Diana Coupland

Sid James's long-suffering wife in 'Bless This House' - who also sang for Ursula Andress in 'Dr No'


Diana Coupland, actress and singer: born Leeds 5 March 1932; married first Monty Norman (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second 1980 Marc Miller; died Coventry, Warwickshire 10 November 2006.

The face of Diana Coupland was one of the most familiar in television sitcom of the 1970s. She and the veteran Hancock's Half Hour and Carry On actor Sid James portrayed Jean and Sid Abbott, the Putney parents constantly dealing with their teenaged children's antics in the generation-gap comedy Bless This House.

"Oh, my Gawd!" spluttered the exasperated James in just about every episode, as the stationery-company rep Sid tried to maintain the illusion of being head of the household while listing his pleasures alphabetically as "ale, birds and Chelsea" - and sneaking away in pursuit of them.

Jean was the long-suffering wife who was more than a match for Sid, hounding him and invariably emerging the victor from their confrontations. She was also a devoted mother, able to understand much better the views of her children, the unemployed former art student Mike (Robin Stewart) and the free-love-espousing, grammar-school girl Sally (Sally Geeson).

The cosy middle-class shenanigans quickly captivated viewers' imaginations, with audiences of up to 20 million over 65 episodes and six series, as well as a 1972 film spin-off - ended only by Sid James's real-life death. Coupland recalled: "It was such a very happy time of my life. We almost felt like a true family, having worked together for so long. Sid once said to me, "It's such fun and so successful, we'll still be working on Bless This House till one of us kicks the bucket." How right he was."

Although Bless This House (1971-76), created by the prolific comedy-writing partnership of Vince Powell and Harry Driver, was Coupland's most memorable role in front of the cameras, she also created a bit of film history by singing "Underneath the Mango Tree" in the first James Bond film, Dr No (1962) - dubbed over the miming of Ursula Andress for the scene in which the Swiss-born sex symbol's character, Honey Ryder, emerges from the sea. At the time, Coupland was married to Monty Norman, who composed the film's original music, including the enduring theme tune, orchestrated by John Barry.

Born in Leeds in 1932, Coupland abandoned ambitions to become a ballet dancer after suffering injuries in a riding accident. She made her broadcasting début as a singer at the age of 11 when the producer Barney Colehan, based at the BBC's Leeds studios, gave her a spot in one of his radio shows. Three years later, she was singing full-time at the city's Mecca Locarno and, within another 12 months, was performing at the circuit's Tottenham Court Road ballroom after her parents moved to London.

She then worked with big bands, becoming a resident singer with Teddy Foster, Geraldo, Cyril Stapleton and Stanley Black, performing in top night-clubs such as the Nightingale and Churchill's, appearing in variety shows with stars such as Max Miller and Benny Hill, and performing in the BBC television entertainment show Hit Parade.

Her first venture into feature films came when she dubbed the singing voice of Lana Turner in the wartime spy thriller Betrayed (1954) for the song "Johnny Come Home", which was released as a single under her own name.

Coupland's career changed course when she demonstrated to the legendary director Joan Littlewood, founder of the radical Theatre Workshop, the score of a new musical, Wolf Mankowitz's Make Me an Offer (with music and lyrics by David Heneker and Monty Norman). Once the session ended, Littlewood told her: "And I hope you'll be playing Sally." As a result, Coupland starred in the show with Daniel Massey (Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 1959). Seven years later, she was later in a "Play of the Month" television adaptation of it.

Her film acting début came with the role of a nurse in The Millionairess (based on the George Bernard Shaw play and starring Sophia Loren, 1960), following it with pictures such as The Family Way (directed by Roy Boulting, 1966), Charlie Bubbles (with Albert Finney, 1967), Spring and Port Wine (as the timid wife of a tyrannical patriarch - and playing the mother of Susan George - in the writer Bill Naughton's working-class family saga, 1970), The Twelve Chairs (the Mel Brooks-directed comedy, 1970) and The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (starring Peter Cook, 1970). Coupland also acted the wife of Reg Varney - in the role of an ageing holiday-camp drag artist - in The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1972).

But she was best known on television, initially coming to viewers' attention in the first series of the sitcom A Little Big Business (1964) as Naomi Lieberman, who was married to the highly educated Simon (Francis Matthews), the son following in the career footsteps of his dyed-in-the-wool, Jewish furniture-maker father Marcus (David Kossoff). (Constance Wake took over the role for the second and final series.)

Coupland was cast in Bless This House after being spotted by its producer- director William G. Stewart in an episode of the classroom sitcom Please Sir! (1969), as Connie Eversleigh, mother of the dollybird schoolgirl Sharon (Penny Spencer).

Switching to drama, she played Norma Moffat, alongside Alan Badel, in A Raging Calm (1974), Stan Barstow's small-screen version of his novel set in a West Riding town. For a while, she appeared as Marion Terson in the twice-weekly serial Triangle (1981-82), about the lives and loves of those on a passenger and freight ferry in the North Sea, before reverting to comedy in High and Dry (1987) as Mrs Briggs, one of the residents in a post-war Yorkshire resort where restoration of a Victorian pier was undertaken - with very little money available.

Coupland, who had a six-week stint as Maureen Carter, Irene Raymond's battleaxe of an aunt, in EastEnders (2000), was last seen on screen in an episode of the crime series Rose and Maloney (2005).

On stage, she acted in Shelagh Delaney's The Lion in Love (Royal Court Theatre, 1960), Peter Gill's production of Jeremy Seabrook and Michael O'Neill's Life Price (as Rube, Royal Court Theatre, 1969), the Ray Cooney farce Not Now Darling (Savoy Theatre, 1980), a revival of Alan J. Lerner's musical Gigi (Lyric Theatre, 1985) and Richard III (as the Duchess of York, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1995) during a second consecutive season with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The actress's second husband, Marc Miller, directed her in both Dickens of London (in which she played the novelist's wife Catherine, 1976) and Triangle. Among her work for charity, she was honorary president of the Shakespeare Hospice.

Anthony Hayward

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