Activist and intellectual Audrey Jancovich dies at 87

09:14 26 January 2022

Audrey Jancovich, once a leading literary light at the University of the Third Age in North London, died peacefully at home on January 20. This stellar internationalist was 87, living near her beloved Ally Pally Park. Whittington Hospital was caring for her on an outpatient basis.

Unpretentious but elegant, determined but kind, scrupulous but pragmatic, she was shrewd, dedicated and fascinating.

Audrey Brook Falkingham grew up in a passionate intimacy with Bronte country. She instilled such a love for the Yorkshire moors in her children that two of them later settled there.

Being born near the heart of West Yorkshire’s textile industry in 1934 imbued her understanding of systemic injustice. The global depression that put his father out of work meant that this youngest child of four entered the world at the modest infirmary of Keighley Workhouse.

Then education. For bright working-class kids in those days, succeeding in the 11-plus scholarship meant everything. He refereed for life.

Audrey not only managed to get into the prestigious Keighley Girls Grammar School, she found one of the most inspiring teachers of her time: S Beryl Jones was a crucial literary mentor.

The classic mistress, in 1960 Jones testified for the defense at the Old Bailey trial of DH Lawrence’s banned novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Audrey’s older sister, Margaret (later Crozier), influenced Audrey’s move into radical politics. Ideally, Audrey joined the Young Communist League and then Miss Jones’ Communist Party.

Audrey Jancovich in her twenties
– Credit: family

To take off

Loving literature and wanting freedom, she earned a degree in English at the University of Bristol from 1953 to 1956, where her activism was more captivating than her studies.

She was heading for a future in Iraq with her pan-Arab fiancé, but he disappeared. It was only later that she learned that he had been murdered.

In the late 1950s, Audrey was living in London, paying her way as a teacher and using her skills to ensure the success of the Colonial Freedom Movement. And then a sophisticated Egyptian Jewish activist, Jimmy Jancovich, came to an MCF event in London that she had organized, whom she later married.

To advance the cause of Algerian liberation, they settled in France. There they were active, in the work of the National Liberation Front to end French exploitation of Algeria. Family legend says that pregnant Audrey helped Algerian freedom fighters cross the Franco-Belgian border.

What does a pregnant activist do to help? She uses her stomach. To distract the escapees, Audrey loudly simulated the onset of labor pains, creating a distraction so Jimmy could aid in the men’s escape and survival.

Paris to Muswell Hill

Subsequently, Jimmy was arrested and expelled from France. The whole family moved to Fortismere Road, Muswell Hill. Audrey had two more children: some went to Creighton Comp, just after the controversial publication of Hunter Davies’ Creighton Report in 1967.

Metropolitan green spaces such as open-air concerts at Kenwood were his craft as were the moors. She loved the Hampstead Theatre, where two of her children would later work.

When the marriage ended in 1970, she became a single working mother at age 36. His jobs included teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). She ran a special education unit at Rokesley Primary, Crouch End, before going to the Tavistock Institute in Belsize Park. There she retrained as a school counselor and then practiced at Skinner and Haggerston Schools in Hackney.

Although deeply committed to extended family life, she has also traveled to Russia, China and the Far East, and even visited Syria at the start of the Arab Spring. Although increasingly an outpatient at Whittington Hospital, she remained engaged in cultural politics until the very end. She was well enough to travel to Paris to see Jimmy buried at the iconic Père Lachaise cemetery in 2019.

Audrey at Kew

Audrey at Kew
– Credit: Paul Blake

U3A flowering

Then living in Bounds Green, she retired from work in 1993 but never from international cultural politics. The bubbly U3A becomes one of its new educational arenas. She worked hard to encourage the national committee to be more pro-diversity.

Active locally in the Haringey and Highgate U3A groups, she started a world literature group which met at Lauderdale House. She particularly enjoyed teaching a class in comparative religion.

Just before the lockdown, joining the intergenerational group Islington Cares gave him a welcome new social life, performing at Teatro Technis and enjoying weekly visits from young northerner Matt.

His ashes will be scattered on his beloved Yorkshire Moors. The family is considering what to do with their memory project, My Life in Words.

For more details on funeral arrangements, contact [email protected]

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