Obituary: Mary Millar

PLAYING HYACINTH Bucket's man-mad younger sister Rose in the situation comedy Keeping Up Appearances made Mary Millar's face familiar to millions after years of success in stage musicals, such as The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and Camelot with Richard Burton on Broadway, and supporting Stanley Baxter and Dick Emery in their television entertainment shows.

She took over the role of tarty Rose from Shirley Stelfox at the start of the second series of Keeping Up Appearances and provided a foil to Patricia Routledge's pretentious, social-climbing Hyacinth. Rose lived in a council house with her married elder sister Daisy, played by Judy Cornwell, who was also an embarassment to the woman who was obsessed with etiquette and breeding, and insisted that her surname was pronounced "Bouquet".

The comedy, by the Last of the Summer Wine writer Roy Clarke, was one of the most successful of the Nineties and Millar was 55 when she took over the part, travelling to the audition on a London Tube train, wearing a mini-skirt she had bought specially.

However, playing to an audience was something that came naturally to the Sheffield-born actress whose parents, Horace and Irene Wetton, were singers. Although originally planning to become a stable hand because of her love of animals, Millar - who adopted her stage name by rearranging her mother's maiden name, Mellor - followed her parents into show business at the age of 16 by landing the role of principal girl in a Babes in the Wood pantomime at the Empire Theatre, Sheffield (1952), starring Morecambe and Wise. Wise recalls her as "a quiet, pretty young girl with a thin figure". A year later, Millar made her television debut in a show called Those Were the Days.

After touring as Margot in The Desert Song (1957, 1959) and Mary in Old Chelsea (1958), she was chosen to understudy Julie Andrews in Camelot (1960) at the Majestic Theater, New York, and, as a result, appeared as Guinevere opposite Richard Burton.

Millar made her West End debut as Cloris in Lock Up Your Daughters (Her Majesty's Theatre, 1962) and a string of musical roles followed, including Lydia Languish in All in Love (Mayfair Theatre, 1964), the title role in Ann Veronica (Cambridge Theatre, 1969) and Poppy Dickie in Popkiss (Globe Theatre, 1972). The actress also won praise when she took over as Barbara Jackson from Judi Dench in the straight play Pack of Lies (Lyric Theatre, 1984).

One of the highlights of Millar's stage career was playing Madame Giry in the original West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, at Her Majesty's Theatre, alongside Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Millar stayed in the show for four years and was noted by one critic for her "intensely sinister figure of a ballet mistress who acts as a stone-faced messenger between the Phantom and his victims". Millar, who also played Sally in the European premiere of Stephen Sondheim's Follies in Manchester, later took part in the original workshop production of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love at Sydmonton.

Last year, she joined the cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, as Mrs Potts the teapot, and sang the musical's love theme, but she was forced to leave last February through illness.

Although best known on television as Rose in Keeping Up Appearances (1991- 95), Millar made many screen appearances over the years. Her acting and singing talents were showcased in Stanley Baxter and Dick Emery's entertainment shows, as well as BBC2 productions of The Mikado, Titipu - one of the first programmes to be broadcast in colour - and Iolanthe. She also appeared in Rookery Nook.

An active Christian, the actress performed An Evening With Mary Millar on several National Gospel tours, appeared in television programmes such as Songs of Praise and Secombe on Sunday, and travelled to Malawi to make a documentary about the work of the charity World Vision.

Mary Wetton (Mary Millar), actress and singer: born Doncaster 26 July 1936; married (one daughter); died London 10 November 1998.

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