Julie Dawn Cole: An Appreciation

❉ Foster Hitchman on the eclectic, scrumdiddlyumptious career of Julie Dawn Cole.

It was nearly fifty years ago that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory premiered in theaters around the world. Although it experienced lukewarm success during its initial release, it would eventually go on to become one of the most beloved movies of all time – The Wizard of Oz of its day. The renewed success of the film would also catapult many of its stars to heights of cinematic immortality. One of those was British actress, Julie Dawn Cole, who played the spoiled brat Veruca Salt. With the trademark catchphrase “I want it now”, and her dramatic showstopping musical sequence, its not hard to see why Cole’s character is one of the most notable, and strangely beloved, characters of the film.

But what people might not know is that Julie Dawn Cole had a long running acting career in British television, theater, and film after her character met her demise down the garbage chute in Wonka’s factory. An eclectic and lustrous career that is as scrumdiddlyumptious as the magic that Willy Wonka continues to entrance on generations.

Julie Dawn Cole in some of her early television work after Willy Wonka. From left to right: Arabella in …And Mother Makes Three (1971), Judy in My Old Man (1974), and Gillian in Within These Walls (1975) – Distributed by Network DVD

Upon her return home to England, after three-months of filming Willy Wonka in Germany, Cole was immediately cast in a reccurring role for the new ITV comedy sitcom …And Mother Makes Three. On the series (centered around the lives of a single mother and her two sons) Cole played the snotty and bratty Arabella. The show achieved great success, virtually becoming the British equivalent of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The show would run for a total of four seasons, and even got a spinoff called …And Mother Makes Five.

Although Julie’s tenure on the show amounted to just five episodes (and only for the first two seasons) she held her own. On the show, Arabella had several shining moments and a handful of comical one liners. Among the funniest and most memorable was in the first episode, titled Simon’s Holiday, where Arabella comes into Simon’s room dressed up as a nurse, offering her “services” to a “sickly” Simon. She tells his mother that she is a good nurse and that she nursed her rabbit through her “crisis”. Simons mother responds with, “Perhaps you can nurse Simon through his”, to which Arabella pithy asks “Oh, Is he (Simon) pregnant too”. Ironically, the nurse’s uniform would be an outfit that Julie would become extremely familiar with in just a few short years.

After her run on …And Mother Makes Three, Julie kept busy with a string of acting gigs over the next few years. Staying consistent with the Veruca mold, she usually found herself playing characters who were acerbic, rebellious, or some type of “baddie”. On an episode of ITV Sunday Night Theatre, she played a delinquent who broke into a stranger’s house. When she guest starred on an episode of the prison drama series, Within These Walls, she played a misunderstood juvenile offender who gets incarcerated in a youth detention center. Cole did occasionally get to show more sides to her talents in other gigs; she played a teenaged murder victim on an episode of Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, and Edward Hardwicke’s intelligent niece on an episode of My Old Man.

Her BIG BREAK came in 1975 when she was cast in one of the leading roles of the BCC medical drama series, Angels. The show depicted the lives of six student nurses in the setting of the fictional Saint Angela’s Hospital. The series was not just a success, but a national phenomenon. Airing weekly on BBC television, Angels had an average of 11 million in viewing figures by the end of its first season. Although the series did not reach television screens in America, it became a hit series outside of the UK in many parts of Europe. The popularity of the Angels transformed its central cast of up-and-coming actresses (Fiona Fullerton, Lesley Dunlop, Clare Clifford, Karan David, Érin Geraghty, Angela Bruce, and of course Julie Dawn Cole) to A-list actresses and household names in the British media. It also helped Julie cleanly transition from child star to sophisticated actress.

On Angels Julie played Nurse Jo Longhurst, who was a second-year student nurse. Her character was known for her tender-hearted personality, her sensitive spirit, going to extra lengths to care for patients, and questioning authority when she felt it was unprincipled (even if she was wrong). Although her character was a bit headstrong, occasionally impulsive, and tended to get too involved with her patient’s issues, she was one of more likeable personalities on the show.

One of Julie’s biggest highlights on Angels was a scene in episode three of series one (titled Appraisal) where her character receives her annual evaluation from staff nurse Sister Easby (played by the amazing June Watson). The scene itself runs on for nearly fifteen minutes and focuses solely on the interaction between Cole and Watsons characters. Typically, scenes that run for extended periods of time with only two subjects and abundant amounts of dialogue, are difficult to execute in a manner that will keep the audiences engaged. Yet Cole and Watson flawlessly deliver this long and complex scene so fluidly and flawlessly. And it should be noted that it was done all in one take.

After her three-year successful run on Angels, Julie was cast in the original BBC adaptation of Poldark in 1977. On this costume drama series, Julie played the role of the coquettish seductress, Rowella. Set in Cornwall during the late 1700s, Rowella is a 16-year-old girl who is sent to live in the household of her older married sister, Morwenna, to tend to her in the late stages of her pregnancy and to help raise her children. While there, Rowella then entices her brother-in-law, Reverend Osborne Whitworth (Christopher Biggins), into an affair behind her sister’s back. She later claims to be pregnant with his child and later blackmails him to help her get into a marriage for her own prospects.

 

Provocative, shocking, and entertaining, Poldark was a success garnering rave reviews, millions of viewing figures, and various BAFTA and Primetime Emmy nominations. The series also set forth a new renaissance in Julie’s career. Not only had Julie successfully transitioned from child star to more grown-up roles, she also began to appear in more period films and costume drama productions. With her porcelain skin, soft blue eyes, button nose, full lips, and effervescent smile all perfectly framed on a classic round face, her timeless beauty could fit into virtually any era of history. In 1979 she appeared in two distinct costume drama series, The Mill on the Floss and Dick Turpin. She followed with a role in the 1984 television film remake of Camille, opposite Colin Firth and Greta Scacchi.

Costume drama starlet Julie Dawn Cole. From left to right: Rowella in Poldark (1977), Lucy in Mill on the Floss (1979), and Phylida in Dick Turpin (1979), and Julie in Camille (1984) – Distributed by Acorn Media Group, BBC Home Entertainment, NetworkDVD, and Image Entertainment

After nearly 40 years of remarkably enduring work, Julie Dawn Cole retired from acting in 2007, and now works as a psychotherapist and recently became a first-time grandmother. Although she has hung up her acting shoes, she still devotes time to meeting fans at conventions and engaging followers on her social media pages. In 2011, she published her memoir, I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which you can buy signed and personalised by Cole herself here. Between March to April 2020, she gave Wonka fans a sweet treat in the form of reading aloud the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book by Roald Dahl on Facebook Live.


❉ For more info on Julie and upcoming appearances, visit her official website and follow her social media pages:

 

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