A brief biography in anticipation of Jan presenting us with her autobiography...


Janet Stephanie Francis was born on August 5th, 1947 at the old Charing Cross Hospital near Trafalgar Square, the first child (a brother would follow 8 years later) of Frank, a clerical officer with the Agricultural Society, and Marjorie, who ran an employment agency.


    



Raised in Streatham, South London, Jan was educated at the Lady Edridge Grammar School where she gained "a handful of 'O' Levels" and more importantly an interest in dance.  

Then at 16 she became one of the 1 in 100 to win a scholarship to the Royal Ballet Senior School, graduating in 1965 and touring extensively with The Royal Ballet Touring Company in the UK, Europe and America from September of that year.

From 1967 Janet was also a member of BALLET FOR ALL, a body set up in 1964 to extend the audience for ballet by drawing dancers from the Royal Ballet and combining them with actors in a mix of words, dance and music playing at smaller venues throughout the country.

However, her burgeoning career was cruelly interrupted when the cartilage in her right knee snapped during a performance, leading to a prolonged layoff for operations and recuperation.

Despite returning to the company, and dancing again, including alongside Dame Margot Fontayne in SWAN LAKE, the time off had shown her there was life beyond ballet as well as allowing a period of critical self-reflection during which she decided her future as a ballerina was strictly limited. Declining the offer to renew her contract, Jan left the Royal Ballet in September 1969 to pursue an acting career...

     

Quickly finding herself an agent, Jan joined the Cheltenham Repertory Company for a season of plays from late 1969 into 1970.

A few small TV parts followed, including her first billed appearance in the TV series of BALLET FOR ALL (still billed "Janet Francis").

                        

1971 brought her more stage roles as well as her first billed TV acting role, and it was on TV that she seemed to find her niche, working regularly in a series of increasingly prominent roles.

  

         


In January 1976 Jan auditioned for the female lead in THE NEW AVENGERS, but despite making the short list eventually lost out to Joanna Lumley.

However, her star was in the ascendancy and within the year she had won her first major starring role, playing "Yvette" in the BBC's 16-part Second World War drama SECRET ARMY.

Filming for the series started in April 1977 and continued until November (after the series had started airing). Despite the exhausting filming schedule Jan still found time to get married - after she proposed the previous Leap Year - to fellow actor (and later writer under the name Thomas Ellice) Martin Thurley whom she had first met at a dinner party where she was singularly unimpressed by the taciturn nature of her fellow guest. Their paths crossed again when they appeared together in the 1975 BBC production of LOVE'S LABOURS LOST and they were married on August 1st, 1977 in Newton Abbott on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.

With SECRET ARMY proving a major success with critics and audiences alike a second series was inevitable, but unhappy with the way her character was due to develop in the new series Jan declined to return, appearing only in the first episode so "Yvette" could be killed off.

More major roles followed, including a part in a big-budget Hollywood film, followed by 15 months filming on ITV's dramatisation of J B Preistley's perennial THE GOOD COMPANIONS, and a return to her ballet roots in the BBC's LOVE STORY: A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN.

Having proved herself as a dramatic actress, as well as a popular performer on children's programmes, Jan was about to enter the most successful phase of her career when in early 1983 she attended auditions for a part in a new sitcom by CITIZEN SMITH and ONLY FOOLS & HORSES creator John Sullivan...

JUST GOOD FRIENDS first aired in September 1983, instantly making the two leads household names and, over the course of the 3 series, gaining the BBC some of it's biggest audience figures of that or any other decade.

               

Admirably refusing to trade on her new-found celebrity (except to promote her favourite charities) Jan instead returned to the stage for the first time in over a decade, and it wasn't until 1989 that she accepted another major TV role, starring opposite Dennis Waterman in the ITV comedy drama STAY LUCKY. Another ratings success, the series cemented Jan's place in the affections of the British viewing public, culminating in them voting her Best Actress in the 1991 TV TIMES Awards.

                
Since then Jan has been able to pick and choose the roles she has taken, while in latter years she has concentrated on voice-over work (
talking books and commercials), with only the occasional on-screen appearance. We can only hope she has no plans to retire and will long continue to grace our screens...

Jan has 2 daughters, Josephine (born in 1982) and Anna (born 1988); the family home is a large mid-Victorian house with several acres of land and sundry pets in Woodchurch near Tenterden in Kent.


        



         


[Click on the black underlined links for full details of BALLET, STAGE, TV, FILM, and Other Credits.]