Rosalind with her father in 1957 in a publicity photo taken when they were appearing together on television as Fanny and Wackford Squeers in a BBC production of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.
Picture courtesy of British Film Institute
In the bombed out ruins of the Old Vic Theatre, Rosalind saw performances of two productions, The Snow Queen and As You Like It (the heroine of which she was named after), and this made a great impression upon her. "I wanted to be part of it with all my soul," she explained. The following year, whilst still a pupil at Cheltenham Ladies College, Rosalind auctioned twice for and was accepted by the Old Vic Theatre School, and there she studied for two years under Glen Byam Shaw himself and George Devine, the man who later was to start the highly influential Royal Court Theatre.
Having been spotted in a student show, Rosalind was offered a position as Assistant Stage Manager with the Midland Theatre Company in Coventry. The job was tough as it it involved both stage management and acting, but it was valuable experience. One of the highlights was a production of Hobson's Choice in which Rosalind played Ada Figgins next to Patrick Magoohan as Henry Hobson. From Coventry she moved to a similar role with the Ipswich Repertory Company where a fellow stage manager was playwright Joe Orton. After two years she joined a touring group, the West of England Theatre for an eight month period. It was here that she was seen by a film producer which led to her being offered the part of a schoolgirl in the 1957 film Blue Murder at St Trinian's. In the same year she and Esmond played father and daughter in a BBC production of Nicholas Nickleby.
Rosalind Knight's first credited film role was as Annabel,
one of the notorious schoolgirls in the 1957 production -
Blue Murder At St Trinian's (1957).
The St Trinian's role in turn led to parts in two "Carry On" films (the second and third of the series) which to the cinema-going public have proved the most memorable of Rosalind's career and still generate fan letters more than forty years later. In Carry On Nurse (1959) she plays Nurse Nightingale, the myopic student nurse who keeps vigil over an unconscious patient with exceptional focus and loses her specs in a hospital sluice. Carry On Teacher appeared the same year and this time Rosalind played Felicity Wheeler, the prim school inspector whose hopes are continually thwarted!
Rosalind (right) as Felicity Wheeler squaring up to Joan Sims
in Carry On Teacher (1959).
As the hapless Nurse Nightingale -
Carry On Nurse (1959)
Meanwhile Rosalind had met and fallen in love with Michael Elliott, a young, ground breaking television director who had trained at the BBC and worked there for some years. They were married in July 1959. Michael was keen to become more involved in theatre and was influential in encouraging Rosalind to develop her acting career by seeking opportunities in something more substantial than "Carry On" films. This she was not unduly concerned when, having approached the producers of the "Carry On " series for a pay rise, she was dismissed on the spot.
Rosalind with Esmond on her wedding day, 25th July 1959.
Picture courtesy of Rosalind Knight
Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Bannen and Rosalind in
the RSC's 1961 production of As You Like It.
As Mrs Fitzpatrick in Tom Jones which in 1963 won the
Academy Award for Best Picture. Rosalind is talking to
Susanna York who played Sophie Western.
In 1963 Rosalind appeared on screen as Mrs Fitzpatrick in Tom Jones, a magnificent film adaptation of Henry Fielding's novel, starring Albert Finney and Susannah York, and directed by Tony Richardson. Her former acting tutor, George Devine, was also in the cast, as Squire Allworthy. Rosalind then took a break from acting and had two daughters, Susannah and Marianne; however, she did manage to squeeze in acting assignments as and when being a young mother allowed. Michael, meanwhile, had been appointed as the last artistic director of the Old Vic Company before it was handed over to the National Theatre.
A programme for Michael Elliott's 1973 production of The Family Reunion
at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
As a consequence of this strong connection with Manchester, Rosalind and Michael moved there permanently with their family in 1975. Rosalind's film work at the time included Eskimo Nell (1975), The Lady Vanishes (1979), The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980) - this time as a teacher rather than a pupil - and on television she appeared in episodes of Coronation Street (1981) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984), both produced in Manchester. She appeared on stage at the Royal Exchange in productions that included Present Laughter, Love On The Dole and Class K. She also worked at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
In high dudgeon as Lady Longhorn in the 1975 film Eskimo Nell, described by one reviewer as "a rare creature indeed - a British sex comedy that is actually funny!" The plot involves a sleazy producer (Roy Kinnear) who wants to make a film version of the bawdy poem Eskimo Nell. Lady Longhorn is the director's girlfriend's puritanical mother who runs a "decency" society - no doubt modelled on Mary Whitehouse - and wants them to make a clean family film!
As Mrs Cresswell, the strange and imposing landlady of the Villa Bella guest house in the 1989 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special - The Jolly Boys' Outing. Rosalind is flanked to the left by David Jason as Derek (Del Boy) Trotter and to the right by Buster Merryfield as Uncle Arthur who are obliged by force of circumstance (a burnt out coach, a rail strike and the fact that the Villa Bella is the only guest house in Margate with vacancies) to be her guests for the night.
In the 1990s she returned to the Old Vic Theatre and appeared in The Illusion by Pierre Corneille (opened 7th June 1990) and again in 1995 as Miss Prism in their production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, with Barbara Leigh-Hunt as the imposing Lady Bracknell.
Between 1999 and 2001 Rosalind was a regular cast member in the BBC sitcom Gimme, Gimme. Gimme, in which she played the part of Beryl Merit, a retired prostitute who lived in the flat above the two main characters, Lynda La Hughes and Tom Farrell, played by Kathy Burke and James Dreyfus. The series developed a wide following and made Rosalind familiar to a younger audience who were quite probably unaware of her considerable previous achievements on both stage and television.
Brandishing a gun as Beryl Merit in Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.
Rosalind appeared on UK television on 31st January 2005 in an episode of the daytime series Doctors and in episodes of Shane with Frank Skinner. The following year she appeared in Miss Marple - The Moving Finger and an adaptation of Rosamund Pilcher's novel The Shell Seekers.
In the same year she appeared at the National Theatre with Zoe Wanamaker in Terence Rattigan's The Rose Tattoo. More recently Rosalind could be seen in the film The Lady in the Van (2015), and on television in episodes of Friday Night Dinner as Grandma Goodman (the grandma from hell!), Holby City and The Crown (playing Prince Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg). For a comprehensive list of Rosalind's screen and TV appearances click here.
Rosalind died on 19th December 2020, a few weeks after her 87th birthday. Her daughters, theatre director Marianne Elliott and actress Susannah Elliott-Knight, said she would be remembered for her "immense spirit and sense of fun, and her utter individuality".
Without Rosalind's enthusiasm and generosity in both time and resource this website would have been far less informative. My thanks to her and for her kindness and friendship.
A lobby card for Carry On Teacher (1959) featuring Rosalind with Leslie Phillips