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Obituary: Sylvia Kay – Popular sitcom actor who showed early promise on stage

Sylvia Kay

Sylvia Kay was a familiar television face during the heyday of studio-based television drama in the 1960s and 1970s and went on to appear in popular 1980s sitcoms after showing early promise on stage.

Born in Stockport, Cheshire the daughter of a metallurgist father, she abandoned a
psychology degree at Manchester University to train at LAMDA.

After graduating, she joined Pitlochry Rep in 1957 where she caught attention for what The Stage described as “a brilliant study” of Monica in JB Priestley’s The Scandalous Affair of Mr Kettle and Mrs Moon the same year.

In 1958, she understudied Vivien Leigh’s Paola in Jean Giraudoux’s Duel of Angels (directed by Jean-Louis Barrault in his British debut) at the Apollo Theatre, going on for a two-week run when the star was indisposed.

She was part of the first British Council-sponsored theatre tour to Pakistan, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) when Oxford Playhouse toured there in 1959, returning to the West End with “a beautifully felt and refined” account of Catrine in Fred Watson’s Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Arts Theatre in 1962.

While television dominated in the years ahead, as Kay moved freely between popular dramas such as The Avengers and Dixon of Dock Green and new work by the likes of David Mercer, Alun Owen and John Hopkins, she was seen in Mercer’s Ride a Cock-Horse at the Hampstead Theatre in 1972.

The 1980s saw a more sustained return to the theatre with Birmingham Rep in the middle of the decade, Peter Shaffer’s Five-Finger Exercise on tour with Cambridge Theatre Company (1985), Peter Barnes’ The Ruling Class (Liverpool Playhouse, 1997) and Sharman McDonald’s When I Was a Girl, touring in 1988.

She had made her television debut in 1957 in The Adventures of Robin Hood and was admired for her performance in Jack Rosenthal’s Polly Put the Kettle On (part of 1974’s Seven Faces of Women series) and for her work with writer-director Don Taylor, including The Exorcism (1972) and A Last Visitor for Mr Hugh Peter (1981).

Thames Television’s twice-weekly Rooms was built around her landlady character, Dorothy (1974-76) and she was memorable as Elsie Titmuss in John Mortimer’s post-war saga Paradise Postponed (1986) and Titmuss Regained (1991).

Sitcom successes included Sydney Green’s Mixed Blessings (1978-80), the Hywel Bennett-starring Shelley (1980-83) and John Sullivan’s Just Good Friends (1983-86).

In the 1990s, she resumed her psychology studies, qualified as a psychotherapist and practised in London and later in Herefordshire until 2017.

Sylvia Margaret Kay was born on May 16, 1936 and died on January 18, aged 82. She was twice married, to producer-director Ted Kotcheff (1962-72) and actor
Christopher Douglas (1987-2008), both of whom survive her together with three
children from her first marriage.

Obituary: Clive Swift – committed stage and screen actor and co-founder of the Actors Centre

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