Clytie Jessop Film Retrospective

Treat yourself to a Clytie Jessop film festival this Halloween. It won’t take long; in fact, you could wrap up the whole affair, with opening and concluding remarks, in just 280 minutes. Who was Clytie Jessop you ask?

 

Here she is. With those high, imperious cheekbones, that unblinking stare and skin a whiter shade of pale, Clytie Jessop had a face that lent itself very nicely to the purposes of horror… and yet there is beauty there, too, behind that mask of inscrutability. Jessop will be instantly recognizable to a generation of movie fans raised on British horror and yet she made only three films – apparently being an actress wasn’t her main occupation.

By the evidence on hand, she seems to have had something going on with the cinematographer and later director Freddie Francis (who passed away this year.) Francis first photographed Jessop for THE INNOCENTS (1961), Jack Clayton’s acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. Seen only fleetingly and only in long shot, Jessop plays the former (and formerly living) governess of an English country estate in whose sensible shoes new governess Deborah Kerr has the misfortune to fill. As was true for all her film appearances, Clytie said not a word but just stood there being haunting… a job she did very, very well.

 She next turned up in NIGHTMARE (1964), which Francis directed for Hammer Studios. It’s a bog standard Young Girl Goes Mad scenario written by Jimmy Sangster and patterned after Henri-Georges Clouzot’s DIABOLIQUE (1955), with no apologies to Wilkie Collins. As was her custom, Clytie is mute throughout, turning up in the visions of leading lady Jennie Linden as the scar-faced Woman in White. Francis and director of photography John Wilcox get good mileage out of our Clytie, keeping her confined for the most part to bottomless shadows but employing her for an amusing (if not entirely believable) twist in the tail.

 Clytie Jessop’s only color film was her last. In TORTURE GARDEN (1967), again directed by Freddie Francis but this time for Hammer rival Amicus Films, she is Atropos (from whom the poison atropine takes its name), the Goddess of Destiny. (“In the left hand, the skein of life. In the right, the shears of fate. Each colored thread represents a human life and the shears have the power to cut it short.”) Again, she keeps mum throughout the film but her rock-like countenance is the perfect match for this formidable Greek seeress and helpmeet of Burgess Meredith’s devil-in-disguise. When TORTURE GARDEN was released recently on DVD, Clytie’s face was all over the design.

And then she quit, just like that.  Well, as I’ve said, acting wasn’t her real interest but rather the fine arts.  She had been born Clytie Lloyd-Jones in Sydney, Australia, in 1929. (The name Clytie is itself taken from Greek mythology. It was Clytie who lost Apollo’s love for another and suffered famously by staring at the sun until she turned golden brown and was transformed into a sunflower.) Her parents, Jonah Lloyd-Jones and Erica Lloyd-Jones, were both artists, as was Clytie’s younger sister Hermia-Lloyd Jones. Named for her father (whose real first name was Herman), Hermia was fated to fall famously in love with Australian sculptor, ceramicist and figurative painter David Jones. When Clytie won £5,000 in the New South Wales lottery, she gave a third of her winnings to David and Hermia, which they used to settle in London… obviously, Clytie followed.

At some point in the late 60s, Clytie founded the Clytie Jessop Gallery at 271 King’s Road in the Chelsea section of London. There she exhibited the works of a wide ranger of artisans, including Paul Roberts, Colin Kirby-Green, Jamie Boyd, Ben Cabrera and an Australia-born Frenchman named Philippe Mora, who would later direct such guilty pleasure B-films as THE BEAST WITHIN (1982) and HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (1984). Clytie seems to have been an artist herself and perhaps it was her appreciation for painting and for the stillness required of living models that made her such a good enigma. She returned to film in the mid-80s but kept behind the camera as the producer, co-writer and director of the Australia-set WWII drama EMMA’S WAR (1986) with Lee Remick and a young Miranda Otto.

 And there the trail ends – not a peep out of her in over 20 years.  Of course, she is no doubt not such an enigma to her family, friends and associates, but for those of us who grew up being beguiled and scared by her on the big screen she remains the perfect, elusive woman of mystery.

23 Responses Clytie Jessop Film Retrospective
Posted By Graham : November 15, 2007 5:24 am

Extremely good and interesting article regarding Clytie!              Graham

Posted By Graham : November 15, 2007 5:24 am

Extremely good and interesting article regarding Clytie!              Graham

Posted By RHS : November 15, 2007 8:22 pm

Thank you, Graham.  I've since learned from artist Ben Cabrera that Clytie involved herself in the obscenity trial concerning the underground publication Oz in 1971.    The editors/defendents were represented by John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, while supporters included John Lennon and Yoko Ono and witnesses for the defense included Marty Feldman and jazz musician George Melly, brother of Hammer Studios actress Andree Melly.  Despite the high profile of the defenders, the accused were convicted and sentenced to prison, where their heads were shaved.  All of this was quite the news of the day back then and those convictions were eventually overturned on appeal. 

Posted By RHS : November 15, 2007 8:22 pm

Thank you, Graham.  I've since learned from artist Ben Cabrera that Clytie involved herself in the obscenity trial concerning the underground publication Oz in 1971.    The editors/defendents were represented by John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, while supporters included John Lennon and Yoko Ono and witnesses for the defense included Marty Feldman and jazz musician George Melly, brother of Hammer Studios actress Andree Melly.  Despite the high profile of the defenders, the accused were convicted and sentenced to prison, where their heads were shaved.  All of this was quite the news of the day back then and those convictions were eventually overturned on appeal. 

Posted By Graham Thompson : November 21, 2007 10:23 am

Hi Richard.Thank you for responding to me and for the new information regarding Clytie Jessop. I like those photographs of Clytie. Do you have anymore photos of her?Thank you!Graham

Posted By Graham Thompson : November 21, 2007 10:23 am

Hi Richard.Thank you for responding to me and for the new information regarding Clytie Jessop. I like those photographs of Clytie. Do you have anymore photos of her?Thank you!Graham

Posted By RHS : November 21, 2007 12:44 pm

Graham, those pictures are screengrabs from her films so there are as many pictures of her as frames she appears in.  She never lingers onscreen, though… like a will o'the wisp, she's there and then she's not.  That's so Clytie!

Posted By RHS : November 21, 2007 12:44 pm

Graham, those pictures are screengrabs from her films so there are as many pictures of her as frames she appears in.  She never lingers onscreen, though… like a will o'the wisp, she's there and then she's not.  That's so Clytie!

Posted By Graham : November 24, 2007 9:43 am

Thank you Richard.Yes Clytie sure comes and goes.I hope she is well.Graham

Posted By Graham : November 24, 2007 9:43 am

Thank you Richard.Yes Clytie sure comes and goes.I hope she is well.Graham

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 23, 2009 7:38 pm

[...] Movie fans can get like this – they spot somebody somewhat obscure (you may remember my article on Clytie Jessop) and start to obsess over finding out things about them, over seeing all their work and being among [...]

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 23, 2009 7:38 pm

[...] Movie fans can get like this – they spot somebody somewhat obscure (you may remember my article on Clytie Jessop) and start to obsess over finding out things about them, over seeing all their work and being among [...]

Posted By Wes : October 24, 2010 9:49 pm

What? You didn’t do a screen grab of that awesome painting of her in that piano sequence in Torture Garden?

Yes… she is a mysterious woman. I wonder if she’s still alive…

Posted By Wes : October 24, 2010 9:49 pm

What? You didn’t do a screen grab of that awesome painting of her in that piano sequence in Torture Garden?

Yes… she is a mysterious woman. I wonder if she’s still alive…

Posted By Gavin : January 5, 2011 6:03 pm

Our mysterious Clytie can be found on a certain social networking site, not a fan page, it’s her own and with one photo of how she looks now :)

Posted By Gavin : January 5, 2011 6:03 pm

Our mysterious Clytie can be found on a certain social networking site, not a fan page, it’s her own and with one photo of how she looks now :)

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : January 5, 2011 6:26 pm

My God, Gavin, she hasn’t changed a bit! Thanks for the heads up!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : January 5, 2011 6:26 pm

My God, Gavin, she hasn’t changed a bit! Thanks for the heads up!

Posted By Gavin : January 6, 2011 4:10 pm

Thats ok! I’ve only seen Torture Garden, and was going to watch the other 2 films in the hope that I’d hear her speak – I’ll watch them anyway just to see her fleeting glimpses in them. I have always wondered what her voice sounded like. In my opinion there is something very alluring about her role as Atropos, you can’t take your eyes off her, and she’s actually strangely attractive in the role…still has the same mysterious look now!

Posted By Gavin : January 6, 2011 4:10 pm

Thats ok! I’ve only seen Torture Garden, and was going to watch the other 2 films in the hope that I’d hear her speak – I’ll watch them anyway just to see her fleeting glimpses in them. I have always wondered what her voice sounded like. In my opinion there is something very alluring about her role as Atropos, you can’t take your eyes off her, and she’s actually strangely attractive in the role…still has the same mysterious look now!

Posted By clytie jessop : July 6, 2014 3:56 pm

I’m still alive and having great fun writing a memoir about my gallery in the Kings Road in the Swinging Sixties.
By the way, some of the information above is incorrect.
My sister Hermia was married to the Australian artist David BOYD not David Jones (a department store in Sydney.)
And – I loved acting (studied the Method etc at the Theatre Studio of N.Y with Lonnie Chapman and Curt Conway in the 50′s.) Would have loved to have gone on working in films- hopefully with a line,or two! But with a small daughter to support, I needed a regular income so starting my own gallery seemed a much safer option. Cheers.

Posted By clytie jessop : July 6, 2014 4:01 pm

My website will be up and running soon.

Posted By Adrian Batten : May 23, 2016 6:14 am

Hi Clytie,

I don’t know if you will remember me but I well remember you &
Pandora back in those heyday years in sixties London. Geoffrey
Brett was staying in my flat in Rawlings St. for a time ( I wonder
what became of him?). Our lives seemed to revolve quite a lot
round that section of the Kings Rd. near Old Church St. 235 &
the Antique Market. I look forward to reading your book about
those days.

I left London in early 70s & worked as a journalist covering SE Asia
from HKG. I now live in Bali with my wife Nicole Moja, a french jewellery
designer & still write as a columnist. I did a long feature on Donald
Friend in Bali a few years back & yr name in cropped up in the Vol.3
of his diaries & I wondered then how you were. So it’s good to
happen on this item about you by chance online. My piece on Friend
was meant to be basis for a book but sadly the sensitivities 40
years on in around how badly he was treated here by supposed
friends & the theft of his collection of Dong Fan bronzes made
people clam up to protect the main living culprit. Pity really, it was
an interesting story, but not THAT interesting…it’s precisely such
peccadiloes that make these stories worth the telling. Instead ABC
sent some pederast-hunting zealotress up here on a mission to
dig up old dirt on Friend. Happy to say she got nowhere with it.

I don’t know if you know him, only Ozzie painter from those days
still up there in the hills here is Van (Wierengan), whom I bump
into from time-to-time. I don’t get the impression that Friend had
much time for him, but he’s an enough engaging character.

Do you still have your gallery in London?

Hope you’re well & this gets to you.

v. best, Adrian Batten

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