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Obituary: Emma Chambers

Emma Chambers. Photo: UK Press via Getty Images Emma Chambers. Photo: UK Press via Getty Images

Emma Chambers made much of characters who seemed to have, in the nicest possible way, a slender grasp of reality. As the scatterbrained verger Alice Tinker (later Horton) – the role that made her famous in Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley – she won over viewers with her zany blend of childlike innocence, simple charm and scatty eccentricity.

A highlight of the show, which ran for three series and several specials between 1994 and 2007, was the post-end credits scene in which Alice and Dawn French’s Reverend Geraldine shared a joke over a mug of tea.

More often than not it prompted a flight of fanciful whimsy in response from Alice that produced the episode’s biggest laugh. Her performance won her a British Comedy award in 1998.

Chambers’ other notable role was as the equally kooky Honey Thacker in Curtis’s 1999 film Notting Hill, in which she was sister to Hugh Grant and garrulously star-struck by Julia Roberts’ Hollywood star about to marry into the family.

Her own family life in Doncaster was far from idyllic, her consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist-father and pharmacist-mother divorcing when she was young.

Emma Chambers as Alice in The Vicar of Dibley. Photo: BBC

Despite ailments triggered by the bitter separation of her parents, Chambers went on to play lacrosse for Hampshire and, having performed in school plays, trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

Early professional stage appearances included Geain, the 13-year-old daughter to Ian McKellen’s composer-father in Alan Ayckbourn’s Henceforward at the Scarborough Theatre (1987) and, in her West End debut, the Vaudeville Theatre (1988).

In 1990, she returned to Scarborough for Ayckbourn’s Invisible Friends, transferring with it to the National Theatre the following year, when she was also seen as Celia in As You Like It at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

She was seen again at the National in 1993 in Arthur Wing Pinero’s Trelawny of the Wells, alongside Raquel Welch in the ill-fated 1995 touring revival of George Bernard Shaw’s The Millionairess and as an excruciatingly nervous Marianne in Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Almeida Theatre in 1996.

Her last performance on stage was as the downtrodden Sheila in Michael Frayn’s Benefactors at the Albery Theatre in 2002.

Having made her television debut as Margaret in Anne Devlin’s 1988 adaptation of DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow, she made an impression as the decidedly uncharitable Charity Pecksniff in David Lodge’s 1994 adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit. Other notable small-screen appearances included Simon Nye’s How
Do You Want Me? (1998-99) and Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Kingsley Amis’ Take a Girl Like You (2000).

Emma Gwynedd Mary Chambers was born on March 11, 1964 and died on February 21, aged 53. She is survived by her husband, the actor Ian Dunn, and siblings Sarah and Simon, who launched the leading fashion-industry agency Storm Model Management.

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