'Staunch and fascinating' activist and intellectual Audrey Jancovich dies aged 87
- Credit: Paul Blake
Audrey Jancovich, once a leading literary light in north London’s University of the Third Age, died peacefully at home on January 20. This stellar internationalist was 87, living near her beloved Ally Pally Park. Whittington Hospital had been caring for her as outpatient.
Unpretentious yet elegant, determined yet kind, scrupulous yet pragmatic, she was astute, staunch and fascinating.
Audrey Brook Falkingham grew up in passionate intimacy with Bronte country. She infused her children with such a love of the Yorkshire moors that two of them later settled there.
Being born near the heart of West Yorkshire’s textile industry in 1934 permeated her understanding of systemic injustice. The global depression that put her father out of work meant this youngest child of four entered the world at Keighley Workhouse’s lowly infirmary.
Then education. For bright working-class children in those days, passing the 11-plus scholarship meant everything. It arbitrated, for life.
Audrey not only succeeded in getting through to the prestigious Keighley Girls Grammar School, but she found one of the most inspirational teachers of her day: S Beryl Jones was a crucial literary mentor.
The classic mistress, in 1960 Jones gave evidence for the defence at the Old Bailey trial of DH Lawrence’s banned novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
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Audrey’s elder sister Margaret (later Crozier) influenced Audrey’s move to radical politics. Idealistically, Audrey joined the Young Communist League and then Miss Jones’s Communist Party.
Loving literature and wanting freedom, she took an English degree at Bristol University from 1953-56, where her activism was more engrossing than her studies.
She was headed for a future in Iraq with her pan-Arab fiancée, but he disappeared. Only later she heard he’d been murdered.
The late 1950s found Audrey living in London, paying her way as a teacher and using her skills to bring success to the Movement for Colonial Freedom. And then a sophisticated Jewish Egyptian activist, Jimmy Jancovich, came to a London MCF event she’d organised, whom she later married.
To further the Algerian Liberation cause they moved to France. There they were active, in the Front de Libération Nationale’s work to end the French exploitation of Algeria. Family legend has it that the pregnant Audrey helped Algerian freedom fighters cross the French-Belgian border.
What does a pregnant activist do to help? She utilises her belly. To divert attention from the escapees Audrey loudly faked the onset of labour pains, creating a distraction so that Jimmy could help the men’s escape and survival.
Paris to Muswell Hill
Afterwards, Jimmy was arrested and expelled from France. The whole family move to Fortismere Road, Muswell Hill. Audrey had two more children: some went to Creighton Comp, just after Hunter Davies’ controversial Creighton Report came out in 1967.
Metropolitan green spaces such as Kenwood’s open-air concerts were her metier just as the moors were. She adored Hampstead theatre, where two of her children worked later.
When the marriage ended in 1970 she became a single working mother at 36. Her jobs included ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) teaching. She ran a special education unit in Rokesley Primary, Crouch End, before going to the Tavistock Institute in Belsize Park. There she retrained as a school counsellor, going on to practise at Skinner and Haggerston schools in Hackney.
Though deeply engaged with extended family life, she also travelled to Russia, China and the Far East, and even visited Syria at the start of the Arab Spring. Despite increasingly being an outpatient at the Whittington Hospital she remained engaged in cultural politics to the very end. She was well enough to go to Paris to see Jimmy buried at the iconic Père Lachaise cemetery in 2019.
By then living in Bounds Green, she retired from work in 1993 but never from international cultural politics. The lively U3A became one of her new pedagogical arenas. She worked hard to encourage the national committee to be more pro-diversity.
Active locally in both Haringey and Highgate U3A groups, she established a World Literature group which met at Lauderdale House. She especially relished teaching a course on comparative religion.
Just before lockdown, joining Islington Cares intergenerational group meant she gained a welcome new social life, performed at Teatro Technis, and delighted in weekly visits by young northerner Matt.
Her ashes will be scattered on her beloved Yorkshire Moors. The family is considering what to do about her draft memoir, My life in words.
For details about the funeral arrangements go to audreyjancovich.muchloved.com