Jeanette Sterke

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Jeanette Sterke Pencil Portrait
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It is doubtful that many visitors to my site would be familiar with the name Jeanette Sterke, yet the Czech born actress was a familiar face on British television in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. More committed to the theatre and her family than films, her stock could have risen far higher.

In 1963, when she starred as the sympathetic nurse in the Norman Wisdom hit comedy A Stitch in time – the highest grossing film in Britain that year – her career potential appeared limitless. Twenty nine, attractive with a hint of vulnerability, she was already a mother of two and married to the actor Keith Michell, best known for his various portrayals of King Henry VIII in film and theatre. In an earlier age, she could have been Britain’s answer to Greer Garson, but the swingin’ 60’s demanded a more assertive type of character, and the opportunity passed her by. Henceforth, film, television and theatrical work would be confined to supporting roles only.

Internet resources on her are threadbare, biographies non- existent; the task therefore of writing about her, challenging to say the least.

Jeanette Laura Sterke was born in Prague in the former Czechoslovakia in 1934. Her parents escaped the Nazis by fleeing to England, although the year in question is not widely known. Nevertheless, it is more than likely that the young Jeanette would have been only four or five.

Claus Adolf Moser, Baron Moser, KCB, CBE (born 24 November 1922 in Berlin, Germany) is a British statistician who has made major contributions in both academia and the Civil Service. A former refugee, academic and senior civil servant, he has, on several public occasions, recalled the warm welcome given to his own family on their arrival in 1936. Nevertheless, whilst Britain did permit entry to between 70-90,000 Jewish refugees, the reality of those years, however, was rather gloomy. A system of visas was introduced, though it proved unhelpful for Jewish applicants. However public opinion did become increasingly more sympathetic after Kristallnacht in November 1938. “The Night of Broken Glass,” had been a series of coordinated deadly attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians.

The British Government had “no declared policy” on refugees, and their actions were not very generous. Secondly, no statistics on the subject were ever published, and, as a consequence, both the magnitude and increase in demand were not quantified. Thirdly, government policies (though undeclared) were originated by need and self-interest, not by humanitarian considerations of saving Jews. Little or no consideration was given as to their potential contribution to the nation.

The Central British Fund for German Jewry charitable organisation had 500,000 files on Jewish refugees who wanted to get out of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was probable that those who were refused entry into Britain were considerably greater in number than those who did gain entry.

Significantly, those granted admission were not permitted the status of permanent residents, being asked to give assurances that they would not stay. This was a country of relay, not of immigration. Lord Moser regarded this as “a most powerful, central reminder. We were not accepted as refugees who were to live here permanently.” After the war the Government, especially Herbert Morrison, the leader of The House of Commons, did attempt to get them to move on, but the civil service appeared to take a more relaxed view. In the event, most of the refugees neither moved on, nor returned to their countries of origin. By the end of hostilities, the Sterkes were firmly settled in England and they would stay.

Under construction

From the Royal Shakespeare Company archives 1956 – “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” directed by Peter Hall and designed by James Bailey. The photograph shows Rosaline (Jeannette Sterke) and Berowne (Alan Badel) in Act 5 Scene 2. Photo by Angus McBean

1. Jeanette Sterke and Alan Badel
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1956

Director: Sir Peter Hall

This was Sir Peter Hall’s first attempt at a professional Shakespeare production. The aspiring director went on to become founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, at the age of 29 and served as artistic director until 1968.

Manchester-born actor Alan Badel (Berowne) previously fought with the French Resistance during the Second World War. Rada trained Jeanette Sterke (Rosaline) was born in Prague. Her parents emigrated to England to escape the Nazis. The cast also included a young Prunella Scales.

The Classics and Tights! Peter Cushing as Richard II in BBC television production of ‘Richard of Bordeaux’ with Jeanette Sterke, Jospeh O’Conor Transmitted 29th December 1955 from Lime Grove.

In 1960, Jeanette appeared as one of the guest panelists on the BBC’s flagship music programme “Juke Box Jury.” Unfortunately, virtually every edition of the programme is lost to that great “archive in the sky” and we therefore have no record of her own personal top twenty tastes.

Recommended viewing

The Vale of Shadows (1955)

White Falcon (1956)

The Safecracker (1958)

One of the low budget films Ray Milland directed in the 50’s. It’s a solid crime picture, starring the actor as an English safecracker named Colley Dawson. He lives a boring life at home with his mother, but on the weekends he gets around the countryside in expensive clothes and cars, and cracks the safes of slumbering rich people. It all blows up in his face one weekend, when he’s arrested; the ensuing ten year conviction behind bars ensuring is absence from the front line when war breaks out.

Two years later, in 1940, the War Office, planning a raid on a German-occupied château in Belgium, is looking for a man who can crack a difficult safe so that the contents, containing lists of Nazi agents in Britain, can be photographed without leaving a trace of the operation. Dawson, in exchange for the eight years of prison awaiting him, agrees to do the job. He, of course, also gets involved with the local resistance leader’s daughter, Irene (Jeanette Sterke).

Sterke is nonplussed by Milland’s character; his cavalier attitude to life in marked contrast to those living under Nazi occupation. In their brief scene together, she can detect a little more substance to his character but time does not permit any further interaction. In truth, at fifty years of age, the actor was too old for the role. Jeannette was only twenty three and it showed.

H.G.Wells' Invisible Man (TV Series) - Man in Disguise (1959)

"The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre" - The Double (1963)

‘The Edgar Wallace Mysteries’ was a British second-feature film series, produced at Merton Park Studios for Anglo-Amalgamated. There were 47 films in the series, made between 1960 and 1965, featuring loose adaptations of Edgar Wallace’s books and stories. Very few episodes boasted original titles, and period detail was eschewed for budgetary reasons to obviate the need for elaborate costumes and sets.

Network issued the “The Edgar Wallace Anthology” DVD Box set in 2012, and opinions remain divided over the presentational quality of this series. Pin sharp monochrome visuals – excellent anamorphic transfers throughout – are often impaired by below par audio restoration work, that at once removes extraneous tape hiss but also quieter dialogue passages.

Most of the series featured a uniform title sequence, in which a shadowed bust of Edgar Wallace revolves slowly against a backdrop of swirling mist, to the accompaniment of the “Man of Mystery” theme written by Michael Carr. “Man of Mystery” was later recorded by The Shadows and became a no. 5 hit record in the UK. Carr, also co authored “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way),” a hit for Frank Sinatra, and the theme for the popular 1960s children’s TV series “The White Horses.” Released as a ’45, “White Horses” sung by “Jacky” (Jackie Lee) would top ten in the British Charts in the spring of 1968. In 2003 it was named in The Penguin Television Companion as the greatest theme song in television history, and for those of my generation living in the UK, was a perennial favourite on the children’s weekend radio show “Junior Choice,” hosted by Ed “Stewpot” Stewart.

The series has been shown on television. In Britain it was seen on ITV, Channel 4 and Bravo at various times from the late Sixties through to the Nineties. It was shown on U.S. television as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, with episodes cut to fit hour-long commercial TV slots.

A stitch in time (1963)

Norman Wisdom stars once again as the troublesome Norman Pitkin, a delivery boy who works in Mr Grimsdale’s butchers shop. During a hold-up at the shop (by Johnny Briggs, more popularly known as Mike Baldwin), Norman attempts to hide Grimsdale’s gold watch by placing it in his mouth. Grimsdale, however, swallows the watch as the burglar fires a gunshot before fleeing and is admitted to hospital in an attempt to recover the watch. Once at the hospital, Norman causes his usual amount of chaos before meeting a young girl, Lindy Walker (Lucy Appleby) who has failed to recover from the shock of seeing her parents die in a plane crash. Amongst the hospital staff is nurse Haskell (Jeanette Sterke), who has grown increasingly concerned at the child’s gradual withdrawal from the world, and who in Norman, sees her saviour.

Norman and Mr Grimsdale vow to assist Lindy and to train as doctors, nurses, paramedics or anything just so long they can be involved in the medical profession. Of course, their efforts are hampered somewhat when Sir Hector Hardcastle (Jerry Desmonde) bans them from the hospital. Still, the pair are not to be outdone and simply must try harder to achieve their goal.

The Avengers - Too many Christmas trees (1965)

The Crossfire (1967)