Yootha Joyce was an English stage, movie, and television actress who spent two decades mostly playing intensely sinister or comedic supporting roles before she emerged to stardom on British television as the sexually frustrated Mildred Roper on the sitcom Man About the House (which was retooled for America as Three's Company) and its spin-off, George and Mildred (which was redone in the United States as The Ropers). In both of the series, she was teamed opposite character actor Brian Murphy, who played her husband, George.
Born Yootha Joyce Needham in London in 1927, she was the daughter of singer Hurst Needham and concert pianist Jessica Revitt. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where one of her fellow students was a young Roger Moore. She pursued a career as a working actress across the 1950s, achieving her first success with the Joan Littlewood theater company, through which she also made her screen debut in 1963 with the feature Sparrows Can't Sing. Joyce became known on British television over the next few years in one-off supporting roles, and international audiences began discovering her starting in 1964 with her work in Jack Clayton's feature film The Pumpkin Eater, working alongside Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch. Joyce reached a somewhat younger and wider audience -- especially in subsequent television broadcasts of the movie -- with her powerful performance as the sinister servant in Silvio Narizzano's chiller Fanatic (U.S. title: Die! Die! My Darling!, 1965), working in a cast that included Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.
Joyce subsequently had prominent supporting roles, often with a sinister or comedic twist (or, sometimes, both), in movies as different as Having a Wild Weekend (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Charlie Bubbles (1967), and The Horrors of Burke and Hare (1971). Joyce also showed up on a lot of British television during the early to mid-'60s, though the only one of those appearances that international viewers likely would have seen was an episode of The Avengers, entitled "Something Nasty in the Nursery" (1967). She was doing more and more film work as the 1970s began when, in 1973, she was cast in the role of Mildred Roper in Man About the House. The latter ensured her of lasting fame as the wry-witted, frustrated landlord's wife. The role also made her enough of a star to afford her appearances as a guest on U.K. variety shows -- and it turned out that Joyce was a singer as well as an actress. She and her co-star Brian Murphy also got their own series, George and Mildred, which led to a feature film of the same name that wasn't released until after her death in 1980.
Joyce had grappled with chronic alcoholism for decades, never beating the disease completely; she died of complications from the disease a few days after her 53rd birthday, in August of 1980. Her final television appearance, broadcast more than five months after her death, was on a Max Bygraves variety show taped shortly before her death, on which she sang the Carpenters' hit "For All We Know." She was later the subject of a tribute by the rock group the Smiths, who used her image in connection with their 1986 single "Ask." And in 2001, a documentary about the actress, entitled The Unforgettable Yootha Joyce and featuring contributions by her surviving co-stars and colleagues, was broadcast on England's ITV network. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi