Chichester is mourning its Pearl with the passing of actress, author and artist Pearl Goodman at the age of 98.
The widow of distinguished Chichester artist David Goodman, Pearl was proud to be a Chichester girl through and through – and was the author of two successful memoirs about growing up in the city, String of Pearls and More Pearls.
Following in her husband’s footsteps, Pearl held her first art exhibition two years ago – at the age of 96. She started painting to help her recover from cancer and subsequent depression.
Pearl’s daughter, the former actress Julia Goodman said: “I am devastated and cannot believe that vibrant funny talented women has gone. I really believed she would be here forever.”
Pearl joined Joan Littlewood at 19 and helped to co-found the famous Theatre Workshop, singing with Euan McColl (father of Kirsty) and many actors later to become famous.
Pearl married and had three girls. She joined the Chichester Players and took part in a landmark production of A Streetcar Named Desire, a brave choice of play at the time because of the rape scene at the end.
In her Chichester life, Pearl, who lived for many years at Halnaker, also opened one of the first boutiques to hit town, One A in Franklin Place.
“She was at the heart of her family and all who came into contact with her benefited from her wisdom, her humour, her wit and humanity. Many of my young friends, David Wood, Mike Elphick, Mark Penfold, Malcolm Stoddard (my husband in the TV series The Brothers!), Tom Chadbon, Julian Sluggett and many more were some of the local youngsters who benefited from her cooking and kindness... and always found a spare bed and breakfast in Franklin Place!
“She was my rock and emotional compass all my life, a wonderful actress, writer and idiosyncratic artist with her naive paintings. So many of my girlfriends are as heartbroken as me. She was such a presence and personality. But she always put David my dad and her girls first.
“She could have been a world star. Just recently she ‘appeared' as her young self in the Royal Shakespeare's production of the new musical Miss Littlewood a play about the early days of the touring Theatre Workshop. The actress playing her, Emily Richardson, fell in love with her by just playing her.
“She was a remarkable woman, mother and wife. She will be sorely missed. Her funeral will be in Cowes sadly but a memorial will happen in Chichester in early spring for all her many friends and family to celebrate her life. We will make an announcement nearer the time.”
Speaking of her art at the time of her Oxmarket exhibition nearly two years ago, Pearl said: “I always illustrated my books with little cartoon figures, but I never thought I could paint. But then my daughter Caroline gave me some paints. That was about two years ago, and I thought I couldn’t be bothered. I just thought ‘I can’t paint!’ But then six months ago, I started. I have done 20. They are a mixture of what I call pop art and painting in old age.
“It takes me out of myself into another world altogether, and when I have finished it, it is a marvellous feeling of satisfaction that I have done something, especially if you have always been an active person in your life. The pleasure of doing creative things is marvellous. It just takes you somewhere else where you don’t have to worry about what you did this morning or what happened last year or ‘What’s that on the side of my face!’”
Four years ago, when the Young Vic staged Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Pearl spoke to the Chichester Observer about her own involvement with the play – and the scandal it provoked in Chichester in 1960.
Pearl took the key role of Blanche DuBois, the famously-fading Southern belle.
“Norman Siviter, who was a director of Chichester Dramatic Society and a teacher at the Boys High School, came to me and said none of the women in the society will do Blanche. At the time, it was a bit of a provincial city in Chichester where they only did Gilbert & Sullivan. A Streetcar Named Desire was a very brave choice because of the rape scene at the end.”
But Pearl was happy to rise to the challenge. She just needed to nail the accent.
“David (Pearl’s late husband and a noted Chichester artist) wasn’t all that interested in the theatre. I said to him that I had to get the southern accent right, and he just drawled a word or two, and I realised that that was exactly what I had to do.”
It was the breakthrough Pearl needed, but there was plenty of town opposition to the play: “I remember a lot of family businesses refused to put the posters for the show in their windows.”
But when it hit the stage, it rapidly became the talk of the town: “It was absolutely jam-packed for the whole week.”
For Pearl, it remained one of the great memories of a long life spent entertaining people.
“I was nine years old the school got me to sing All Things Bright and Beautiful because I had a singing voice.”
But more significant were Chichester’s workhouse revues which Pearl remembered as marvellous. The workshop was opposite the Bell on the Broyle.
“We had all the nurses and all the male nurses, and at the age of 14 I had to sing with the son of the matron. The matron would put on the revues as fund-raisers.
“All the tramps used to queue up outside the workhouse to do a day’s work for a penny. The very poor class could not look after their elderly people so they would go into the workhouse, but it was beautifully run. They must have been very small, though, because the ceilings were very low! But it was a good place, and the revues used to bring in money.”
And for Pearl, it was all part of a happy time: “I was getting a taste for performing. I was actually engaged three times, once to an American for one day, but I was never going to marry them because I was going to be a classical singer.
“I got a job as a waitress at the Gaumont (in the building which later became a swimming pool in Eastgate Square. It was eventually pulled down; Carluccio’s stands there now). That was 1937. I was 17, and I was working there when the war started. There was a siren, and they called on me to come and entertain the people in there. I had to sing unaccompanied, and I remember I sang unaccompanied.
“There was a gentleman there, Mr Whiting who did elocution lessons in Worthing. He came up to the cafe and said ‘I am not a singing teacher, but I can teach you elocution if you come along to me in West Worthing. I thought ‘Oh my god! My only half-day off!’ But I went to him for two or three years.
“I sang at the Dome in Brighton, and then he sent to the BBC asking if they would giev me an audition.”
They did, and Pearl started to work into London. At 19, she found herself at the Theatre Girls Club on Greek Street, which was run by Fay Compton’s mother. She performed at the Astoria in Old Kent Road where her name was up in lights along with two acrobats who wanted them to tour with him.
“But then Hitler said that he was going to flatten London. The agent suggest I went to ENSA, but I came home to Chichester: “My mother said ‘I have got your old job back being a waitress!’ but I had had a taste of showbusiness!”
One thing led to another, and she ended up being crowned Miss Gaumont British, jointly with a brunette. But it was the Land Army that claimed her, though not entirely: “I sang everywhere, all the camps and farms around here.”
Which is when a significant figure entered her life Joan Littlewood, the English theatre director, best known for her work in developing the left-wing Theatre Workshop.
Littlewood came to Chichester to do a show and was told that if she went to the Assembly Rooms she would hear Pearl sing: “She did. She came back to the farm and said to me ‘After the war, would you join the Theatre Workshop.’ She told me not to get married and said that she had only ever found seven people with great talent.
“I said yes, I would join, but I had no intention. It was in the middle of the war and I was in the Land Army.”
But sure enough, when the war ended, the telegram came through, and Pearl was invited to join Joan and the company, which she did for a year.
“Joan was such an absolutely dedicated woman. She didn’t care what she looked like. She smoked all the time. But her whole life was the theatre, and nobody could bring out the best in you like Joan could. We travelled the whole of the north.”