There was always something of the ghost of a fading Hollywood glamour queen possessing Sue Lloyd, the English actress who has died aged 72. With half-closed eyes, cigarette gravel voice and elegant, haughty poise, she brought an air of smouldering decadence and feline allure to often decidedly mundane productions, as if a world-weary Lauren Bacall was deeming to cross the Atlantic and play with the little people for a while. Best known for her role in the oft-derided ATV soap Crossroads, Lloyd's career in fact saw her move from modelling to starring opposite Michael Caine, until the Midlands-based soap led her to the love of her life.
The daughter of a doctor, she was born in Suffolk in 1939, just a few weeks before war was declared. The family relocated to Birmingham, where she attended Edgbaston School before winning a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School at Sadler's Wells in 1953. She grew to 5ft 8ins tall and so eschewed ballet for the chorus line in Lionel Blair's revue Five Past Eight at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, directed by Michael Mills. After appearing at the Victoria Palace Theatre in The Crazy Gang's These Foolish Kings she turned to modelling, even gracing the cover of Vogue on one occasion, before embarking on an acting career.
She quickly found her niche playing duplicitous temptresses in spy romps, beginning with The Sentimental Agent (1963). She was an ideal ingredient for Lew Grade's production line of Transatlantic adventure series, and over the next decade she guested in The Saint, Department S, The Persuaders, Jason King, The Avengers and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), finally winning a regular role as Steve Forrest's co-agent Cordelia Winfield in the popular antiques and espionage hokum The Baron (1966), by which time her big break in films, as girlfriend to Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) in The Ipcress File (1965), had been and gone.
Sadly she rarely got to explore her talent in other genres. Her West End debut, tellingly, was in an ill-conceived stage version of The Avengers at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1971, in which she starred as Steed's (Simon Oates) sidekick Hannah Wild. She did, however, turn in an excellent performance as an elocuting ex-prostitute and gangster's moll in one of the best episodes of The Sweeney (1975), a role which suited the tough beauty that her previous TV work had fallen shy of exploring. She appeared in the (for its time) progressive sitcom His and Hers (1970), as a City businesswoman who supports an unsuccessful husband, and also in the extraordinary exploitation horror Corruption (1967), a Macbeth-inspired bloodbath in which she plays a model whose career is wrecked after an accident leaves her face scarred for life. She sends her scientist husband (Peter Cushing) on a killing spree to extract an elixir from his victims' bodies which will temporarily restore her beauty; but despite the fever pitch atmosphere and game performances, the film was met with unease, not least by its gentle leading man, and has since fallen into obscurity.
Having recently appeared in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) with Peter Sellers, she initially turned down the offer to appear in Crossroads, but with British cinema at its lowest ebb, and having appeared in sexploitation naughties such as The Ups and Downs of a Handyman (1976) and as a deliciously bitchy nymphomaniac in The Stud (1978), she accepted the role of sophisticated novelist Barbara Brady in 1979 and stayed with the soap for six years, becoming a Fleet Street favourite when her on-screen romance to suave hotel manager David Hunter (Ronald Allen) led to their off-screen marriage in 1991, sadly just weeks before Allen's death from lung cancer.
In later years she largely concentrated on her second career as an artist, although she did get to reprise her Ipcress File role in Bullet to Beijing (1995), and also wrote an enjoyable autobiography, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time. She was delighted at the cult status much of her television work had acquired, and happily contributed interviews and commentaries to subsequent DVD releases.
While she was certainly in the right place at the right time for lending her appeal to Sixties adventure series, one can't help but wonder what she may have achieved in another time altogether.
Susan Margery Jeaffreson Lloyd, actor and artist: born Aldeburgh, Suffolk 7 August 1939; married 1991 Ronald Allen (died 1991); died 20 October 2011.