No star had a second act to match Glenda Jackson. President Ronald Reagan, perhaps her ideological antithesis, got further as a politician. He was less of an actor than her, no double Oscars for him, and, unlike her, he clung to the stardust in the White House.

Glenda Jackson became the female personification of the serious side of the “Swinging Sixties”. Northern, working class, not classically pretty, she dominated British television and cinema imperiously into the 1970s. It was, not coincidentally, a golden age for those two mediums. In her 80s, as in her youth, she triumphed again as an actor, this time as a classically brilliant King Lear.

In between those two eras of dramatic supremacy she was a serious – very serious – politician in another golden age. This time she was part of the rise and triumph of New Labour as the MP for Hampstead and Highgate, then Hampstead and Kilburn, continuously from 1992 to 2015. 

To encounter her as an MP at Westminster was a unique experience, because of the iconic impression her acting had already made on you. Yet her glamourous past was of no interest to Glenda and woe betide anyone who ever brought it up.

In Hollywood, she was too busy to turn up for the Academy Award Ceremonies for which she was nominated, including the two she won. Practical, down to earth, hard-working, she was an actress who did not hang around or socialise afterwards. She went home as soon as the work was done. She brought the same single-mindedness to Westminster, more diligent than many MPs or ministers, never a schmoozer.

As a minister, she once appeared on the same programme I presented as the American actor Daniel Benzali. Benzali was then at the height of his TV fame as the lead in the Steve Bochco series Murder One. He took himself seriously and had started his career in Britain at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Old Vic. He told us he was over excited at the prospect of meeting someone he admired so much. Just in case, I briefed Glenda all about him and warned her that he might be waiting outside the studio door when she left. He was. She walked straight past him.

Jackson was polite but impatient with interviewers, sometimes telling them, with a glint of satisfaction, that she did not understand why she had a reputation for being “scary”. Well, few would be brave enough to challenge Elizabeth R. She was certainly direct, practical and down to earth. At another interview, I got on the receiving end of her complaint about energy saving in government buildings. The lights and heating kept cutting out when she was working late alone in her office, she protested, and she had to keep jumping up and waving her arms so the sensors detected life and switched them back on. CCTV would love to have captured those performances.

Jackson was a member of the Labour party from the age of 16. But during her first acting career she was particularly active, lending her talents to causes such as feminism and the Anti-Nazi League and supporting charities including Oxfam, Shelter and UNICEF. She also studied social sciences and considered becoming a social or foreign aid worker instead of acting.

In spite of friendship with the theatre-mad Labour leader Neil Kinnock she turned down invitations to be a candidate in 1987.

There was no messing about in 1992. Jackson announced her retirement from acting to run for parliament. Oliver Letwin, the future Tory cabinet minister, was one of the rival candidates she defeated. Representing Hampstead was typically Jacksonian and paradoxical. The locals loved her glamour, yet Hampstead, the epitome of the soft South, was perhaps an odd place for the hard-scrabble girl from the North to represent. She meanwhile continued to live in Blackheath, at the opposite side of town from her North London constituency.

Jackson was in Tony Blair’s shadow cabinet after the death of John Smith and, once elected, he appointed her a junior transport minister. She even stooped to appearing in the notorious “Blair’s Babes” photograph of female Labour MPs. But she was never a Blair babe on either count. She and he had a respectful relationship, at least on his side. She embraced the Transport brief with enthusiasm before giving it up in a bid to become the new London Mayor. She was beaten to nomination by both Ken Livingstone and Frank Dobson. “Glenda Jackson, Mayor of London” remains an intriguing hypothetical.

On the back benches Glenda Jackson was critical of the Blair government. She called on him to resign after the Iraq war. If not New Labour, she was not old Labour either. She had cordial relations with Jeremy Corbyn, an MP for a neighbouring constituency in Islington. Had she still been an MP she told Corbyn she would have nominated him for the leadership, because she thought there should be a candidate from the left, but, just as bluntly, she said she would never have voted for him. In 2010 she supported the Blairite David Miliband for the leadership, in preference to his brother the successful Ed Miliband, who was favoured by both Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock.

She was not a joiner, never more so that in one of her final speeches in parliament when she refused to join in the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” tributes three days after the death of Margaret Thatcher. There was a tiny glint of mutual recognition in the vigour with which Jackson put the boot into “a woman? Not on my terms” for the “desperately wrong track” down which she had taken the nation. 

In spite of her many great performances, Glenda Jackson liked to say acting was just a job to her.  For the public that was where her greatness lay. She was always an uncompromising and brilliant performer. This weekend we should all be diving into the archives. There is so much on record to choose from. Her explicit performance in Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade. The erotic but totally different roles she played for the maverick, and now under-rated, director Ken Russell in Women in Love and The Music Lovers. Her son, the journalist Dan Hodges, has written wryly about going to school after one of those full-frontal performances was re-run on TV. Then there are her self-mocking comic turns on the top-rating and now “classic” Morecambe and Wise Show, which she said paved the way for her second Oscar in the aptly named comedy A Touch of Class. Sunday Bloody Sunday, from which I have remembered for half a century her harassed working woman filling her morning cup of Nescafe from the hot tap. In old age her cameo supplied gravitas to Mothering Sunday, she was credible as the servant girl, turned bohemian, turned Nobel prize winning author.

Two courageous regal performances bookend her stardom: Elizabeth I and King Lear. Screened in 1971, during Jackson’s most productive period of acting, Elizabeth R, remains one of the BBC’s greatest series, the dramatic counterpart to Civilisation. Jackson inhabited the role, hiding Gloriana’s vulnerability by including herself in the demands she made of all.

Her return to the theatre in her eighties was an immediate must-see ticket. She left unsaid the nonsense she made of luvvie quibbling about “appropriate” casting. The staging in London was unfussy (I did not see the New York version) and Jackson’s magnificent elocution made sense of one of Shakespeare’s most puzzling protagonists. The Times’ critic Anne Treneman captured her performance “hard as nails, furious, capricious but also frail and vulnerable.”

Behind her tough façade, there was never any doubt that Glenda Jackson was deeply compassionate. That is why her performances always resonated and why they meant so much to her audiences. She was a force inhabiting the spirit of the times – both as an actor and a politician. No one else has done that.

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