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Hilary Mason

Hilary Mason
Hilary Mason

 

“Independent” obituary from 2006:

Hilary Lavender Mason, actress: born Birmingham 4 September 1917; married Roger Ostime; died Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire 5 September 2006.

Although a prolific television character actress for almost half a century, Hilary Mason will be best remembered on screen as the blind, psychic Heather in the macabre supernatural thriller “Don’t Look Now”. The 1973 film starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as John and Laura Baxter, a grieving couple holidaying in a wintry Venice after the death of their daughter, Christine, who was drowned in the garden pond while wearing a shiny, red mackintosh. When Laura meets the two spinster sisters in a restaurant toilet, she is shocked to be told that Heather has seen her daughter. “I’ve seen her and she wants you to know that she’s happy,” says the old woman: I’ve seen your little girl, sitting between you and your husband, and she was laughing. Yes, oh, yes, she’s with you, my dear, and she’s laughing. She’s wearing a shiny little mac. She’s laughing, she’s laughing – she’s happy as can be.   Later, Laura attends a seance with the sisters and – when Heather gets what she claims to be a message from Christine – is disturbed to be told that her husband, John (Sutherland), is in danger. A sceptical John fails to heed the warning and in the final scenes of the film is murdered by a female dwarf in a red, hooded coat. Throughout this eerie film, based on a Daphne du Maurier short story, the director, Nicolas Roeg, leaves us unsure whether Mason’s chilling character really is a psychic or a con artist, particularly in a scene showing the sisters laughing after convincing Laura that they have contacted her daughter.

Born in Birmingham in 1917, Mason won a scholarship to the London School of Dramatic Art before gaining repertory theatre experience in Preston, Southport, York and Guildford. During the Second World War she performed with the troops entertainment organisation Ensa.   Mason made her television début as Mrs Drummond in the drama series Thunder in the West (1957), and played Mrs Yapp in the Midlands-based local council serial Swizzlewick (1964) and Mrs Timothy in the soccer soap United! (1965-67), as well as taking two roles in Coronation Street. Following a bit-part as Mrs Ainsworth (1965), she was Derek Wilton’s mother (1976), who disapproved of her son’s relationship with the dithering Mavis Riley and insisted it must end – to no avail.   Adept at character roles, Mason took eight different parts in Z Cars (1962-71) and another three in Dixon of Dock Green (1965, 1966, 1967), before playing Lady Boleyn in the acclaimed, six-part drama The Six Wives of Henry VIII (starring Keith Michell in the title role, 1970), Mrs Nickleby in Nicholas Nickleby (1977), Mrs Gummidge in David Copperfield (1986) and Mrs Fagge in Great Expectations (1989).

In comedy, she acted Mrs Booth, exasperated mother to the chalk-and-cheese twin brothers, in My Brother’s Keeper (1975-76) and Gladys (1990-94) in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, the children’s series written by Tony Robinson – with Mason’s real-life husband, the actor Roger Ostime, taking the role of Gladys’s father in one episode. She also played Michael Palin’s mother in the Ripping Yarns episode “The Curse of the Claw” (1977).   After her part in “Don’t Look Now”, Mason was cast in the horror films I Don’t Want To Be Born (acting Mrs Hyde, alongside Joan Collins as a stripper who gives birth to a “possessed” baby, 1975), Dolls (1987), Afraid of the Dark (1991) and Haunted (1995).

Anthony Hayward

 

The above “Independent” obituary can also be accessed online here.

 

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Susan Beaumont

Susan Beaumont
Susan Beaumont

 

Susan Beaumont was born on February 26, 1936 in Balham, London, England as Susan Anna Black. She is an actress, known for Carry on Nurse (1959), The Man Who Liked Funerals (1959) and On the Run (1958).

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Joan Benham

Joan Benham
Joan Ben

Joan Benham was born in 1918 in London.   She is best known for her role as Lady Prudence Fairfax in ITV’s long running classic TV series “Upstairs, Downstairs”.   Movie roles include “The Man Who Loved Redheads” and “The V.I.P.’s ” in 1963.   She died in 1981.

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Bernard Bresslaw

 

 

“Independent” obituary by Dick Vosburgh from 1993:

I CLEARLY remember the day I met Bernard Bresslaw. So, I’ll bet, can anyone who met him.

It was 1951. He was leaning his 6ft 7in frame against the wall of the Rada canteen as I walked in. One of us greeted the other and we started talking. Realising I was an American, he began pumping me, gently but thoroughly, about transatlantic pronunciation, with particular reference to the Deep South. This was typical; I don’t think Bernie wasted a minute at Rada, and it paid off when he won the academy’s Emile Littler Award as Most Promising Actor.

He was born in Stepney, his father an impecunious tailor’s cutter. Bernie became an actor thanks to the efforts of his English teacher. (In typically stage-struck fashion, he often likened her to ‘Miss Moffatt’, the dedicated schoolmistress in the Emlyn Williams play The Corn is Green.) Impressed by the young giant’s erudition and acting potential, she encouraged him to try for a Rada scholarship. That’s how he came to be there.   After graduation, Bresslaw gained practical experience by touring hospitals, army camps and prisons as Lachie, the arrogant, doomed Scot in John Patrick’s The Hasty Heart. In 1953 he made his West End stage debut at the Duchess Theatre, playing Roary MacRoary, an Irish wrestler, in The MacRoary Whirl by Gerald McLarnon. It was advertised as a farcical comedy, but audiences and critics detected precious few laughs and its whirl was short.   Far more successful was Maxwell Anderson’s Broadway play The Bad Seed (1955) at the Aldwych Theatre. In this chilling study of an eight-year- old murderess, Bresslaw played ‘Leroy’, a prying janitor who wound up as another of the moppet’s victims. He gave an effectively oily performance and his American accent was, unsurprisingly, faultless.

He had begun making films in 1954, starting with the role of a gullible castle guard in Men of Sherwood Forest, a Hammer second feature. In 1957 Norman Wisdom starred in Up in the World, the tale of a lovable window cleaner who is framed for a crime and sentenced to 25 years. Bresslaw played his lugubrious cellmate, and when the writer and ace talent-spotter Sid Colin saw the film he immediately decided to write the young actor a key role in Granada Television’s new sitcom The Army Game. The series was an enormous success and Bresslaw’s ‘Private ‘Popeye’ Popplewell’ character made him an instant star. The feature film version that quickly followed took its title from his catchphrase I Only Arsked], his records ‘The Army Game Theme’ and ‘Mad Passionate Love’ remained high in the charts for many weeks, and he duly followed in the footsteps of Max Bygraves, Beryl Reid, Harry Secombe, Benny Hill and Tony Hancock by joining the cast of Educating Archie on radio.   In 1958 Bresslaw starred, along with Bruce Forsyth and Charlie Drake, in Sleeping Beauty at the London Palladium. Because of his Army Game popularity, he played ‘Popeye’, a private in the Tyrolean Army. He always said Sleeping Beauty was his all- time favourite booking; also in the show was a strikingly statuesque dancer who, in 1959, became Mrs Bresslaw. The kind of couple guaranteed to give divorce lawyers ulcers, Bernie and Liz produced three splendid sons, Jonathan, Mark and James.   But soon the media incorrectly decided the Popplewell character represented the limit of Bernie’s ability and the offers ceased. ‘OK,’ he reasoned, ‘if film and television jobs are playing hard to get, there’s always my first love, the Theatre.’ So he started going where the work was, tackling Sheridan, Marlowe, Ionesco, Ustinov, Galsworthy, Pinero, Chekhov, Shaw, Moliere, Cooney – you name it. There was Shakespeare too: he did Twelfth Night for the British Council, playing a creditable Sir Toby Belch. (‘It must be the first time,’ he said to me, ‘that Sir Toby’s ever been played by Sir Andrew Aguecheek]’) He played Falstaff in two national tours with the Oxford Playhouse company, and began a long association with the Open Air Theatre. (This summer he was to have appeared in Regent’s Park as Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew and as Merlin in Rodgers and Hart’s A Connecticut Yankee. He collapsed in his dressing room before a performance of The Shrew.)

In 1965 Bresslaw made Carry on Cowboy. The first of his 14 Carry Ons, it cast him as the Indian brave ‘Little Heap’, towering over his father, ‘Chief Big Heap’ (Charles Hawtrey). The juiciest Bresslaw characters from these films are ‘Sockett’, the sinister butler in Carry On Screaming (1966) and the gutteral tribal leader ‘Bungdit Din’ in Carry On Up the Khyber or The British Position in India (1968).   In 1969 – between Carry On Camping and Carry On Up the Jungle – he took over from Laurence Olivier as AB Rayam, the wily lawyer in the National Theatre production of Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty. He also worked for the English Stage Company, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic and the Chichester Festival Theatre, for whom he played the homicidal Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace.  Bresslaw was a versatile pantomime performer, playing Dame in Jack and the Beanstalk, Ugly Sister in Cinderella and Bernard the Bad in Babes in the Wood. In 1982 he appeared as Abanazar in Aladdin at Richmond. (Ironically, his Widow Twankey was Les Dawson, who died the day before him, also aged 59.)

In 1983 the director Peter Yates (another of Bresslaw’s fellow students at Rada) gave him his most impressive film role. In the dollars 27m Krull he played ‘Rell’, the terrifying Cyclops. In The Science Fiction Film Source Book, David Wingrove praises the movie’s dazzling visuals, particularly ‘the Beast itself, Bernard Bresslaw brilliantly disguised’.   Last summer he appeared at a revue in Blackpool, for which Barry Cryer and I wrote material. Although he had been unwell for some time, our star did us proud, deftly playing an actor laddie, a lecherous landlady, a bibulous heckler, a frowsy poet and a George-Formbyesque Frankenstein Monster. After the show one night, a man came up to us in a restaurant and said, ‘Mr Bresslaw, I must tell you, I loved you in The Ladykillers.’ Bernie smiled and accepted the compliment with thanks. Of course, he didn’t play ‘One Round’, the over-the-hill prize fighter in that 1955 film. Danny Green played the part; Bernie was only 21 at the time. But he certainly wasn’t going to embarrass the man by correcting him. That would have been out of character

The above “Independent” obituary can also be accessed online here.

 

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John Cronin

John Cronin
John Cronin

John Cronin was born in 1967 in Dublin.   He was part of the cast of “The Commitments” in 1989.

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Sarah Greene

Sarah Greene
Sarah Greene

 

IMDB Entry:

Sarah is originally from Cork and trained in Dublin where she graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting in 2006.

Sarah played Helen McCormick (Slippy Helen) opposite Daniel Radcliffe as Billy Claven in Martin McDonaghs’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, directed by Michael Grandage at the Cort Theatre on Broadway,NYC. Sarah was nominated for a TONY award (Best Actress in a Featured Role) 2014 for her performance in this show, one for which she was already nominated for an Olivier Award in 2013 during it’s West End run and for which she was awarded the 2014 World Theater Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut.

Other theatre includes Rough Magic’s production of PEER GYNT for Dublin Theatre Festival 2011 her acclaimed performance as Alice in thisispopbaby’s and the Abbey Theatre’s hugely successful production ALICE INFUNDERLAND in 2012. She also appeared in ELLEMENOPE JONES both directed by Wayne Jordan at The Project Arts Centre, Dublin in 2011. Sarah appeared as Sorcha in Paul Howard’s play BETWEEN FOXROCK AND A HARDPLACE at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin and Cork Opera House. She played Ismene in Rough Magic’s production of PHAEDRA by Hilary Fannin, directed by Lynne Parker as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Sarah appeared as Amber in Guna Nua’s award winning and highly acclaimed production of LITTLE GEM which won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and led to a remounting of the production in New York as well as tours across the UK and Ireland. Other previous productions have included: Danti Dan for Galloglass, The Death of Harry Leon for Ouroboros, The Year of the Hiker and The Playboy of The Western World, The Empress of India, and most recently Big Maggie, all with Druid Theatre Company and directed by Garry Hynes.    Sarah stars as Christina Noble alongside Deirdre O’Kane, Liam Cunnigham and Brendan Coyle in Stephen Bradley’s feature NOBLE and has already won awards Jury and Audience awards at the Boston Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Newport Beach Festival, Nashville and Dallas Festivals.

In 2014, Sarah was cast alongside Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in The Weinstein’s ‘Untitled John Wells Project’ and joined the cast of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful playing Hecate Poole.

Other film and television includes: RAW RTE/Ecosse Films, EDEN/Samson Films, SPEED DATING/RTE, BACHELOR’S WALK/Samson Films/RTE. She played the leading role of Cathleen in the Canadian/Irish feature LOVE AND SAVAGERY directed by John N. Smith. MY BROTHERS (Treasure Films) and THE GUARD (Element) opposite Brendan Gleeson. She most recently appeared as Judith in three episodes of VIKINGS (History Channel/MGM).

– IMDb Mini Biography By: The Lisa Richards Agency   

The above IMDB Entry can also be accessed online here.

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Gabrielle Reidy

Gabrielle Reidy
Gabrielle Reidy

“Guardian” obituary by Michael Coveney from Oct 2014:

The Irish actor Gabrielle Reidy, who has died of cancer aged 54, made her first appearance at the Abbey theatre in Dublin as a child and her last, four years ago, as Bessie Burgess in an acclaimed production of Seán O’Casey’s masterpiece about the Easter Rising, The Plough and the Stars. In between, she had a varied career in television, film and on the stage, which included playing mother to both Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Radcliffe, respectively, in the film Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) and the West End revival in 2007 of Peter Shaffer’s Equus. In the latter, she was a flaky, Bible-thumping teacher and it was typical of her that she made the small role vivid and memorable without being self-aggrandising. Fiery and determined in life, with a broad open face and strong presence on stage, she was always asked to play the sort of tough maternal roles for which, ironically, she was now, in late middle age, best suited.

She was the youngest of three daughters, raised in Malahide, Co Dublin, of Robert Reidy, a pilot with Aer Lingus, and his wife, Patricia. Still a schoolgirl, Gabrielle appeared at the Abbey in 1971 in O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. Joining the Trinity College Players the minute she went to the university, she performed in the Irish premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Footfalls aged 17 and is remembered, too, for an emotionally powerful version of Racine’s Phaedra.

Her career gathered momentum when she appeared in Graham Reid’s first play, The Death of Humpty Dumpty (1979), at the Abbey, a searing study of sectarian violence in Belfast, with Colm Meaney and Liam Neeson; 10 years later, she was in Michael Harding’s strange and disturbing Una Pooka, also at the Abbey, a play about homicide and impersonation, with Sean McGinley and Barry McGovern. Also in 1989, she filmed an Abbey solo show, Fragments of Isabella, the diary of a Holocaust survivor, which she also played in French at the Avignon festival. The previous year she had appeared at the Gate in Frank McGuinness’s fine version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, directed by Patrick Mason.   She moved to London and appeared in Julian Garner’s The Awakening (1990) at Hampstead theatre, embodying a sort of aphrodisiac to loneliness, a remarkable performance, in a story of redemption and child abuse on a remote Norwegian farm; and as an Irish writer revisiting her childhood in Geraldine Aron’s Same Old Moon (1991) at the Globe (now the Gielgud) in the West End.

She was in Women of Troy directed by Annie Castledine at the National Theatre (1995), Much Ado About Nothing (2004, as Borachio) directed by Tamara Harvey at Shakespeare’s Globe, and, significantly, García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba (1998) and Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms (1995), both directed by Polly Teale for Shared Experience. In the latter, she met her future husband, the actor Gary Lilburn; as Abbie, a rural giant whose body is a symbolic battlefield, Reidy hit the heights in a storming display of fierce sexual yearning. And she became a regular on popular television series such as The Bill, Peak Practice and Holby City.

Her last appearance in an English production was in Andrew Sheridan’s Winterlong (2011), directed by Sarah Frankcom at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the Soho theatre in London, a strange but talented play asking how best to express love in an apocalyptic climate. Her Bessie Burgess in Dublin (a 2012 Abbey theatre production of The Plough and Stars also toured in Ireland and the UK), a Protestant fruit vendor who expresses grief and sorrow in the Troubles and is shot in the back for her pains, linked her indelibly to the great Abbey tradition she so loved; the great Siobhán McKenna’s performance in the role had changed her life when she saw it as a child.

Other movies included Alan J Pakula’s IRA terrorist thriller The Devil’s Own (1997), starring Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford, and Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin (2003), in which Cate Blanchett played the campaigning Irish journalist. Gabrielle’s last major television work was playing a mother superior in this year’s BBC series The Musketeers. She had lately taken up, and much enjoyed, teaching at the Mountview drama school in London.

She is survived by her sisters, and by Gary, and their teenage son, Finn.

• Gabrielle Mary Reidy, actor, born 23 July 1960; died 13 October 2014

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Diane Hart

Diane Hart
Diane Hart

“Independent” obituary from 2002:

Diane Lavinia Hart, actress and inventor: born Bedford 20 July 1926; married 1952 Kenneth MacLeod (two daughters; marriage dissolved); died London 7 February 2002.

The vivacious energy which stamped Diane Hart’s most memorable stage and screen performances was also a hallmark of her offstage life when good roles were thinner on the ground. There can be few actors who also hold international patents on corset design – Hart’s interest in that subject rivalled that of Flora Poste’s sophisticated chum in Cold Comfort Farm – and fewer still who have also invented a mine-destroyer and stood for Parliament.

Born in 1926, Hart was educated at various convents and then at Abbot’s Hill School, King’s Langley (where she was a passionate Classics scholar), going to Rada remarkably precociously in 1941, only to depart after less than a year; one teacher remarked that she lacked “the right kind of voice” – ironically, given her later versatility on radio.   She worked briefly for the BBC as a secretary and, in the middle years of the Second World War, as a sound engineer, gleefully scrambling Hitler’s speeches back to the Germans over their airwaves.   The stage still beckoned, however, and in 1943 Hart had a baptism of fire working as a “feed” to the comedian (later an agent) Pat Aza at the Finsbury Empire, the first date of an exhausting six-month tour of the Moss Empire circuit on the halls. This invaluable apprenticeship, which taught her more about comedy timing than Rada could then have provided, was useful in Hart’s subsequent period entertaining the troops for Ensa.

An early West End break came with her casting as a high-spirited adolescent supporting role in Daughter Janie (Apollo, 1944) and her success in this led to William Douglas Home’s early hit The Chiltern Hundreds (Vaudeville, 1946, and Booth, New York, 1949). In this long-running political light comedy, centred round the eccentric Earl of Lister and a local by-election, Hart was widely noticed for her effervescent comedy as the pert young housemaid Bessie, more than managing to hold her own amid such seasoned comedy masters as A.E. Mathews.   When Glynis Johns – the original choice – became unavailable for Terence Rattigan’s comedy Who is Sylvia? (Criterion, 1950), Hart was ideal casting. Loosely based on the amorous exploits of the author’s father and spanning three decades, the play offered a wonderful opportunity to its leading lady – a showy chance to play three very contrasted roles, one in each act (all variations on the eponymous love in adolescence of the Diplomatic Service’s hero); an office girl, an actress and a model. Rattigan was never happy with the tone of the production, although it opened at the home of his first success, French Without Tears, and also co-starred two of its cast (Robert Flemyng and Roland Culver). Still, it ran for just under a year and won Hart some very positive notices.

In Nancy Mitford’s version of Andrew Roussin’s French frivol The Little Hut, Hart was distinctly happier casting than the rather stately American original (Joan Tetzel), taking over as the desert-island Delilah opposite Robert Morley, directed by Peter Brook. Another long-running success came Hart’s way with Joyce Rayburn’s feather-light West End comedy The Man Most Likely To . . . (Vaudeville, 1968) opposite Leslie Phillips at his most raffishly urbane. She also had another long Vaudeville residence replacing Moira Lister in the successful Ray Cooney/John Chapman farceMove Over, Mrs Markham (1972).   That her range was much wider than that of the lighter commercial theatre drolleries was amply proved by two strikingly contrasted performances in an exciting period in Sloane Square when she worked at the Royal Court. Hart’s first appearance there was as the mother in an early and powerful Howard Barker play,Cheek (Theatre Upstairs, 1970). She had an even better maternal role, which she played with movingly understated simplicity, in Morality (Theatre Upstairs, 1971), an underrated piece by Jeremy Seabrook and Michael O’Neill, directed by William Gaskill, a domestic drama about a schoolboy involved in a homosexual relationship with a teacher.

There were few similarly challenging London parts for her in later years, although she often worked in regional theatre playing, among other parts, the juicy title role in Maugham’s Mrs Dot(Everyman, Cheltenham, 1974).   Hart’s film career, which began with a small bridesmaid’s role in the Margaret Lockwood costume drama The Wicked Lady (1945), included a spell under contract to 20th Century-Fox, although, frustratingly, she was rarely cast in rewarding parts or in worthwhile movies. But she particularly enjoyed working for Jean Negulesco in Britannia Mews (1949), one of his better films, scripted by Ring Lardner Jnr, and playing opposite a favourite actor, David Niven, in the musical Happy Go Lovely (1951).   She also made many television appearances, beginning at Alexandra Palace during the war. Her radio performances were even more numerous; she was popular with some of radio drama’s most respected directors, especially Val Gielgud, but was versatile enough to score a success as Ted Ray’s wife in his Ray’s a Laughseries.

Hart’s invention of the “Beatnix” corselet, which sold strongly in Marks and Spencer’s stores during the 1960s, became a firm (if that’s the right adjective) favourite in Soviet Russia, not least with the wife of the Russian premier, Mrs Alexei Kosygin, herself no slouch in the embonpoint department. The War Office took up another of Hart’s notions, that of attaching by cable a farmer’s harrow to a helicopter to rake the ground for plastic mines during the Falklands campaign.   A born political maverick, Hart stood as an Independent in the 1972 general election contesting Lewisham South (she lost her deposit), and also ran a campaign to encourage women to do more to enter Parliament.   A favourite Hart bolt-hole in London was the Chelsea Arts Club, of which she was a zestful member (her speed at solving cryptic crosswords was legendary). Until recently she was a familiar sight between the West End and the King’s Road, weaving in and out of traffic on her bicycle, most usually clad in a voluminous mink coat.

Alan Strachan

The above “Independent” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Gwen Watford

 

 

 

 

Gwen Watford
Gwen Watford

“Independent” obituary from 1994.

IF EVER the portents looked right for a would-be actress of Gwen Watford’s endearing young charm – which was to endure on stage and television for the next half-century – it was while she was a schoolgirl in Sussex. Her dream of being a concert pianist had been shattered by her music teacher after 10 years of application to the keyboard.

The next best thing, the teacher decided, must be the theatre. What about the school play? It was to be Girls in Uniform, a German Expressionist story of a highly strung schoolgirl sent to boarding school for the first time who finds solace from the aggressive, authoritarian atmosphere in the company of a sympathetic schoolmistress. This was a powerful role, with its lesbian undertones; and who should be coming to see it but John Gielgud and Hugh Beaumont, then ruling the West End stage (it was 1943). They were looking for likely young nuns for a play called Cradle Song.

She didn’t get a part, but she got the next best thing: a tip from Gielgud to Tony Hawtrey, who ran the Embassy Swiss Cottage as a try-out theatre for the West End, that here was a newcomer to watch.

She found herself in three successive productions by Hawtrey, two of which went into the West End. Networking? It is the only way most players can get on; and in the 1940s and 1950s there was perhaps more hope and scope for a novice, since apart from Swiss Cottage there were regular purveyors of transfers to town like the Arts and the Oxford Playhouse and other provincial houses whose stages did not differ markedly from London’s.

Thus it was that Frank Hauser’s Midland Theatre Company production of Ugo Betti’s The Queen and the Rebels transferred in 1955 from Coventry to the Haymarket to give Watford her third West End chance after five years in rep. She played the queen to the usurper (Irene Worth). It was the dethroned Watford who usurped our hearts because, as the rightful monarch and wronged victim of persecution, she never tried to assert herself. And she was greatly assisted, as was all her acting, by those large brown watery eyes, the warm, expressive voice that could reach to the rafters if required, and the ability to convey inner torment with poise.

Indeed the victim of persecution which she then presented with such touching charm was to become an increasingly familiar role from 1955 – not so much in the theatre but certainly on the television screen. That was the year in which she first appeared on it, impressively, as the Virgin Mary in Joy Harrington’s Jesus of Nazareth. And all her work for television, by today’s standards of television acting, became something to cherish. It brought her so near to us. Nor were the plays as contemptible as so many television plays seem to be today.

It was early days for the medium. Writers like David Mercer, James Saunders, David Hare, Willis Hall, Hugh Leonard and Roy Minton were supplying the scripts; and because the supply has since dried up we have learned to call them single plays. They made some marvellous material for Watford who, perhaps more than any other actress of her generation, knew how to express the pangs of despised love, the betrayals, the maternal fears and miseries with sympathy and sensibility.

It was an era of so-called ‘live’ television, when the players in the drama had to be on their mettle and the acting had a tension almost comparable to the theatre, where something could go wrong at any moment.

Things went so right for Watford that if she fancied a role in a new script that had come through the post her word was often reckoned good enough to merit production. Two particular triumphs came as Queen Elizabeth in Clemence Dane’s Till Time Shall End, and opposite George Cole in the 1977-79 series Don’t Forget to Write which Charles Wood wrote for them both. In the title-role of Willis Hall’s Afternoon for Antigone, she reminded the viewer of her tragic powers.

Then came the chance to play on the stage yet another kind of usurped queen, Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the Old Vic, when it was still the nearest thing we had to a national theatre, delving habitually into the classics. Up against Valerie Taylor’s Elizabeth, Gwen Watford more than held her own especially in the famous fictitious encounter between the two women. Again it was the quietude that told – the controlled emotion.

In that same 1960-61 season she also played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lady Percy in Henry IV part 1; and admirers had every reason to suppose that the theatre had reclaimed her. It was not to be. Not for a long time anyway.

Drama critics are rightly jealous of the stage, as the only place where acting comes up for ultimate judgement; and Gwen Watford, it seems, had not come up often enough. At any rate her reputation on the small screen had grown so great that by then she and Billie Whitelaw had become its two leading ladies.

We had to wait another five years to see her in the theatre, but it proved a most rewarding occasion. It was a new play by the youngest writer in living memory to achieve a play in the West End (he was 20), and it was staged by someone who had never directed a play before. Robert Kidd’s production without decor on a Sunday night at the Royal Court of Christopher Hampton’s When Did You Last See My Mother? (1966) gave Watford one of her most exquisitely delicate, decorous yet moving chances as an unusually sympathetic (and in other hands unbelievable) parent who went to bed with her schoolboy son’s best friend.

Thereafter the stage took a firmer hold on her career. As a woman whose marriage survived an almost unendurable strain in EM Forster’s Howard’s End (New, now Albery, 1967) she was again well- cast; and as the wearily married Masha, faithful to her schoolteacher husband but painfully in love with Keith Baxter’s Colonel in Three Sisters (Greenwich), she distilled the essence of Chekhovian suffering in a way that I had not felt since Margaret Leighton played the part.

Not until the 1980s and 1990s did parts of similar consequence in the theatre come her way. In Coward’s Present Laughter (Vaudeville) she won a SWET award for her performance as the managerial secretary to Donald Sinden’s matinee idol. In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s revival of All’s Well That Ends Well her regal Countess almost ranked with Peggy Ashcroft in the same role. Curiously enough both actresses shared voices which were prone to bring their classical characterisations nearer to the 20th century than they should have been because – as more than one critic remarked – you could tell they came from Kensington or Wimbledon. Such was Watford’s authority only a couple of years ago as Lady Hunstanton in the same company’s revival of Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance that one experienced playgoer was heard to murmur the name of Edith Evans.

Would that Gwen Watford could have been a company actress all her days: but then millions would have been deprived of that endearing gift, tragic or comic, for winning with a glance or a smile or a catch in the voice our deep concern for everything she did.

She also had a mysterious gift for being able, to the amazement of her colleagues, to unravel, with poise as usual, the most complicated of balance sheets at charity committees in aid of her fellow players.

The above “Independent” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Stephanie Lawrence

Stephanie Lawrence
Stephanie Lawrence
“Guardian” obituary from 2000.
Glamorous leading lady of the British stage musical

Stephanie Lawrence, who has died suddenly at the age of 50, was a musical actress of rare glamour, which made her natural casting for a show about Marilyn Monroe. But, although she was a pillar of British musical theatre over the past 20 years and played lead roles in Cats, Evita, Starlight Express and Blood Brothers, she never fully achieved the 40-carat stardom that came to her no-more talented peers.

She was born in Hayling Island, Hampshire, into a performing background. Her father was a musician and her mother, Gladys Kent, was a classically trained dancer who later formed a children’s dance troupe, the Kent Babes. The young Stephanie went to the Arts Educational School in Hertfordshire and made her West End debut as a roller-skating tap-dancer in Peter Nichols’s Forget-Me-Not Lane (1971): a prophetic move since she spent a good part of her later musical career on skates.

It was hard to miss her in the Nichols play since she embodied the adolescent sexual fantasies of the play’s autobiographical hero.

Her stunning looks were accompanied by a fine voice and a dedicated professionalism and it was no surprise when she took over the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita in 1981 and made no less an impression than Elaine Page as the Argentinian icon.

The choreographer on that show, Larry Fuller, was also the director of a musical called Marilyn which opened two years later at the Adelphi Theatre. The show was intended as a tribute to another popular icon who died young, but it failed to capture the public imagination. The one person who emerged with credit was Stephanie Lawrence. She not only captured the externals of Marilyn Monroe – the wiggle, the walk, the passionate pout, the vocal breathiness – but conveyed the carmined innocence and soft vulnerability within. It should have been her passport to fame but the show failed to live up to its star.

Undaunted, she picked herself up and got on with it. In 1983 she played the reformed prostitute, Mary Magdalene, in an ITV play called Doubting Thomas. In 1984, she was back on roller-skates in Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Amid the hi-tech efficiency of Trevor Nunn’s over-busy production, she once again caught the eye. As I wrote in my review: “The first number to really grab me was He Whistled At Me which worked because Stephanie Lawrence, as a pink-suited steam-buff, was allowed to stand centre-stage and communicate a recognisable human emotion: unfulfilled longing.”

Lawrence remained a popular figure on the musical scene. Succeeding Barbara Dickson and Angela Richards, she spent four years in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. As well as appearing at the Phoenix Theatre, she also led the cast of the company that took the production to New York in 1993 where, thanks to the determination of producer Bill Kenwright, it survived mixed reviews.

She was a renowned animal lover and someone who put her career before long-term relationships although she married Laurie Sautereau only this year. She also brought to the West End musical stage a luminous glamour that has been extinguished cruelly early.

• Stephanie Lawrence, actress, born December 16 1949; died November 4 2000.