Rita Tushingham

Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Rita Tushingham for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.  

The distinctive face of screen legend Rita Tushingham first came to the world's attention in the early 1960s -  a face described recently by one reviewer as "The face of innocent yearning, of wide-eyed passion, of dreamy rapture…". 

Almost 50 years on, Rita is instantly recognisable, ever the wide-eyed schoolgirl, her beauty and rapture undimmed.  

Rita Tushinghamwas born in Liverpool and brought up in Garston with her brothers Peter and Colin by parents John and Enid Tushingham. The family had a grocery business with stores on Hillfoot Road, Garston Old Road and latterly at Hunts Cross.   

From an early age Rita knew she wanted to be an entertainer, perhaps a footballer or a trapeze artist. At La Sagesse convent school in Grassendale, acting in school plays fuelled her ambition to be an actress, and she enrolled at the Shelagh Elliot-Clarke College for Dance and Drama. 

At the age of 16, encouraged by her mother, Rita became a student Assistant Stage Manager at Liverpool Playhouse, gaining experience in bit parts with the Liverpool Rep.  

In 1960, she responded to a newspaper ad about a part in a forthcoming film, A Taste of Honey. Two thousand young hopefuls applied and Rita won the part. This was a defining moment for Rita with a leading role in a film directed by Tony Richardson, whom she remembers with great affection, and co-produced by John Osborne. 

With such an opportunity Rita didn't disappoint: with her heartbreaking portrayal of a working-class teenager playing opposite Dora Bryan and Robert Stephens, she was sensational and picked up numerous best actress and best newcomer awards for her brilliant performance in the film which was described as "a priceless barometer of England and English attitudes in 1961".   

Both Tony Richardson and John Osborne recognised her outstanding talent, the latter observing that Rita had more expression and beauty when she crooked her little finger than most of the contemporary starlets could ever dream of. There's no doubt that she can convey an on-screen vulnerability and emotional transparency like no other actress, past or present.  

In 1962, Rita played Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court with Lynne and Corin Redgrave who became great friends and enabled her, as John Walsh notes, "to penetrate the inner sanctum of Sixties fabness." Her embrace of the swinging sixties earned a withering rebuke on one occasion from Joan Crawford who declared her and Lynne Redgrave to be a disgrace to the film industry for wearing mini-skirts.  

She had numerous starring roles in the 60s, for example: She was Dot in The Leather Boys, Acclaimed for her sensitive performance as Kate Brady, opposite Peter Finch, in The Girl with Green Eyes , she showed her deft comic touch as Nancy in Richard Lestor's The Knack, she played Tonya Tomarova alongside her screen hero Alec Guinness in David Lean 's Dr Zhivago. She starred with Oliver Reed in The Trap. Playing a mute orphan, she showed her formidable range as an actress, managing to convey an amazing array of emotions without saying a single word. She played alongside Michael York as a young hippy in The Guru, James Ivory's sceptical look at spiritual tourism in India. 

Rita continued to make big screen appearances in the 70s and 80s - including seven films in Italy - but on a reduced scale following a move to Canada and the demands of bringing up a young family.  Back in London in the 90s, film highlights included Mike Newell's An Awfully Big Adventure in which she made a delightful appearance as Aunt Lily with Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, and Nick Mead's Swing with Tom Bell. 

In the present decade, Rita continues to appear in films at the rate of about one a year, including Being Julia in 2004 and recently The Calling, in which she plays the part of a Liverpool nun. 

Rita has also worked periodically in the theatre and extensively in television.  

She has had theatre roles in for example The Changeling, Twelfth Night, The Knack, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mistress of Novices, and Children Children

TV credits include No Strings, Granada's The Lady Killers, Carla Lane's long running sitcom Bread, Sunday Pursuit, Stretford Wives and Margo - Beyond the Box also for the BBC.  

She has received many awards, including: The Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival Hollywood Foreign Press Assoc (Golden Globe) - Most Promising Newcomer, British Film Academy - Most Promising Newcomer and Variety Club - Most Promising Newcomer for A Taste Of Honey. New York Film Critics' Award Best Film Actress from the Variety Club for Girl With Green Eyes. The Mexican Silver Goddess Best Actress Award for The Knack, BBC Personality of the Year, the People's Actress Award - Moscow and the Best Actress Award at The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.  

In 1997, declared to be one of six most influential actresses of her generation by the Potsdam Film Museum Liverpool Scouseology Award - Lifetime Achievement in 2003 International Film Festival, Valenciennes - Special Tribute in 2004 

When not working Rita enjoys travel, meeting friends, painting and being near the sea. 

It's very evident that she loves Liverpool, being a frequent visitor and a massive Liverpool fan - despite coming from an Everton household. Liverpool is in her blood - she points out that Liverpool people are more interested in who you are than what you do, and this helps keep her grounded.  

At a visit to the Fact Cinema on Wood Street last year, she voiced her frustration at a London think-tank's pessimistic view of Liverpool's prospects, exclaiming "Where are they coming from these people and why do they always want to have a go at us. The changes in Liverpool have been incredible and everyone is on the up".

Incidentally, friends and family are here today to share the occasion with Rita, including her daughter Aisha, (her other daughter Dodonna is presently in Los Angeles), her brother Peter (an Evertonian), LJMU Fellow Norma Heyman, and director Richard Lestor.  

Rita has always supported charities but her daughter Aisha's breast cancer diagnosis in 2005 led to her becoming a strong breast cancer activist. She and Aisha are dedicated supporters of Cancer Research UK's Relay for Life and take every opportunity to raise breast cancer awareness.  

Rita Tushingham has had many plaudits as a person and as an actress.  In A Taste of Honey, Jo says, "I'm not just talented, I'm geniused", but Rita, this most gracious and unpretentious of actresses would never say that about herself. 

But I can say it - Rita Tushingham is not just talented, she is geniused!   

And we are delighted to honour her today for her outstanding and sustained contributions to the performing arts. 

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Rita Tushingham, this most distinguished daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.