Miriam Karlin 6

I mark with great sorrow the death of my friend Miriam Karlin. Even I am too young to remember when she was at her most famous, one of the biggest stars of British television in the early 1960’s. A RADA and RSC actress of great distinction, she maintained that the same discipline of performance needs to be applied to sitcom work, and that is why sitcoms seldom do work nowadays.

Of course I knew her largely as a political campaigner, with a great interest in human rights everywhere. Her activism, despite ill health, against the war in Iraq was just a continuation with a life constantly devoted to helping the underdog, be it struggling actors or victims of human rights abuse in Palestine or Burma. Towards the end she could not do much more than compose letters to editors, but she still kept doing that.

I recall arriving in her little flat near Great Portland Street tube station a few years ago, to be met by Miriam, hobbling on her stick, brandishing a copy of The Times at me, eyes flashing with indignation. It was how I found out that David Aaronovitch had published an article calling me anti-semitic. Miriam was even more furious on my behalf than I was myself, and wrote a letter to the paper (it wasn’t published). But I won’t forget what she said; she said her own mother was an Aaronovich, and that many of their family had been killed in the holocaust, and that those who had suffered would be horrified to see their legacy perverted to a neo-conservative agenda.

I also remember her coming to see Nadira’s one woman show at the Arts theatre to give Nadira notes. There are hundreds of actors who have benefited from Miriam’s generosity with her time and experience over decades. She told Nadira to let the words paint the picture; the text contains all the emotion – just deliver it clearly, and as your character would. You don’t have always to convey the emotion other than simply and through the words.

Miriam really did live her life largely for others. I am so sorry it has ended.

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6 thoughts on “Miriam Karlin

  • coiaorguk

    Bless her. I remember Miriam Karlin in 'the rag trade' where she always made me laugh. She was a big supporter of Jews for Justice of Palestinians jfjfp.com and against the Iraq war. She said ".. thinking daily about the whole Iraq war situation and what prats Bush and Blair are…" which was always her second thought of the day. He first thought was sadly, "Have I put on weight' – she admitted to have been "the oldest anorexic" – PBUH – We love you Miriam.

  • Tris

    She knew was a lovely actress and now I find she was a lovely person too. The world is that bit sadder for her parting.

  • Tom Welsh

    At first glance it might seem hard for David Aaronovitch to be simultaneously a spokesman for the Israeli, US, and UK governments – as well as a general mouthpiece for political correctness of every kind. A moment's thought resolves the conundrum: for the US government invariably falls in line with everything the Israeli government says; and likewise the UK government slavishly complies with US government policies and statements.

    I do hope he is getting well paid for being, possibly, the least credible columnist in British newspaper history.

  • Phil

    In "The Rag Trade" she subverted a show which was basically union-bashing, and made the audience cheer for the workers. No surprise that despite the success of the show, of which she was the undoubted star, her TV appearances after that were quite limited.

    Glad that you were friends with her Craig.

  • Peter Shapcott

    I had the pleasure of knowing Mim for the last 20 years originally because I became her housekeeper when she lived at Earls Court. Some 15 years ago my partner took his life because he could not cope with living with HIV and I set up a trust in his name in 1996 by opening a nationwide freephone helpline for people worried or scared about any issues around HIV. Miriam became our patron in 1996 and her support never wavered over the years. Even when in poor health she would attend our fundraising functions and always attracted large audiences and left them begging for more (her sense of humour was outrageous) and she helped us raise a large amount of money for the trust over the last 15 years.
    As the curtain comes down on a great actor, humanist and activist she will never be forgotten. As Mim said it was 'Some Sort of a Life'
    Peter Shapcott,
    The Eddie Surman Trust

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