Margaret Tyzack: Award-winning actress who specialised in the theatre but was also acclaimed on television in ‘The Forsyte Saga’

The long career of Margaret Tyzack, one of the most respected actresses of the British theatre, covered an impressive range, from Shakespeare, Racine, Pirandello and TS Eliot, to modern work from Edward Albee, Alan Bennett and Peter Shaffer

Her latter career saw especially outstanding performances, often as formidable matriarchs, including the redoubtable Mrs Birling in JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls (she played the role twice) and, at short notice, a corrosive Martha opposite Paul Eddington's George in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Tyzack's television work wasequally versatile; probably herbest remembered performance was among the legendary cast (Susan Hampshire, Kenneth More and Eric Porter included) of the first television serialisation of Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga.

The London-born Tyzack was stagestruck from an early age, even during her convent education in Forest Gate, from which she went straight to Rada. Following her professional début as one of the Covent Garden bystanders in Pygmalion (Chesterfield Civic, 1951) and further repertory work, she made her first London appearance at the Royal Court as Mag in Alun Owen's Progress to the Park (1959), returning to Sloane Square as the shy Miss Frost, seduced by Richard Harris's swaggering Sebastian in JP Donleavy's version of his controversial The Ginger Man (1959); her delicately touching performance was further admired on a later West End transfer (Comedy, 1962).

A long association with the Royal Shakespeare Company began with a powerful Vassilissa in Gorki's Lower Depths (Arts, 1963). Tyzack then moved to the London fringe for an unforgettable performance in John Hopkins' Find Your Way Home (Open Space, 1970) as a loving wife shocked by the revelation of her husband's secret life; a late, long, confrontational scene with her rival (Alexis Kanner) was hypnotic in the blazing intensity of emotion from both actors.

Tyzack's Virgin Queen in Robert Bolt's drama of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, Vivat, Vivat Regina! had a vital core of tempered steel, as did her implacable Volumnia, more than holding her own opposite Nicol Williamson's anti-hero in Coriolanus for the RSC (Stratford, 1972 and Aldwych, 1973). She also played Portia in Julius Caesar and the vengeful Tamara in Titus Andronicus during that season. Terry Hands' superb RSC reclamation of Gorki's Summerfolk (Aldwych, 1975) included Tyzack's luminous Maria Lvovna.

Replacing an ailing Joan Plowright as the boozing, tough-minded Martha in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (National Theatre, 1981) Tyzack surprised many with a corrosive, often blackly funny performance with a crucial vulnerable core, winning her a Best Actress Olivier Award. She also replaced Peggy Ashcroft in Trevor Nunn's scrupulous RSC production of All's Well That Ends Well (Barbican and New York, 1983), at her very best as the radiantly benevolent and wise Countess in her scenes with Harriet Walter's Helena.

Her first appearance in An Inspector Calls was at her local theatre (Greenwich, 1983). She later took over in Stephen Daldry's famous National Theatre production on its West End transfer (Aldwych, 1994). She played another blinkered matron, the clenched and unforgiving Mrs Haigh-Wood, mother of TS Eliot's tragic first wife in Michael Hastings' Tom and Viv (Royal Court, 1984).

One of her major successes was provided by Peter Shaffer; his Lettice and Lovage (Globe, 1987 and Ethel Barrymore, New York), featuring one of his contrasted pairings, had the luxury casting of Maggie Smith as the flamboyant National Trust guide opposite a cropped-haired, initially dour Tyzack as her disapproving boss. She crafted superbly the characters' emotional flaw; this performance won her both a Variety Club Award and, on Broadway, a Tony Award.

Appearing again with Maggie Smith, Tyzack – like most of the supporting cast – was disappointingly muted and off-form as Prism in Nicholas Hytner's curiously aimless (and awkwardly designed) revival of The Importance of Being Earnest (Aldwych, 1993). The Aldwych was happier for Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink (1995), a resonant piece with a twin timescale involving Felicity Kendal in the past as an English poetess in the Indian Raj and Tyzack in the Shepperton-set present as her sister helping a thrusting academic's researches.

Later Tyzack stage excursions continued to demonstrate her range. They included an RSC return for a superb portrayal of unbending rectitude in Eliot's The Family Reunion (1999), a simmering revival of Pirandello's rarity As You Desire Me (Playhouse, 2005), with Kristin Scott-Thomas and Samuel Adamson' s exuberant Southwark Fair (National Theatre, 2006).

In John Guare's reworking of the film His Girl Friday (National Theatre, 2006), with Zoë Wanamaker and Alex Jennings as the central journalistic duo, she had a thankless role as the ingenue's mother. Sandy Wilson's musical The Boy Friend (Regent's Park, 2007) provided another less than meaty maternal battleaxe but she had a joyous time in the open air, resplendent in Paul Farnsworth's dazzling outfits, even essaying some dance steps with Ian Talbot as her randy husband.

Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden (Donmar, 2008) saw one of her very finest performances, bringing her another Olivier Award; as the imperious Mrs St Maugham opposite Penelope Wilton's mysterious Miss Madrigal, she had a whiplash authority, spraying Bagnold's mandarin epigrams around the drawing room with effortless, witty command. Her valedictory stage appearance was as the Nurse, unswervingly devoted to Helen Mirren's love-blasted heroine in Phèdre (National Theatre, 2009).

Although the theatre would always remain Tyzack's first love, her film and television appearances were also often remarkable. On screen she had a fine supporting role alongside Edith Evans in The Whisperers, and a striking cameo in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On TV early in her career she shone in Galsworthy's The Silver Box with an unerringly truthful performance as the housemaid wrongly accused of theft. Her success in The Forsyte Saga led to the series The First Churchills, involving many of the same team; she also stood out in an excellent BBC Classic Serial of Balzac's Cousin Bette. She returned to the small screen as the devious Janine Butcher's maternal grandmother in EastEnders, an initially fearsome dragon manoeuvring her wheelchair rather as Boadicea might have driven her chariot, but sadly ill-health forced her departure from Albert Square before she could complete her scheduled episodes.

Margaret Maud Tyzack, actress: born London 9 September 1931; OBE 1970, CBE 2010; married 1958 Alan Stephenson (marriage dissolved; one son); died London 25 June 2011.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning