Hailed in the UK as the inheritor of Joyce Grenfell’s mantle and in the US as “Broadway’s new comedy queen”, Anna Quayle staked several claims for cult status on stage, television and film.
Born in Birmingham to the actor Douglas Quayle, she made her stage debut at the age of three and continued to act throughout her childhood, before graduating from RADA alongside fellow students Glenda Jackson and Jack Hedley in 1956.
After appearances with the Oxford Theatre Group and as a foil to Cyril Fletcher in summer seasons, she claimed attention in the revue Look Who’s Here! at the Fortune Theatre in 1960.
Quayle cemented her reputation as a versatile comedienne alongside Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Blair at the same theatre that year in another revue, And Another Thing…, and in 1961 was seen in Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s seven ages of man musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off at the Queen’s Theatre.
Playing four women (variously English, Russian, German and American) vying for Newley’s affections, Quayle revealed her facility for accents, dramatic panache and comedic subtlety to a wider audience. West End success and a Critics’ Circle award took her to Broadway for the first and only time, where she won a Tony award, and to South Africa in the show’s 1964 tour.
The same year saw her appearing in the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, and in 1968 she achieved celluloid immortality as Baroness Bomburst, the ‘Chu-Chi Face’ wife of Gert Fröbe in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Quayle wrote and appeared in the revue Full Circle at the Apollo Theatre in 1970 and was deliciously deadpan as society gossip reporter Melba Snyder in Pal Joey at the Oxford Playhouse in 1976.
At the decade’s end, she returned to the West End in Anthony Shaffer’s The Case of the Oily Levantine at Her Majesty’s Theatre and as Madame Arcati in a 1980 tour of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit.
The Stage acclaimed her as “the most original… of comediennes… her beautifully refined tones are a joy and every appearance eagerly anticipated”.
As the posturing romantic Madame Dubonnet, she all but stole the 30th-anniversary revival of Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend at the Old Vic in 1984 and was a vital Marjorie in Rodney Ackland’s After October at Chichester in 1997.
Her other film credits included playing opposite Tony Curtis in Drop Dead Darling (1966), the star-laden James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967) and the 1972 Frankie Howerd vehicle Up the Chastity Belt.
On television, she moved easily between The Avengers, the topical newspaper revue Grubstreet, Brideshead Revisited, The Sooty Show and the religious comedy Father Charlie. She also spent four years in the long-running children’s drama Grange Hill as form tutor Mrs ‘Marilyn’ Monroe.
Anne Veronica Maria Quayle was born on October 6, 1932. She was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2012 and died on August 16, aged 86.