Obituary: Joan Maude

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JOAN MAUDE was a true daughter of the stage. Born into an illustrious theatrical family, her great grandmother on her father's side was the famous Jenny Lind, the "Swedish nightingale". She was a cousin of the actor-manager Cyril Maude and daughter of the beautiful Nancy Price, another famed actress. Although she spent only 16 years of her long life on the stage, it is as an actress that she is remembered.

Precociously pretty, at 13 she made her stage debut as a solo dancer, in Cairo at His Majesty's Theatre. By the time she came of age she had featured and starred in as many stage productions, in the West End and the provinces, as she had lived years. Her roles grew steadily larger and included Shakespeare plays as well as those by modern European and English playwrights.

Over the next decade Maude appeared as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Ariel in The Tempest at the Adelphi in 1922; Tootles in Peter Pan at the Regent in 1923 and again at the Haymarket in 1924. The following year, at the Aldwych, she played Aurea Vyse in Iris, then Lady June in The Verdict at "Q" Theatre in Kew and Marged in Caradoc Evans's Taffy at the Comedy. In 1926 she was Jill Lambert in The Widow's Cruise at the Fortune.

As she matured into womanhood so did her unusual freckled beauty. Her flashing eyes and expressive gaze were particularly arresting. On stage she conveyed a sensuality which attracted and captivated the audience - and most of her leading men. She went on to delight in her roles as Mary Bowing in Charles Dibdin's Bachelors' Wives at the Duke of York's, 1929; as Magdalen Weissensee in Ashley Dukes's Jew Suss, Kingsway, 1930, and as Maud Wilder in Those Naughty Nineties at the Criterion in 1931. Later that year she was in the eponymous role in Oscar Wilde's Salome at Wyndham's.

In 1933 she toured, playing Harriet Arbuthnot in Wellington and bewitching her leading man, the famous actor-manager Matheson Lang. Back in the West End that year, she was Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Duke of York's. It was at this theatre, too, in 1936, that her friend the theatrical producer Richard West watched her performance as Katheryn Howard in Clifford Bax's The Rose without a Thorn. "Irresistible," he recalls. "It was a wonderful performance by a beautiful and fascinating woman."

At this point, unexpectedly, Joan Maude left the stage, following her marriage to Frank Waters of The Times. This was no mere theatrical gesture. As was the case with his new wife, Waters's career was in the ascendant. (Later, he became managing director of the News Chronicle). So now Joan took on two new roles: supporting her husband and as hostess at their soirees. In these she was instantly successful. Inherently fond of people, she loved to make new friends. Tall and assured, her graceful bearing and aristocratic manner ideally complemented her husband's brilliance and influence.

Her thespian interests continued. She became involved in the then new medium of television and in 1946 she featured as the Chief Recorder in the Powell and Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death. She reappeared on stage in 1950 as Honor Burk Lynch, in The Family Honour by Laurence Housman at the New Lindsey, and as Sheila Arnold in Celestial Fires, at the "Q" Theatre, in 1951.

In 1954, Joan suffered a devastating loss when Frank Waters died suddenly; he was only 45. She grew closer to her friends, foremost among whom was Oliver Woods, a fellow newsman of Waters and a distinguished soldier. Joan and he married two years later. It lasted, joyously, through Oliver's rise to assistant editor of The Times, until his death, aged 61, in 1972.

With great resilience Joan rebuilt her life. Through her long widowhood, spent mostly in Sussex, she was very active. Each day she walked the South Downs; a veritable Diana with her white bichon frise dog, Perrier, at her heels. Although her last years were marred by pain her zest for life continued, undiminished. She had a wide circle of devoted friends and, at her 90th birthday party, ever the star, she held centre stage, entertaining her guests with her vast store of anecdotes; a raconteur par excellence.

At her valedictory service Lord Gibson, of The Financial Times, recalled: "One cannot forget her beautiful eyes, with which she looked at the world with humour and understanding".

Avril Mollison

Joan Maude, actress: born Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire 16 January 1908; married first Frank Waters (died 1954; one daughter), second 1956 Oliver Woods (died 1972); died Lewes, East Sussex 28 September 1998.