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Obituary: Carmel McSharry – ‘an actor of considerable charm and capability’

Carmel McSharry Carmel McSharry

A familiar face on television for more than three decades, Carmel McSharry was an actor of considerable charm and capability with a substantial stage career spanning 50 years.

She was born in Ireland after her mother returned home from London to Dublin to ensure that her daughter was born on Irish soil. Several days later, mother and child returned to London, where McSharry was raised and won a scholarship to RADA, graduating with the silver medal in 1947.

The same year, she made her West End debut alongside Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike in JB Priestley’s The Linden Tree at the Duchess Theatre, returning to the West End with Alastair Sim (who also directed) in James Bridie’s The Anatomist at the Westminster Theatre in 1948.

After performing in the first production of Ray Cooney and John Chapman’s farce, Not Now, Darling (Strand Theatre, 1968) with Donald Sinden and Bernard Cribbins, McSharry showed herself to be a vivid dramatic actor as Bodice, daughter to Harry Andrews’ Lear, in Edward Bond’s play at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1971.

Her other appearances at the Royal Court included Albert Finney’s directorial debut, Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City (1973) and Stephen Lowe’s Tibetan Inroads, directed by William Gaskill (1981).

She briefly played Brecht’s Mother Courage at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre in 1976, before collapsing with nervous exhaustion stoked by burgeoning television commitments. At the National Theatre in 1977, she played Mrs Gogan – a performance The Stage described as being of “light and shade so that one scarcely knew whether to cry with laughter or with sorrow” – in Bill Bryden’s acclaimed revival of The Plough and the Stars.

Later stage appearances included Tony Craze’s Living With Your Enemies (Soho Poly, 1985), Jimmie Chinn’s Straight and Narrow (Aldwych Theatre, 1992), Mrs Bedwin in Sam Mendes’ 1994 revival of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (London Palladium) and Nurse Guinness in George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (Almeida Theatre, 1997).

McSharry’s 1960 television breakthrough, The Love of Mike, was followed by a memorable Nancy in a 1962 BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist. At the end of the decade, Bernard Cribbins’ self-titled show (1969) positioned her as a comedy actor of note. This quality came into its own when she played Mrs Hollingbery, the feisty neighbour who ends up marrying Warren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett, in In Sickness and in Health (1985-92). She reprised the role in a short episode, written by series creator Johnny Speight, for satellite channel Gold in 1997.

A mother to two Liver Birds – Polly James’ Beryl and Elisabeth Estensen’s Carol – in Carla Lane’s long-running hit comedy (1977-96), her finest hour was in Kevin Laffan’s Beryl’s Lot (1973-77) as the eponymous housewife and mother whose perspective on life is transformed on the eve of her 40th birthday by taking a course in philosophy. Her warm, streetwise and witty performance arguably created the template for Willy Russell’s Educating Rita (1980) and Shirley Valentine (1986).

Carmel McSharry was born on August 18, 1926 and died on March 4, aged 91. She is survived by three children, one of whom is actor Tessa Bell-Briggs.

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