Best known to UK television audiences of the Yorkshire farming series Emmerdale Farm as Annie Sugden, actress Sheila Mercier was born in Hull, a New Year’s baby born on January 1, 1919. She died in December 2019 at the age of 100.Mercier remembered a Victorian childhood ‘cossetted so much by servants that I have an abiding memory of my mother ringing for the maid whenever she wanted another piece of coal to be put on the fire.’ Sheila’s fledgling acting career was put on hold with the outbreak of World War Two in which she served with the Women’s Auxiliary Force. On the eve of her 21st birthday, she was raped at a party. Thirty years later, the daughter she gave up for adoption tracked her down. Mercier wrote about the rape and her subsequent pregnancy in Annie’s Song, published in 1995.
‘A lot of young men were there [at the party], all getting very merry,’ she told the Yorkshire Post newspaper in 1994. ‘One pilot asked me to go with him to his room to stoke the fire. This I did and was standing there when, suddenly, I was seized, thrown on the bed and raped.’ Her parents gave her an ultimatum, to sort herself out or find a way of living. Mercier’s father tracked down the baby’s father who offered to marry Mercier, who declined. The baby was adopted and named Janet by her new family. Mercier was able to write and in return she received photographs until one day a letter arrived asking her to cease contact.
In 1969 Janet, herself a wife and mother of three children, traced Mercier and got in touch. ‘I was absolutely wild with joy and phoned her immediately,’ said Mercier. ‘The rapport was instant.’
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Watch the moment in a 1973 episode of Emmerdale Farm when Amos Brearley asks Annie to ‘walk out with him’ because he needs a wife and thinks she’d be ‘best for t’job’.
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