The scene: Jabba’s palace on parched and remote Tattooine. The year: 4 ABY. (Earth Year: 1983 AD). The decadent evening entertainment with bandleader Max Rebo is in full swing. Before the dramatic events later in the evening which lead to the demise of the wicked Hutt unfold, we are briefly treated, among other exotic sights, to a large, scantily dressed and well endowed female reveller named Yarna D’al Gargan, shaking her assets as she moves to the beat of Max Rebo’s band.
Yarna was one of the more noticeable characters among the small but colourful crowd of life forms representing a good many species and planets of the Star Wars galaxy who settled on this unlikely bastion of the Outer Rim as part of Jabba’s motley retinue of weirdos and criminals. Her brief dance in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) was brought to life by the unforgettable Claire Davenport, a lady larger than life in both body and spirit.
Born in Sale, Cheshire on 24 April 1933, she never married. Due to complex family issues she was pressured into allowing her true love to marry a family friend who was confined to a wheelchair. The groom died a few years later. This devastated the young Claire and she never fully recovered from this emotional tragedy.
It had always been a dream of hers to act, as her talented mother had been involved in amateur dramatics on the stage. However, her father insisted that she should qualify in something less fickle than the theatre, so she trained in education at St Catherine’s College in Liverpool.
After a stint of a few years as a teacher, during which time she spent her evenings in amateur theatricals, she managed to join the stage full time in 1960. The world of drama has been the richer for her decision.
Her first film role was in 1962. Her film and TV career would span over 30 years. However, many of her roles, though memorable, were all too short. But it is seldom that a minor supporting actress is remembered as well as Claire, who brought her special touch to every role.
She had a short but hilarious stint as a formidable German masseuse in Return of the Pink Panther (1975) who ends up in a vacuum cleaner tug of war with Inspector Clouseau. This is one of the most memorable scenes in this Blake Edwards masterpiece, one of a series featuring the inimitable Peter Sellers and stressed out, manic Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom).
She appeared, again briefly, as the Fat Lady in The Elephant Man (1980).
She acted in a number of serious roles but had her real flair lay in comedy roles.
She wasn’t shy about her natural assets and shed her clothes quite readily for parts in movies such as The Tempest, The Birth of The Beatles, and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate.
The Birth of the Beatles
She had a brief but highly memorable role in the episode of Fawlty Towers called The Germans in which she appears as a large guest dressed like a toy elephant in pink and grey, demanding to know from Basil how they are supposed to know the difference between the burglar alarm and the fire alarm.
The other Basil she badgered was Basil Brush during a cameo appearance on The Basil Brush Show.
Other TV shows graced by her larger than life presence include The Dick Emery Show where she had a regular role as the longsuffering Dick’s wife; Mind Your Language, Dr Who, I Didn’t Know You Cared, George and Mildred, By the Sword Divided, and many more.
In her final TV role she again played an alien, a reptilian creature in Space Vets.
Unfortunately she battled with health issues in her early 60s and suffered a series of strokes, making it impossible for her to continue acting. She passed from the physical stage at age 68 on 25 February 2002.
After her death her close friend the actor, MP and gay rights activist Michael Cashman stated in his tribute that she lived for her friends, acting and art.
Those of us who have seen her in action on the large or small screen will agree that her death deprived the world of a remarkable acting talent and a delight in odd and comedic roles. She immersed herself in her characters in a way which few can equal.