Barbara Hicks: Veteran of stage and television who excelled in period dramas and worked with Olivier, Coward and Ayckbourn

 

Among those actors who never starred but always shone, Barbara Hicks is guaranteed a place. She was at the Royal Court during its ascendant years, and her time at the National Theatre would reflect its own first quarter of a century, from being directed by Laurence Olivier in The Crucible (1965) – for which she had the appropriate Puritan countenance – at the Old Vic, to performing on the South Bank stage named after him, in Alan Ayckbourn's A Small Family Business (1987).

Television roles, particularly in the BBC's Sunday early-evening classic serials and including rustics, status-proud servants and bourgeois ladies, further displayed her ability to be charmingly eccentric one minute, and glaringly intimidating the next. In real life, she was well-loved within the profession, with countless friends and a mischievous sense of humour.

She was born in Wolverhampton, where her father, an iron and steel merchant, was known as "Copper" Hicks, and educated at Adcote School for Girls. During the Second World War in Wales she was a land girl, something she played in one of her first TV dramas, No Other Verdict (ITV, 1955), before entering the Webber-Douglas School of Dramatic Art in 1945.

With three other Webber-Douglas graduates she enterprisingly staged Over To You, a showcase, or "revuette" as they termed it, at the school's performance space, the Chanticleer Theatre, in 1948, a year after her graduation. Later that year she made her West End debut when Written For A Lady, a Jewish family saga, transferred to the Garrick from the Royal Court, Liverpool.

As Mrs Titus Dudgeon she supported Tyrone Power in Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (Winter Garden, 1956), but her West End roles were generally comedies: Six Months' Grace (Phoenix, 1957), one of the final appearances of Yvonne Arnaud; The Tunnel Of Love, which ran for over a year after opening at Her Majesty's in December 1957; and Miss Pell Is Missing (Criterion, 1962), set in 1915 Manhattan, with an unlikely pair of Americans in Wilfrid Hyde- White and Richard Briers.

Her association with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court began in 1959, with a Sunday evening of "Jazzetry" directed by Lindsay Anderson, that combined jazz music with poetry and a "newsplay" by Christopher Logue, The Trial Of Cob And Leach, featuring Hicks as a meddler called Peaches. Befriending the famously uncompromising Anderson, she worked for him and Logue in The Lily White Boys (1960), a musical with Albert Finney as a juvenile delinquent. Hicks, who never claimed any musical talents, had multiple roles as female Upright Citizens; a Royal Court staff member told her years later that "your singing still hasn't left the rafters."

Having appeared in Noel Coward's Feydeau adaptation Look After Lulu (Royal Court, 1959), starring Vivien Leigh, she was then directed by him in the National's revival of Hay Fever in 1964. She always retained fond memories of playing the housekeeper and former dresser Clara in what Coward termed "a cast that could play the Albanian telephone directory", and would work again with Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Robert Stephens and Lynn Redgrave. Maintaining a lasting friendship with Redgrave, she was in fine form as a guest on her This Is Your Life in 1996.

Her Dickensian television period began as the vinegary maid Miss Miggs in Barnaby Rudge (1960) and Oliver Twist (1962), as the undertaker Sowerberry's wife; by contrast, she was a foil to the pseudo-elderly slapstick comic Richard Hearne in Ask Mr Pastry (BBC, 1961). She played the drunken cook to David (Ian McKellen) and Dora in David Copperfield (1966), and for producer Barry Letts, did Eliot's The Mill On The Floss (1979) and Dombey And Son (1983).

Remaining at the National, she was well cast as a theatrical landlady in Trelawny Of The 'Wells' (1966), again with Smith and Jacobi, and Jill Bennett, who became Giles' godmother. Following the end of her first marriage, to a stage manager, in 1970 she married Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Taylor, who was awarded the Military Cross twice during the Second World War, and was away from acting for almost a decade when they moved to the island of Elba.

One of her favourite roles in any medium was in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), gleefully grotesque as a plastic surgery addict; her son Giles recalls that she loved working with Gilliam, who "pandered to her every whim".

In Ayckbourn's staging of Tons Of Money in 1986, and his own A Small Family Business, Hicks appeared alongside Michael Gambon – who had been a secondary player, billed as Mike – in The Crucible, Mother Courage And Her Children, and Love For Love with her, over 20 years earlier.

Her last play, for the National, was Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell in 1995, alongside another friend, Judi Dench; both had done the BBC's television version four years earlier. Sally Potter's Orlando (1992) also featured her son Giles, like her a seasoned player, and the made-for-television Memento Mori (BBC, 1991), directed by Jack Clayton, and Up At The Villa (2000) had her in splendid ensembles, containing many of her friends.

Although she never worked for Alan Bennett on stage, her roles in his semi-autobiographical Me! I'm Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (LWT, 1978), and A Question Of Attribution (BBC, 1991), led him to observe: "When you go, Barbara, there'll be a terrible hole in Spotlight".

Gavin Gaughan

Barbara Hicks, actress: born Wolverhampton 12 August 1924; married 1951 Robert Loblowitz (divorced 1961), 1970 Lt-Col Peter Taylor (died 2010; one son); died Essex 6 September 2013.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes