JILL MARTIN, was an actress, dancer and singer who completed a theatrical hat-trick in 2001 when the West End transfer of My Fair Lady meant that she had appeared, over 42 years, in all three of the show’s West End runs.
She had been given her break by the producer and theatre manager “Binkie” Beaumont in the original 1958 production at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as second understudy to Julie Andrews, who was playing Eliza Doolittle.
When the musical was revived in 1979 she took over the lead role from Liz Robertson, and in 2001 she played Mrs Eynsford-Hill, the upper class lady clinging to her gentility in reduced circumstances, in the production that starred Martine McCutcheon as Eliza and Jonathan Pryce as Henry Higgins.
Jill Martin was born at Redruth in Cornwall on April 25 1938 and attended The Lawn School at St Austell. Her first professional acting job was in the chorus of Love From Judy at Golders Green Hippodrome. She toured with the show for two years, then appeared for a season in Dick Whitting‐ ton with George Formby at London’s Palace Theatre
Most acting careers are bedevilled by spells of unemployment, and Jill Martin endured a lengthy period early in her career. Determined not to admit defeat, she took any work that came her way, including scrubbing floors at a women’s theatre club for three months.
The tide turned when she was engaged as a chorus girl and understudy at the Palace Theatre in the musical Where’s Charley?, based on the play
Charley’s Aunt and starring Norman Wisdom. During the show’s long run she met her first husband, the stage manager Thomas Elliott, and in the last week she stood in for the leading lady, Pip Hinton.
She acquitted herself so well that when the show’s director, William Chappell, who was casting Terence Rattigan’s musical Joie de Vivre, gave her one of the leading roles. Unlike its source material, however, the show was neither a critical nor a commercial success.
By then, Jill Martin had appeared in the 1958 West End production of West Side Story at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, in the role of Rosalia, the girlfriend of one of the Sharks gang, and she also understudied Roberta D’Esti as Maria. In 1966 she made a studio cast recording for the Music For Pleasure label alongside David Holliday, the American actor who had played Tony in the West End production. She then went on to tour extensively as Maria.
Among Jill Martin’s many later roles were parts in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, in which she took over the lead from Julia McKenzie until the last few shows, when she stood aside to let McKenzie complete the run. She also appeared in Side By Side By Sondheim, and had in several roles in Les Miserables, from it’s very first performance in 1985. She received a Long Service Award!
In 2000 she was cast as Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother, Adèle, in Lautrec, a musical biography of the artist, which played at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. In 2005 she took two of the smaller roles in Trevor Nunn’s production of Victoria Woods’s Acorn Antiques – The Musical! the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
The following year a plaque honouring the composer of My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner, was unveiled at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. Jill Martin was joined by five other actresses who had played Eliza, including Lerner’s widow, Liz Robertson, in a rendition of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.
- Mrs Eynsford-Hill/u.s. Mrs Higgins, My Fair Lady, Cameron Mackintosh in association with Royal National Theatre
- Sarah Jane Moore, Assassins, Library Theatre Co., Manchester
- Music in the Air
- The Baker’s Wife
- Les Miserables
- Innkeeper's Wife / Old Beggar Woman / Whore; Drinker, Les Miserables, Royal Shakespeare Company
- Innkeeper's Wife / Old Beggarwoman / Whore; Drinker, Les Miserables, Royal Shakespeare Company
- Company, Side By Side By Sondheim
- My Fair Lady
- West Side Story