Sally Farmiloe: The scheming barmaid in Howard's Way who found greater fame through her affair with Jeffrey Archer

 

Sally Farmiloe was a bit-part actress who suddenly found herself in the spotlight when she was cast in the television series Howards' Way. But she gained more fame later when she had an affair with the novelist and Tory peer Jeffrey Archer.

She played Dawn Williams, the scheming barmaid at the Jolly Sailor pub, in the first two series (1985-86) of the soap-style nautical drama set among the "gin and Jag" sailing set on the South Coast. Based around the Mermaid boatyard run by Tom Howard (Maurice Colbourne), it featured the boardroom-to-bedroom antics of its characters and displays of wealth that symbolised much about the 1980s and the Thatcher era. The bed-hopping continued off set when Tony Anholt left his wife for Tracey Childs, who played his on-screen lover, and Stephen Yardley fell for Jan Harvey.

Farmiloe's own lurid headlines came after she left Howards' Way. Through fund-raising for the Conservative Party, she met Jeffrey Archer, and their three-year affair was revealed by a Sunday newspaper in 1999. Two years later, when he was jailed for perjuring himself in a court case about his dealings with the prostitute Monica Coghlan, Farmiloe regaled the News of the World with stories of her own relationship with him. She recalled having sex on the ground of an underground car park after starting in his Mini but finding it too cramped – before returning to a ball at the Dorchester Hotel unaware that she had engine oil all over the back of her skirt.

More tragically, Farmiloe was making column inches again after being diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2012, having a lumpectomy and undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She wrote a moving account of this in her book My Left Boob: A Cancer Diary (2013), which was also intended as a practical guide for others, and gave her royalties to the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, where she was treated, and the cancer charity Yes to Life!

Then, in July last year, four months after finishing her treatment, Farmiloe discovered that the cancer had spread to her bones and liver, and was terminal. "In the time I've got left, I'm jolly well going to have fun," she said. "I'll die with dignity and lots of Dom Perignon."

In December, a month after leaving hospital again, she discovered among her medical notes an instruction that she should not be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest. As a result, she announced her support for the campaign pressing for more stringent rules against Do Not Resuscitate orders.

Farmiloe was born in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire – although she often said her birthplace was Cape Town – the daughter of a wealthy farmer and yacht broker, Tom, and his wife, Pam. She wrote on her website that she was "a real English rose" who "hails from a frightfully posh aristocratic background and is a former debutante". As a teenager, she had her breasts enlarged to please a boyfriend, but she eventually had the implants removed in 1982.

After attending private schools, Farmiloe worked as a fashion and advertising model while trying to break into acting. Small roles came along on television in Homicide, Division 4 (both 1970), Steptoe and Son (1974) and Spectre (1977), as well as the film comedy Spanish Fly (1976), starring Leslie Phillips.

Her biggest break came when she was cast as Maddie Gotobed, who accuses 119 MPs of sexual harassment, in the Tom Stoppard play Dirty Linen (Arts Theatre, 1978). However, she made only one more television appearance, in a 1981 episode of Bergerac, before joining Howards' Way. She had film parts in Hearts of Fire (1987), the badly reviewed musical drama starring Bob Dylan as a reclusive rock star, and the Oscar-nominated short Dear Rosie (1990), but roles became scarce and she started a business as a social events organiser.

Her boyfriends over the years included Eric Clapton, Christopher Cazenove, Cardew Robinson, the Marquess of Reading, Woolworth heir Anthony Hubbard and Clive Sinclair. Jeremy Neville, a chartered surveyor, fathered her daughter, Jade, in 1991 but the couple parted and, five years later, when her best friend, fellow actress Marilyn Smethwick, died of cancer, Farmiloe adopted her daughter, Kat.

She was later reunited with Neville, marrying him in 2002 and taking Sally Farmiloe-Neville as her professional name. As well as fundraising for the Conservative Party, she organised charity events, launched a skincare range with Jade for Cetuem, was spokesperson for designer Jane Henderson's Fanniann clothes label and wrote the book Sensual Pleasures and the Art of Morphing into a Health Goddess (2005),

She also presented programmes on the lifestyle channel B Well TV and there was a return to the stage as Simona in When the Lilac Blooms, My Love (Leicester Square Theatre, 2010). She also had a role in the film The Anglistanis, due for release next year.

ANTHONY HAYWARD

Sally Virginia Curzon Farmiloe, actress and presenter: born Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire 7 July 1954; married 2002 Jeremy Neville (one daughter), one adopted daughter; died London 28 July 2014.

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