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Obituary: Barbara Murray

The granddaughter of professional ballroom dancers, the actor Barbara Murray inherited a stage and screen presence that was every bit as graceful and elegant.

Born in London, she was sent to a boarding school at the outbreak of the Second World War and eventually evacuated to Wales. Her stage career began in regional rep at the Newcastle Playhouse in 1949 before she developed a close early relationship with the Connaught Theatre, Worthing. She made her screen debut in the period comedy Badger’s Green and the Ealing Comedy Passport to Pimlico (both 1949) and quickly made the transition to the small screen, where she became an increasingly familiar face throughout the 1950s.

On stage, she maintained a presence in what were then referred to as “the provinces”, and in 1952 was in the first production at the newly reopened Royal Court, The Bridge of Denmark Hill. She made her West End debut in Jack Roffey’s No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre in 1954.

Murray returned to the West End often in the years that followed, initially opposite Ian Carmichael in the Robert Morley-directed The Tunnel of Love, which opened at the Royal Court, Liverpool before transferring to Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1957 and the Apollo Theatre the following year.

She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1962 for the premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Collection, playing alongside Michael Hordern and Kenneth Haigh in Peter Hall’s production. The same year she made her sole and short-lived appearance on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in Leslie Weiner’s comedy about a family-run lingerie business, In the Counting House; the show closing after just six performances.

Other West End appearances included the thrillers Trap for the Lonely Man (Savoy Theatre, 1963) and Wait Until Dark (Duchess Theatre, 1967); the comedies Flip Side (Apollo Theatre, 1968) and Key for Two (Vaudeville Theatre, 1982); opposite John Mills in Little White Lies (Wyndham’s Theatre, 1984), in Peter Hall’s revival of An Ideal Husband (Gielgud Theatre and subsequently the Apollo Theatre and Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1998). She also appeared with Peter O’Toole in Pygmalion and in Ray Cooney’s Two Into One at the Theatre of Comedy in the mid-1980s.

With Toby Robertson’s Prospect Productions, Murray appeared in Shaw’s The Apple Cart (1965) and was an imperiously refined Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest for the Cambridge Theatre Company (1975). At Chichester Festival Theatre, she was seen in Patrick Garland’s revival of A Woman of No Importance (1978) and the Hart/Kaufman comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner (1979). She returned to Chichester in 1993 for a revival of Shaw’s Getting Married.

In later years, Murray appeared in the farce No Sex Please, We’re British (Grand Theatre, Swansea, 1999), The Importance of Being Earnest (Leicester Haymarket, 1999), Anouilh’s Ring Round the Moon (King’s Head Theatre, 2000) and for the Peter Hall Company in An Ideal Husband (national tour, 2001).

Her television career spanned five decades and included the title role in the six-part murder-mystery The Widow of Bath (1959) and the family saga The Plane Makers (1963-64) before becoming a household name in the boardroom drama The Power Game (1965-69), the sitcom Albert and Victoria (1971) and the BBC’s period blockbuster The Pallisers (1974). Later appearances included Robin’s Nest, Doctor Who, The Bretts (1987-89) and Casualty.

Barbara Murray was born on September 27, 1929. In retirement, she moved to Spain where she fell and broke her hip earlier this year. Admitted to hospital in May for an operation to fix her injury, she suffered a heart attack and died on May 20, aged 84. She was twice married and divorced, and is survived by three daughters from her first marriage to the actor John Justin.

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