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Days when young Joyce became a movie star

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

Who's that girl being given the movie star treatment in a Much Wenlock street?

If you took a guess at Hollywood actress Jennifer Jones, you would be wrong - but a lot closer than you know.

Because this is local girl Miss Joyce Duckett who was the stand-in for Jennifer Jones during the making of the movie Gone To Earth in Much Wenlock and other Shropshire locations in 1949.

The photo has only recently come to light following the death of Joyce and sorting through things in her house.

"She was my cousin, and died a few months ago. Her married name was Joyce Leach," says Mrs Dianna Young, of Dawley.

"It's one to treasure. It's something we always knew about, and never talked to Joyce about."

Dianna thinks Joyce would have been about 88 when she died and says Joyce's niece Jane came across many old photographs, including this one, while sorting through things in her house at Jackfield.

"While Joyce was still Joyce Duckett they made the movie Gone To Earth in and around Much Wenlock. Joyce was chosen as stand-in for Jennifer Jones, who had the lead part. Joyce's family lived then in Much Wenlock - I think they were bakers with a little bakery.

"All Jane knows is that it was a toss-up between her and her sister Doris, and Joyce was chosen because she was the taller of the two. Doris was one of the extras.

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"When you look at the titles at the end of the movie the two sisters, Joyce and Doris Duckett, are together.

"Joyce was not in any amdrams or anything like that.There were an awful lot of extras and at the end of the movie they are all named."

Dianna doesn't know what Joyce's job as a stand-in involved, but perhaps it involved dressing in Jones' costume and being available for long shots when the star was unavailable.

"We have always known she was the stand-in for Jennifer Jones in that movie. I was quite close to her, but we never actually sat and nattered about it. I regret that now. I would love to have known more about it."

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Her role as Jennifer Jones' stand-in is confirmed by a mention as part of the end titles. Dianna does not know if Joyce actually appeared in the film.

Some of the filming of the movie, based on Mary Webb's book, was done in Much Wenlock so it seems a reasonable assumption that the picture was taken there, where Joyce lived at that time.

Dianna says no other picture from the filming has been found among the old photographs in Joyce's house.

"Her husband Wally Leach, who died about six years ago, was a very keen fisherman, and there are fishing and countryside pictures. He was a big walker and would walk for miles each day. The majority of the photos are of nature and scenery and snowscapes. It seems wherever he went the camera went with him. "

She says Joyce was her cousin by marriage.

"Her husband Wally Leach was my first cousin - my mother's brother's son. My mother was Mrs Mabel Gill."

As it happens, Dianna is herself Much Wenlock-born, but her family left the town long before the making of the film.

"We lived in Havelock Crescent, opposite where the Horse and Jockey used to be. While we were in Much Wenlock we had three evacuees from Liverpool. We're still in touch. We moved from there in 1942 to the Boat Inn, Jackfield. My parents were the licensees."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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