In a long and varied career as a television actress, Marion Mathie saved the best to last, playing She Who Must Be Obeyed, the fearsome wife of the aging barrister, Horace Rumpole, in John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey (1987-1992). But her career was not purely devoted to television.
Early on, she appeared in theatres all over Britain – she was a member of the rep company at Hornchurch in Essex and she turned her hand to two pantomimes at the Blackpool Opera House in 1953 and 1954.
She made her television debut in 1956 in an adaptation of David Copperfield. Then came Giles Cooper’s comedy, Liberty Hall (1958), No Love for Vicky (1962) and Roald Dahl’s Taste (1967), in which she worked alongside Donald Pleasence and Leonard Rossiter.
More prestigious work came in the 1980s. She played the matron in the Arthur Lowe sitcom, AJ Wentworth BA (1982), based on HF Ellis’ fictional diaries by a maths teacher in a boys’ preparatory school. In 1985-86, she portrayed one of the cultural snobs in Mapp and Lucia, adapted from EF Benson’s stories of life in the seaside town of Tilling.
She took over the role of Hilda Rumpole after the original actress, Peggy Thorpe-Bates, retired through ill health. Rumpole enjoyed being what he termed “an Old Bailey hack”. It was Hilda who had ambitions for him, urging him to try to be made a QC or a circuit judge. The Stage praised her for her “menacing authority” in the role.
Marion Mathie, who was born on February 6, 1925, died on January 20, aged 86. She is survived by her daughter, Martine. Her husband, the Old Vic actor, John Humphry, whom she married in 1963, and her son, Christopher, predeceased her.
Richard Anthony Baker