell her how much she meant to them in her final days.

I probably first saw Jenny act at the then St. Lawrence Centre. It was years later at the Stratford Festival that I stood at the stage door and offered her a Tootsie Pop with my thanks for her work. Her face broke into that glowing smile as she took it and said: “I’ve waited fourteen years for one of these.” I was mortified that I was too shy and awkward to give her one years before because I didn’t know her. She never had to wait for another “Tootsie” ever again. She got one every time I saw her act and even when she didn’t.

We would have tea at her quirky, memento-filled farmhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We talked about theatre of course and what she thought of plays and actors, directors, playwrights etc. She was always kind, thoughtful, compassionate, but occasionally wickedly funny with a well-placed comment. She smiled almost always and laughed often.

Years ago I told her I was going to London and we talked of The Actors’ Church (really St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, but it’s affectionately known as The Actors’ Church because of the plaques inside commemorating the greats of the British Theatre). Jenny said that there was a plaque to her granny, Nancy Price. I told her I would look her up. I did. There was Nancy Price’s plaque, to the left as you went in the door, past the one to Vivien Leigh. She was the founder of the People’s National Theatre (not to be confused with the National Theatre founded by Laurence Olivier). Ms Price was an actress and a mover and a shaker in theatre. When The People’s National Theatre folded she formed a touring company to bring Shakespeare to working class children. Her granddaughter, Jennifer Phipps, carried on that pioneering spirit.

I took a picture of the plaque and sent it to Jenny. She was chuffed. I pay my respects to Nancy Price on behalf of her granddaughter every time I’m in London. This next time in July will be particularly poignant.

It will be my everlasting regret I did not keep in closer touch with Jenny over the last few years. I’m glad others did, but for me it’s a terrible lapse.  Even though she’s gone Jenny continues to be a wonderful teacher. Don’t wait to tell someone you love them and their work. Don’t let time go by without seeing friends and family and holding them close.

Jenny leaves a son, a daughter, grandchildren, a great grandchild and a whole heartbroken community who were lucky and privileged to know her.

Thanks Jenny. Love you. Miss you.

Xoxox Lynn

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Harold Povilaitis April 22, 2019 at 10:06 am

What a lovely tribute to such a special lady of the theatre !!! Thank you, Jenny, for SO MANY memorable performances over the years … it was always such a pleasure to see your wonderful and unique character portrayals at the Shaw Festival, where you were such a treasured and beloved member of the Shaw ensemble !!!


2 Robin Craig April 22, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Lynn, what a lovely tribute. I was fortunate enough to act with Jenny at Shaw. She was wonderfully original and open. I loved her. She was funny, and so smart. She knew exactly what she was doing and helped anyone who was on stage with her look better. The last time I saw her was at Emma Mackenzie Hillier’s wedding last summer, she looked even more radiant than ever. She was frail, yes, and needed to be reminded of who David was, but it was this ethereal quality that made me believe that she already had one foot in heaven – in the best of ways. Thank you again for reminding us of how very special she was.



3 Barbara Worthy April 22, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Thank you for this Lynn. She was a unique one-of-a-kind. You have captured her beautifully.
She was my dear pal for the past 30 decades, and I will miss her so very much.
And we will surely miss that wonderful inimitable presence on stage.


4 John R Van Burek April 24, 2019 at 10:47 am

Beautiful! I have a photo of Jenny as Sister Mary, with Nicolas, about 9, on her lap.
She telling him about thee dangers of birth control and masturbation.


5 Janis Barlow April 25, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Thank you, Lynn, for this wonderful remembrance of Jenny. We became good friends when I was at Theatre Plus under Marion Andre and she did Filumena. She stayed at my apartment because it was close to the theatre and we had visits from her son, Dawn Greenhalgh and the American conductor who was playing at the Royal Alex. Everyone loved Jenny. She shared her fascinating early family background with me which ranged from Jenny Lind to the JP Morgan family and, of course, the swimsuit photo of Joan Collins and Jenny as teenagers. Telling me stories was always much more fun than running lines. She was always so inside the character she would come up with something when she blanked. Forty years ago and I remember it so well. She was a teacher. I would see her at Shaw and she would wonder why I didn’t have her out for a barbecue to my home in St. Catharines. So do I. I guess I was holding on to treasured memories of that special lady during a wonderful time. May she rest in peace.