Book: Pick of the week

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The venerable English actress and crime-writer Dulcie Gray (right) is at the National Theatre on Monday to talk to critic Sheridan Morley about her decades-spanning career.

A regular portrayer of Miss Marple, and one of the first to play that pathetic manipulated waitress Rose Brown in Brighton Rock, Gray is a staple of Sunday afternoon black-and-white 1940s British movies, as well as the doughty shipping matriarch in Howard's Way. Author of countless horror stories, 17 crime thrillers and three straight novels, all of her 24 books are out of print now, but in her bestselling heyday, Gray was a big hit with folk like Rebecca West and Julian Symonds.

Now aged 79, Dulcie Gray formed half of one of the most long-lived partnerships in the theatre, until the death of husband Michael Denison this July, a few months short of their 60th wedding anniversary. They had just made their Broadway debut together, playing in Peter Hall's version of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.

A hearty anecdotalist, Gray will be mulling over all her old friendships - with Noel Coward, the Queen Mother and particularly JB Priestley. "She was oddly radical for her time," Sheridan Morley is keen to remind us. "Priestley wasn't at all the cosy old north-country philosopher he later became, when Dulcie first took his plays up. She brought her audience with her and nudged them ever so gently towards something darker and slightly socialist."

Rejecting retirement, Gray's about to set off on a countrywide tour. The latest venture is a stab at gangster-thwarting landlady Mrs Wilberforce in the first stage adaptation of the Ealing masterpiece, The Lady Killers.

Dulcie Gray with Sheridan Morley,Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-452 3000) Mon, 6pm, pounds 3.50/pounds 2.50 concs

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