Jill Gascoine, actress and novelist

Born: April 11, 1937;

Died: April 28, 2020.

JILL Gascoine, who has died of 83 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, spent much of her early acting career with Dundee Repertory Theatre and went on to become a household name playing the first woman police detective on British television – Maggie Forbes, in The Gentle Touch.

It began in April 1980, just a few months ahead of the first appearance of Juliet Bravo, and ran for five series, attracting 18 million viewers at its peak.

Det Insp Maggie Forbes was an instantly recognisable figure, considered both intelligent and sexy, with her fashionably permed hair and her knee-length boots. But she was certainly no Emma Peel. The Gentle Touch had a much greater sense of realism than The Avengers and was always driven more by character and issues than the likes of the testosterone-fuelled The Sweeney, whose run had ended a couple of years earlier.

Maggie’s husband, a police officer, was murdered in the first episode, and she had to juggle her job and bringing up a teenage son. As well as the obvious issue of sexism, the series also tackled racism and mental health.

Gascoine went on the reprise the character in C.A.T.S. Eyes, which ran for three series from 1985 to 1987.

In 1990 she appeared in an episode of the Glasgow-set Taggart, playing a restaurant owner.

She was born in Lambeth in London in 1937, the daughter of Irene (nee Greenwood) and Francis Gascoine. She was packed off to boarding school, where she was ridiculed by teachers for wetting the bed and suggesting there was a ghost in the dorm.

Intent on a career in entertainment, she came to the Edinburgh Fringe in a revue in the late 1950s. She played one of the schoolgirls in the film The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s in 1960 (although she was in her twenties by then) and she joined Dundee Repertory Theatre in 1963.

She would go on to appear in dozens of productions over the next decade, from Strindberg and Shaw to Jack and the Beanstalk.

She married a local hotelier, Bill Keith, and began a family. In 2008, when she was in Edinburgh for a Fringe play, Sister Cities, she recalled: “My first marriage ended badly. He was a compulsive gambler ... He obviously had no money and it was very tough for me on my own.”

She lived in a small flat, with no running water, sharing the bed with her four-year-old son, Sean, while her baby son, Adam, slept in a drawer. They had to make do on £28 a week.

“I’ve always believed that that dire situation was the making of me,” she said. “And the Rep, where I played Joan of Arc and Antigone, was certainly the making of me as an actress. I loved it there, really loved it”.

There was the odd television role in the first half of the 1970s, including Dr Finlay’s Casebook (1970) and Z Cars (1973). She appeared in full-frontal nude frolics with Robin Askwith in Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975) and she had a recurring role in the now largely forgotten drama series, Rooms (1977).

But she really made her mark on TV as Letty Gaunt, the strong-willed governess who marries the eponymous shipping magnate in the highly popular period drama, The Onedin Line (1976-79). Her character died, but Gascoine swiftly moved on to even greater success and popularity with The Gentle Touch, which pre-dated Prime Suspect by a decade.

Maggie Forbes had proven such a popular character that the show’s creator Terence Feely felt he should do something else with her. In C.A.T.S. Eyes Maggie became part of a covert all-female Home Office security and intelligence team. The acronym stood for Covert Activities Thames Section and the show owed as much to Charlie’s Angels as it did to The Gentle Touch.

Gascoine met Alfred Molina when they co-starred in a West End production of the musical Destry Rides Again in 1982. “It was lust at first sight,” she said. They married in 1986.

Molina had already had a major role in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). They moved to Los Angeles: there, she had guest roles in the popular series Northern Exposure (1994) and Touched by an Angel (1999) and a tiny role in the comedy film BASEketball (1998), with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But she admitted that as Molina’s career took off, her roles “dried up”.

She spent much of her time trying to develop a second career as a writer, beginning with the novel Addicted (1994), about a successful television actress and her relationship with a much younger actor, who is part English and part Spanish, much like Molina.

In the 1990s she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was diagnosed early and she underwent successful treatment. She came back to Britain to join EastEnders in 2009, assigned the role of Glenda Mitchell, the ex-wife of Archie Mitchell and mother of Ronnie and Roxy.

However, after just one day on set, she decided it was not for her, saying that she lacked the experience to commit to a recurring role in a “continuing drama”. But she was already having problems with her memory. The role was recast with Glynis Barber.

In 2013 she revealed that she had Alzheimer’s, at a Beverly Hills event to raise money for research into the disease. She is survived by Molina, by her two sons and a step-daughter, Rachel.