Diana Sinden

Actress wife of Donald Sinden
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The Independent Online

Diana Mahony, actress: born 19 July 1927; married 1948 Donald Sinden (Kt 1997; one son, and one son deceased); died Ashford, Kent 22 October 2004.

Diana Sinden, who for 56 years was married to the actor Donald Sinden, had originally intended a career in the theatre. She first met her husband when both joined the 1947 Stratford-upon-Avon festival company. Sinden, in his autobiography A Touch of the Memoirs (1982), recalled how "a beautiful, dark-haired girl, tall with Grecian features" first caught his attention in a warehouse rehearsal room off the Holloway Road in north London:

Incongruously dressed in these surroundings, she wore high-heeled shoes, a tailored suit with a cravat at the neck and - most incongruously of all - a hat! Fine for the West End, but strange for a Shakespearean company.

Her name was Diana Mahony, pronounced "Mahrny". She came from an Irish Roman Catholic family. The festival season at Stratford was her first professional job after training at Rada. Among the roles she played was Helen of Troy in Dr Faustus, "succeeding admirably", recorded her future husband, "in facing the daunting task of living up to Marlowe's mighty line, 'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships'."

Sinden paints a picture of a young woman so innocent that she failed to understand why people would, for example, fall about laughing when she mistook the word "masturbating" for "masticating". Her mother was in favour of the marriage, but her father, the senior partner in a firm of accountants which specialised in liquidations, strongly disapproved of his daughter marrying "a damned actor". As Diana was under 21 Sinden needed her father's consent. This he gave very reluctantly, stipulating one condition: that the marriage take place in a registrar's office ("it won't last").

After their marriage in 1948 Diana continued her career in modest parts in repertory theatres around the country, including Lichfield, where Kenneth Tynan, just down from Oxford, was beginning his career as the director. After her first son was born in 1950 she gave up acting and concentrated on being the wife of her increasingly successful husband, who was signed to a seven-year contract by the Rank Organisation following his 1953 film début in the screen version of Nicholas Monsarrat's autobiographical novel The Cruel Sea.

Latterly her only professional acting appearances came in 1978-79 when she appeared in small parts in Andrew Birkin's television drama about J. M. Barrie, The Lost Boys, an episode of Thomas and Sarah (a television series developed from Upstairs and Downstairs), and an episode of her husband's hugely successful comedy series opposite Elaine Stritch, Two's Company.

With a reputation for dressing exquisitely, for speaking her mind ("putting things to rights", she would say), she overcame the death of her elder son in 1996. When her own cancer recurred this year she impressed those around her by the seemingly matter-of-fact way in which she accepted the inevitable outcome. Her final weeks were spent in a hospice at Ashford, with her room decorated, as one friend remarked, as if it were the No 1 dressing room at the Haymarket Theatre.

Ion Trewin

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