Rita Tushingham on life after A Taste of Honey: ‘It was a shock when the 60s ended’

She caused outrage as a wide-eyed teen in her very first film. As the actor returns in a spooky Agatha Christie, she relives life as a 60s icon – and the taunts she endured in the street

One day nearly 60 years ago, Rita Tushingham was walking through Soho with her friend, the late British actor Paul Danquah, when a passerby yelled: “Blacks and whites don’t mix!” Tushingham looks troubled by the memory. “It happened to Paul a lot,” she says. “I remember he shouted back, ‘Don’t worry! She’s only been on holiday and got a tan.’”

That was Britain in 1961, before London swung, before sex between men was decriminalised, before a black man and a white woman walking in Soho might pass unremarked. There’s a photo in the National Portrait Gallery of the pair that very year, her leaning in care-free, him eyeing the street as if on alert for the next racist.

At the time, Tushingham and Danquah were filming the now-celebrated A Taste of Honey, adapted from the play by Shelagh Delaney. “It had everything – race, class, gender, sexuality, poverty,” says Tushingham of her first film role. She played something cinema had never seen before: a bored teenager from the rough end of Salford. Jo was alienated from school, revolted by her boozy single mam and eternally suckered by worthless suitors. After falling in love with a sailor, played by Danquah, Jo gets pregnant. He returns to sea, so she moves in with Geoffrey, a gay textiles student who becomes her surrogate co-parent.

Fist interracial kiss onscreen


“We shocked audiences without intending to,” says Tushingham. “I only learned later that Paul and I did the first interracial kiss on screen.” It’s a big claim: certainly, it was seven years before Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kissed in Star Trek, and a year before the earliest known interracial kiss on British TV, in the ITV drama You in Your Small Corner. For this and other supposed outrages, A Taste of Honey was banned in several countries including New Zealand. “A lot of the reaction was, ‘People like that don’t exist’ – by which they meant homosexuals, single mothers and people in mixed-race relationships. But they did.” Continue reading

Cannes fifty years ago: when Tush had the knack

By Melanie Williams | May 2015

At the moment, the 68th Cannes International Film Festival is abuzz with a supposed selfie ban, the feminist activism of Women in Motion and #seehernow, outrage at heelgate, boos for Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, plaudits for Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary, and general indifference towards Woody Allen’s latest, Irrational Man. Meanwhile Cate, Aishwarya, Sienna, Lupita, Salma and a host of other female stars have all been mooted as 2015’s queens of the Croisette. But back in 1965, the undisputed woman of the moment was a quirky-looking young Liverpudlian, star of the Cannes grand prix winning film, The Knack…and how to get it: Rita Tushingham.


Despite her long and distinguished subsequent acting career, Tushingham’s star image remains inextricably linked to its decade of origin, the 1960s. In that respect she has a lot in common with Julie Christie, another female star who triumphed in 1965 (in her Oscar-winning role in Darling) and whose persona resonates with all that the era is seen to represent. But if Christie was the ‘honey glow girl’ of the sixties, then Continue reading