Invisible Ink: No 104 - Dulcie Gray

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The Independent Culture

It's probably Dulcie Gray's voice that one remembers most; the received pronunciation arranged in a mellifluous, very English tone on radio, on screen, in theatres and interviews.

Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1915, she trained as a teacher but then attended acting classes, marrying actor Michael Denison in 1939. Their careers effectively became one, their names coupled together in more than 100 West End plays, where they frequently played husband and wife, although Gray separately starred in British productions of the American hits The Little Foxes in 1942 and Dear Ruth in 1946. She also appeared as the luckless waitress, Rose, in the stage version of Brighton Rock, although she was passed over for the film. Not a conventional beauty, she exuded a warmth and familiarity that won audiences over. Rather more alarmingly, she received a piece of fan mail from Aleister Crowley, who offered to sacrifice her at Stonehenge.

Gray found screen fame after the war but never quite became a leading lady. As late as 1996 she triumphed on Broadway with her husband in Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Married for almost 60 years, her pairing with Denison was both a joy and a curse, as they were rarely considered individually. She continued to work after his death, appearing in soaps and in The Lady- killers. Her last TV role was in 2000.

After being diagnosed with cancer and given just eight months to live, Gray found another career in the Sixties and Seventies. The diagnosis was incorrect, but this intimation of mortality spurred her to become the author of murder mysteries and tales of unease.

She often used her theatrical knowledge in the setting of her plots. She wrote 16 novels, eight radio plays, an autobiography, several volumes of short stories, and an award-winning book on butterfly conservation, on which she was an expert. Her only theatrical play was so savaged by the critic Kenneth Tynan that she never wrote another. She died earlier this month, aged 95

It's in her short stories that she most expressed her individuality. From this benign lady poured a series of haunting and surprisingly wicked tales, which were anthologised in the influential Book of Horror series from Pan. Such stories as "The Fur Brooch", "The Assassin" and "The Necklace" were enjoyably mean-spirited pieces in the style of Saki. "The Happy Return" has a scene with an eyeball on the pavement that makes one wonder if she sometimes tired of being so nice.

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