Joan Rodker was born in London on 1st May 1915, the daughter of the modernist poet, John Rodker, who later published James Joyce and salvaged the complete works of Sigmund Freud after the psychoanalyst's escape from Hitler's Vienna. Her mother was dancer Sonia Cohen,
At eighteen months of age, her impoverished parents placed her in care in an institution, where she stayed until she was 11, when she went to Haberdashers' Aske's school for girls in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Joan later lived with her mother,
Whilst improving her German in
Prague, she became attracted to Marxism, and migrated to Moscow in 1934, joining an acting troupe which toured the Ukraine. For the next four years this travelled from collective farm to farm, performing upbeat plays. Joan fell in love with the actor Gerard Heinz (earlier known as Hinze). Their only child, Ernest, was born in Odessa in 1937. During her time in the Soviet Union, Rodker met Regina Fischer, later the mother of chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, with whom she later corresponded.
Heinz was detained, then interned as an enemy alien, in
Canada when the second world war broke out in 1939. Fighting for his release, Joan, a single mother with a sick infant, travelled to the US, where she found work at Time magazine and made a number of new friends, including Jessica Mitford, to whom she remained close.
After the war Joan and Heinz split up, and she returned to
London and threw herself into campaigns to allow Paul Robeson to travel outside the US. She was also a highly visible organiser of a worldwide campaign, ultimately unsuccessful, to save Ethel and Julius Rosenberg from execution.
Joan helped to organise and publicise the
Sheffield Peace Conference in 1950 and was involved in similar activities. Between 1950 and 1955, she was involved with the Polish Cultural Institute and (with the artist Peter de Francia and John Berger) began the Soho Fair. Her Kensington home was described by a Telegraph obituary writer as the nearest Britain ever possessed to a "communist salon". She provided help and accommodation for the American expatriate Clancy Sigal and the novelist Doris Lessing, for whose Molly Jacob in `The Golden Notebook’ (1962) Joan was the model.
She travelled to Central and South America and
Mexico in 1960 to direct the film `Mexico – Eagle and Serpent’.
During a career in television, culminating as a producer, Joan began as a researcher on such series as Huw Wheldon's `Monitor’ and ITV's arts series, `Tempo’. She was script editor on Armchair Theatre and the BBC's Thirty Minute Theatre. In 1980 she worked as the Executive Producer of the enormously popular
Thames' Armchair Thriller series, having previously worked as the script executive earlier in the programme's run.
She died on 27th December 2010, aged 95
Guardian 9th February 2011
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