Actress who played café owner in Last of the Summer Wine

Born: June 12, 1935;

Died: March 9, 2017

JANE Freeman, who has died of lung cancer, aged 81, was an actress who played Ivy, the cafe owner in Last of the Summer Wine for the television sitcom’s entire run. For 37 years, the memorable character lived a life of anger and frustration combined with romantic fantasies and secret longings.

In the early days of Roy Clarke’s saga set in a rose-tinted-glasses Yorkshire of a bygone age, Ivy was seen chastising husband Sid (played by John Comer) and imploring him to stay away from the three old men enjoying a second childhood in a Pennines town – Clegg (Peter Sallis), Compo (Bill Owen) and Blamire (Michael Bates). Freeman and Sallis were the only cast members to appear from the 1973 pilot to the final episode in 2010.

“Ivy is a cardboard cutout character,” said Freeman. “I’m like one of those seaside-postcard battleaxes.” The dynamics changed after the death of Freeman’s screen husband in 1984, but Ivy’s bellowing continued – usually directed at the elderly trio who found sanctuary in her café (Sallis’s partners in crime also changed over the years.)

Freeman was born Shirley Ann Pithers in Brentford, Middlesex, to Arthur, a railway engineer, and Joan (nee Dewhurst). Her father died in an accident on the London Underground when she was two and, in 1945, she moved to Merthyr Tydfil when her mother married Russell Evans, a solicitor.

Having enjoyed acting in plays at Vaynor and Penderyn School, she trained at the Cardiff College of Music & Drama (now the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama), changed her professional name to Jane Freeman, then spent 18 months with the touring with Osiris Players, Britain’s first all-female professional theatre company. “It was in touch with the tradition of strolling players,” she explained. “It was theatre for the people. We did make a difference, I think, to a lot of people's lives.” Freeman said she based her Summer Wine character partly on Nancy Hewins, the troupe’s indomitable founder.

Work with another touring group, the Arena Theatre Company (1958-62), based in Sutton Coldfield, saw her acting alongside Ken Loach. In 1964, after he became a television director, he gave Freeman her first screen role, as a nurse in Diary of a Young Man.

Following repertory theatre in Dundee (1966-7), she joined Birmingham Rep (1967-78), where Michael Simpson arrived from the BBC to become its artistic director. They married in 1971 and Simpson returned to the BBC, directing Freeman in two Play for Today productions – as a snooty seaside landlady in The Fishing Party (1972), in which John Comer also appeared, and as the mother of Alan Bleasdale’s Liverpool schoolboy of the title in Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978).

Her other TV roles included Mrs Cattley – another seaside landlady – in Alan Bennett’s All Day on the Sands (1979) and a peasant engaged to Rowan Atkinson’s Prince Edmund but discovered to be already married in a 1983 episode of The Black Adder. She also appeared in the sketch series It’s Max Boyce (1984), alongside the Welsh comedian.

Among her standout stage roles were sharp-tongued Emma Hornett in Sailor Beware! (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 1991, and on tour, 1992-3) and Countess Khryumina in Chatsky (Almeida Theatre, London, and Theatre Royal, Bath, both 1993).

Jane Freeman’s husband died in 2007.