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Played: Mrs Mangel
Born Jean Vivra Gray in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire on 20th July 1924, the eldest of four children. Her father sold fish and ran a fish and chip shop. During her childhood, Gray spent a lot of time with her grandparents and often sat quietly watching adults from the sidelines. She had hoped to become a jazz pianist but lessons from an Aunt when young proved unfruitful. Vivean was a late comer to acting, instead taking a variety of jobs which put her in contact with the general public; photographers assistant, an assistant to a matron at a boys' public school, a salesgirl in a department store and working in the book trade. Gray would later claim that all these jobs provided her with knowledge about people and their mannerisms which helped her later when she pursued acting fulltime. Before the second world war, her family moved from Cleethorpes to Kingston in Surrey but then had to move back again to avoid the Blitz. She dodged death several times all on the same day as she made a trip from the north down to London; a flying bomb shattered the windows of her bus, her train was attacked by fighter planes, she missed getting on a double-decker which was bombed minutes later killing 20 people, and she was then deafened for two days by a bomb falling close to the air raid shelter she was in. She also nearly drowned when she fell in the river Thames; she was saved by a clump of bullrushes. After the war her family moved back to Surrey but in 1953, Vivean made a bigger move when she emigrated to Australia in search of acting opportunities.
Television had yet to be introduced in Australia but Vivean got acting work on the stage and in radio. She got her first screen break in the early 1970s when a script writing friend recommended her for the police drama Homicide (credited as Vivian). From there she made guest roles in a variety of 70s TV shows such as Division 4 and Matlock Police, and became part of Australia's film making boom of that decade in A City's Child (presciently cast as "First Neighbour"), Libido, The Last Wave and perhaps most famously as the ethereal teacher Miss McCraw in Picnic At Hanging Rock.
In 1976, Gray found her niche role as the gossipy neighbour Ida Jessop in wartime soap The Sullivans; the part lasted six years. In 1984 she won the role of poisoner Edna Pearson in the cult classic Prisoner: Cell Block H, but much of her scenes were cut from the Australian transmissions as her character's story closely matched a real life criminal case and the series was threatened with legal action. After a small part in the memorable mini-series Anzacs, Vivean found her most famous role in 1986, in the new soap opera Neighbours. Playing the formidable Mrs Mangel - a part that echoed her Ida Jessop character - Vivean became a star overnight. Mrs Mangel became an icon and fans loved to hate her for her meddling ways, but sadly the success of Vivean's work meant she often faced abuse from viewers who couldn't understand the difference between actors and characters. In 1987, Vivean commented "You've just got to have a sense of humour about the whole thing, and rationalise it by saying at least the character is working! It certainly wouldn't be good for your morale if people came up to you and said they liked your character when she's supposed to be a real baddie". Sadly after two years playing Nell Mangel, the harassment Vivean was receiving proved to be too much and she decided to leave Neighbours and retire from acting altogether.
Gray never married, she enjoys photography and is a cat lover. She has travelled extensively in Egypt, Iran, Greece and Sri Lanka, and used to dream of becoming an archaeologist. Vivean moved back to the United Kingdom after Neighbours and now lives on the south coast of England in West Sussex.
"Now Vivean's Moving Out!"
Profile by David