Judith Jacob Looks Back on Carmel
By Larry Jaffee
In the early days of EastEnders there was a pretty
black health visitor named Carmel Jackson, who tended
to various woes of Albert Square’s residents. Think
back to the time of the traumatic cot death of Hassan,
the baby of Ali and Sue Osman, or when young, single
mum ‘Punk Mary’ was in need of some serious
Carmel fit the bill, but she had a domestic
problem of her own: a violent white boyfriend named
Matthew, who sometimes beat her. He later became her
“It was a great part to play,” said the
London-based Jacob, in a hastily arranged
transatlantic telephone call. “People couldn’t
understand how a professional woman can stay with
someone who beats her. That shows the durability of
the character,” she said.
She looks back on her three years as an
EastEnders cast member (from 5 June ’86 to 25 July
’89) only with delight, especially because a year into
her work on the series, her young daughter became a
member of the cast as well.
“They needed a two-year-old to play my niece,”
said Jacob, who initially resisted the casting idea,
which came from EastEnders creator Julia Smith.
“Children on the set can be so horrible,” Jacob said,
noting the awkwardness inherent in disciplining
someone else’s child in the workplace.
But Jacob found it hard to turn down Smith, with
whom she had worked earlier in her career on another
TV series, Angels, which Smith produced with
EastEnders co-creator Tony Holland.
Midway through EastEnders’ second year, when the
time came to cast Carmel, Smith recruited Jacob, who a
year later realised that she’d get to spend more time
with her daughter if she also was working on
Aisha is now 20 years old, studying drama in
college, following in her mum’s footsteps. “She’s
aware of the reality of acting. You can earn money and
you also can be not working,” said Jacob.
In recent years, she has made appearances, on
episodes of the British television series My Family
(whose cast features EastEnders alumna Daniela
Denby-Ashe a/k/a Sarah Hills), Black Books, Doctors
and Holby City.
Following her stint on EastEnders in the early
1990s, she was a regular cast member on a comedy
sketch show, co-starring with Sanjeev Bhaskar and
Meera Syal, both whom went on to The Kumars at No. 42.
At the end of every episode, the cast would spoof
EastEnders, and Jacob once got to play Bianca Jackson,
which was a lot of fun.
Like many of the first wave of younger EastEnders
castmembers, Jacob attended London’s Ann Scher acting
school. Among her classmates were Susan Tully
(Michelle Fowler) and Phil Daniels, who’s currently on
EastEnders and is best known for playing Jimmy in the
film version of Pete Townshend’s rock opera
Quadrophenia (in which John Altman also had a role).
It was Jacob’s decision to leave EastEnders, and
she doesn’t appear to have any regrets about doing so.
It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
“They didn’t want me to leave, and made me a couple
of offers to stay,” she said.
Before landing the EastEnders job, Jacob was a
co-founder of Black Theatre Co-op (BTC), a London
theatre group of black actresses, who hadn’t worked
together in a show in 10 years, until late March. It
was a warm reunion. “We’ve [individually] been through
so much. We’ve had children. People lost people. A few
of them are working in the U.S. One of the girls died
four years ago.”
Asked why BTC was formed, Jacob doesn’t hesitate:
“It was about control—actors don’t have any. It gave
us the chance to produce the things that we wanted to
Jacob doesn’t buy into the occasional criticism
EastEnders sometimes receives that it only pays token
lip service to blacks and minorities, who are usually
depicted stereotypically (see Walford Gazette, issue
#48, page 10).
“EastEnders was the only show to [regularly
employ] black actors. Coronation Street just recently
started bringing in black characters. There has always
been a good flow of people in EastEnders.”
When informed that she is listed on the show
business website imdb.com as having done in 1990 a
short film called Fruits of Fear with Tilda Swinton
(who has gone on to Hollywood success), Jacob says she
vaguely remembers making it but has never seen the
film. She adds that she would have remembered if her
co-star was Swinton.
Paul Medford (Calvin Carpenter) is the only
EastEnders actor with whom she is still in contact.
Medford in the early 1990s attracted some attention as
one of the leads in the West End musical Five Guys
Named Moe. “Paul can sing and dance. I can dance, and
I can sing… in the bathroom—not anything people would
pay for,” she laughs.
When asked if there are any humorous anecdotes
about her days on EastEnders, Jacob recalled the scene
when Carmel was getting married and they were drinking
“A little voice came from behind, ‘Mummy, can I
have champagne too?’” even though Aisha’s character
was not Carmel’s daughter.
“They left it in. I couldn’t believe it when I
watched,” Jacob laughed. When the Walford Gazette
suggests that little Aisha understood the fine acting
art of “ad-libbing” at such an early age, Jacob
laughs. “That’s funny, I’m going to tell her that.”
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