CAROLINE Burns Cooke’s Testament Of Yootha has just won Best Play at the Morecambe Fringe Festival.

The next chance to see this reflection on the life and TV times of Seventies sitcom legend Yootha Joyce comes at York’s Great Yorkshire Fringe on Sunday at 6pm at The Arts Barge, Tower Gardens.

Testament Of Yootha is actress/writer Caroline’s third solo show after And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet and Proxy. Directed by Mark Farrelly, it examines how Man About The House and George And Mildred star Yootha Joyce was adored by friends and fans alike but hid acute alcoholism from those closest to her, dying at 53.

“Could have been worse. Could have been a wet Wednesday at Rhyl Rep!” says the show’s publicity, capturing the tone that combines the humorous with the more serious.

“We loved Yootha,” recalls Caroline. “I was young, 14, 15, or whatever, and I was absolutely drawn to her. Now you think, ‘what a powerful woman she was’. Back then, you’d see this sexual being who was so frustrated with her mean and miserable husband, who was so henpecked. Now you think, ‘what were you doing with George? You could have done so much better'. But Mildred loves George and she just wants to be loved."

Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy first played Mildred and George Roper as the landlord and landlady in Man About The House. "Looking back, that show was a bit risque: two girls sharing with one guy and all that frustration then coming out on Robin's Nest too," recalls Caroline, now 61.

Yootha's career came to be defined by that one sitcom role, a narrow niche that belied the skills that had earlier led her to be part of Joan Littlewood's ground-breaking, experimental Theatre Workshop in London.

"It's been on my mind to take a look at Yootha's life because she's such a fascinating character, and yet you talk to people under 40 who say, 'I'm not sure I recall her' because it's not a ubiquitous series in the way Porridge or Steptoe & Son are. You can still see them all the time," says Caroline.

"I wanted to look at her story. She played this imperious, yet common-as-muck London character that people found funny, but what was interesting about her – as the other solo pieces I've done are serious – was that even to Yootha's closest friends, the revelation of her alcoholism came as a shock.

"She hid it for ten years, so she was drinking through the period she was making George And Mildred, doing a bottle of brandy a day for those ten years, so my thought is that the fame really troubled her. The inability to cope with nerves, the pressure of recording live with a studio audience."

Yootha's role as Mildred was demanding: plentiful series of both Man About The House and George And Mildred, and films too. On top of that came summer seasons and public appearances on the British entertainment circuit.

"Yootha was absolutely exhausted; she never bothered about food. She just liked a nice drink. She drank heavily, smoked heavily; lived on black coffee and her nerves...and she had stage fright," says Caroline. "I suffer with that myself, so I totally relate to it.

"She had to record to a live audience, which she couldn't bear, always having to come out and chat to the audience, be charming, when she wanted to concentrate on the scene she had to do. And then she started drinking to make herself feel better."

Testament Of Yootha – the title is a riff on Vera Brittain's Testament Of Youth – is Caroline's account of Yootha's story. "We don't know that much about her, except that she was lonely by the end, but that wouldn't make a show, so I'm lifting the mask," she says. "I don't want to be coy with it, as there's a lot of sadness in it, so it's truthful but that title's also a bit of a joke too."

Summing up a show that takes in singing and dancing too, Caroline says: "Probably everyone who comes is going to know it doesn't end well because she dies far too young at 53, but she's come to tell her story, so I've tried to make it uplifting, to say it wasn't a bed of roses, but it was an eventful life, so the show is uplifting in spirit but moving at the same time."

As for the distinctive Yootha Joyce voice, " I'm not someone who's an impersonator," says Caroline. "I don't go and learn a voice... I can't really describe her voice. She's London, a bit Cockney, a bit posh, and I think our voices are actually very similar!"

Caroline Burns Cooke in Testament Of Yootha, Great Yorkshire Fringe, The Arts Barge, Tower Gardens, York, Sunday, 6pm (not 8pm, as stated on The Arts Barge Riverside Festival brochures). Box office: 01904 500600 or at or

Charles Hutchinson