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Obituary: Deddie Davies

Deddie Davies. Photo: Steve Ullathorne
Deddie Davies. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

For a generation of filmgoers, Deddie Davies will be forever remembered as Mrs Perks, wife of Bernard Cribbins’ station porter, in the 1970 screen adaptation of E Nesbit’s perennially popular novel The Railway Children.

Television reviewers remember Davies for a succession of often timid underlings, mousey spinsters and nuns. In her last screen appearance, she made the most of her lightly handled gift for comedy, playing the eccentric donkey owner Marj Brennig in Ruth Jones and David Peet’s Welsh-set comedy-drama Stella (2012-16).

Born in Bridgend, south Wales, Davies began acting at school and after graduating from RADA began her professional career in summer season rep with Carl Jenner’s Mobile Theatre in 1959.

The following year she appeared in Bernard Miles’ adaptation of Treasure Island at London’s Mermaid Theatre, returning there in 1967 for a season of four plays by Euripides in a company led by Beatrix Lehmann.

In 1969 she joined Ray Cooney’s fledgling rep company at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, and found her way into the West End in Somerset Maugham’s Lady Frederick (with the title role played by Margaret Lockwood), which reopened the newly refurbished Vaudeville Theatre in 1970.

Davies made her television debut in 1967 in two large-scale costume dramas – The Forsyte Saga and Vanity Fair – and attracted wider attention as the gossipy Madame Fouache in Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s Clochemerle, a  star-studded comedy about a rural French town’s attempts to build a public urinal. It was later described by one wag as “a cross between ’Allo ’Allo and the Canterbury Tales”.

Although television increasingly kept her away from theatre, she remained committed to the stage, appearing in Motherdear, Royce Ryton’s lavish portrait of the private lives of Queen Alexandra and Edward VII, and as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter in 1979. She played Miss Prism again in the Northcott’s 1993 revival.

A familiar face in theatres in Leeds, Bromley, Northampton and Leicester (where she appeared in Mike Hodges’ first stage play, Soft Shoe Shuffle, at the Haymarket Theatre in 1985), Davies was regularly seen in later years in productions at the Orange Tree, Richmond, reopening the west London venue’s new building in 1991 with a revival of Arthur Murphy’s 18th-century comedy All in the Wrong, and more recently, in 2006, in JB Priestley’s The Linden Tree.

The same year she played the fruity-voiced farmer’s wife, Mrs Hoggart, in Babe, the Sheep-Pig at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Among Davies’ other plentiful television credits were the factory-based sitcoms Both Ends Meet (with Dora Bryan, 1972) and The Rag Trade (1977-78), the Molly Sugden vehicle That’s My Boy (1984-86) and Michael Aitken’s retirement comedy Waiting for God (1992-94).

An adept character actor, Davies brought telling detail to adult and children’s dramas including Nancy in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978), Mrs Cluppins (The Pickwick Papers, 1985), Mrs Wigson (The Phoenix and the Carpet, 1977), the Nurse in Titus Andronicus (1985) and several roles in The Bill and daytime soap, Doctors.

Besides The Railway Children, Davies’ relatively few appearances on film included The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972), Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ Consuming Passions (1988) and Pride (2014), directed by Matthew Warchus.

As a trustee of the charity Compassion in Care, Davies championed better care for the elderly. In 2007, as a member of The Zimmers, a group of pensioners created for a television documentary, she reached number 23 in the pop charts with a cover of the Who’s My Generation. The following year she went undercover in a rest home for an investigation by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

She was married to the actor Paddy Ward from 1966 until his death in 2011.

Deddie Davies was born Gillian Nancy Davies on March 2, 1938 and died on December 21, 2016, aged 78.

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