Paddie O’Neil

The Stage

Paddie O’Neil, an accomplished performer in her own right, was the widow of actor Alfred Marks, to whom she was married for 44 years.

Adalena Lillian Nail was born in a fairground trailer in Leominster on May 1, 1926. Her mother Bessie made up her name – a mixture of her aunt Ada’s and aunt Lena’s. But Paddie’s father Jack had been desperate for a boy – a show on in town at the time was Paddy, the Next Best Thing, and so Adalena became Paddie, and it stuck.

Jack was a lion tamer known as Professor Nail. When Paddie was only four, he encouraged her to stand in the lion’s cage, the ‘Den of Death’, and sing Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow Wow. She said that it was only many years later that she realised that not every child did this. Paddie had three sisters, Betty, Daisy and Louise, and one brother, Tommy. Their childhood was spent moving around so the children went to many schools, only spending several months in one place during the winter.

When Paddie was a young teenager, her parents decided that the life was not for her and they sent her to stage school in London. She stayed for a while at a home for young ladies in Soho, with a ward. Aged 16, in 1942, she had her first professional engagement, understudying for Elisabeth Welch at the London Palladium. She had to go on and that was her big break, she was picked up by the BBC and became a featured artist throughout the war.

Paddie and Alfred Marks were married on September 3, 1952 at the West London Synagogue. Thus began a 44-year marriage and professional partnership too. Soon after they met, Paddie and Alfred starred together in Mon Martre in Brighton. Professionally, Paddie went from strength to strength, with legendary successes. She was the first female writer and producer on the new Independent Television, co-writing with Dick Vosburgh, and there was also the show Alfred Marks Time.

Alfred and Paddie’s first home was a flat in Highgate, with Peter Sellers upstairs and Spike Milligan downstairs. After daughter Danielle was born in 1955, they moved to a house in Oakleigh Avenue that they bought from Sellers.

In 1958, Paddie’s son Gareth was born and Paddie gave up her career soon after to devote herself to her children and to Alfred, but eventually Vosburgh coaxed her out of retirement and further stage, film and TV followed.

As always, Paddie was funny, a wonderful mimic, always able to see the absurd, to laugh at herself, to capture the comical in everyday situations. In 1980, she starred in This is Your Life. In the set-up, she was enticed on to a ghost train, a reference to her fairground childhood. When Eamonn Andrews and Alfred jumped out of the carriage behind her, Paddie’s robust response had to be bleeped out.

In the mid-eighties Paddie continued to go on tour with Alfred, all over the world. He only took work if she could come and they made great ambassadors. Alfred took great pride when he was awarded the OBE in 1976.

Paddie died in the North London Hospice, aged 83, on January 31. She faced her illness with typical determination and courage, with no self-pity. Her zest for life was tested to its limit, but she never lost her sense of humour. “You were lucky to have me this long,” she said.

Barry Burnett

Also in Obituaries