Actor famous for TV roles in EastEnders, Crossroads and Family Affairs who also had a long, successful stage career
Though best known for the 1980s TV soap Crossroads, and more recently as Janine Butcher’s grandmother in EastEnders, Heather Chasen had a long and distinguished stage career that spanned six decades.
While comedy may have been her default setting, Chasen’s range was impressive, from Shakespeare to Noël Coward, Athol Fugard to Alan Bennett.
Born in Singapore, she attended a Malaysian boarding school in Pahang, leaving abruptly in 1942 ahead of the Japanese invasion. After a short-lived spell at RADA, and some private tuition, she made her professional debut at the Castle Theatre, Farnham in 1945.
Her first significant role was as Leonardo’s wife in Lorca’s tragedy Blood Wedding at the Arts Theatre, London directed by Peter Hall.
She played Mollie Ralston in The Mousetrap in 1958-59, but it was the leading role of Antonia in Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head in 1963 that put her on the West End map. The production, which also featured Robert Hardy and Michael Culver, transferred to Broadway the following year.
She went on to play Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1967, Hester in Hello and Goodbye (1970), Judith Bliss in Hay Fever (1973), Miss Preen in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1979), Miss Marple in Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced (1994), and most recently a supporting role in the farce Pardon Me, Prime Minister (2008).
For BBC Radio 4 listeners of a certain age, Chasen will be forever associated with The Navy Lark (1959-77), the sea-faring sitcom in which she played nearly all the female characters, notably Ramona Povey, the commander’s battleaxe of a wife, and the more amenable Wren Chasen.
In 1982 she joined the cast of Crossroads, as the former fashion model Valerie Pollard who cheats on her millionaire, motel-owning husband and is punished by being put to work behind the motel’s bar.
As well as playing Janine’s gran in EastEnders in 2011, Chasen also appeared in the Channel 5 soap Family Affairs. Producer and close friend Sean O’Connor said she had “an elegance about her and was often to be found with a glass of champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other”.
Chasen had relationships with men and women, sometimes at the same time. Her marriage to actor John Webster ended in divorce.
Heather Chasen was born on July 20, 1927, and died on May 22, aged 92. She is survived by her son, Rupert Webster.