EILEEN WAY's face, once seen, was never forgotten. It was an exotic, Mediterranean-type face with huge dark eyes suggesting wells of sadness and suffering; the antithesis of her character which was cheerful, lively, warm and
When I first met her in 1966 she was giving an unforgettably moving performance as Aase in Ibsen's Peer Gynt at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. She had already been a distinguished actress for over 35 years, but she approached rehearsals with characteristic modesty and would accept no special favours from the director or adoring younger actors.
Her kindness was legendary and it was typical of her that when I mentioned that I had to come to London for a television series, she insisted that I must stay with her and her family in her beautiful 18th-century house in Highgate. She was extremely happily married to the psychiatrist Felix Brown, and mealtimes were always a forum for discussion of topics of the day: Way's contribution was invariably far, far left of centre, a political viewpoint which she held consistently throughout her life.
She and Felix marched in peace demonstrations together to Aldermaston and espoused many causes which favoured the underprivileged. His death in 1972 was a huge blow, but self-pity was alien to her and she continued fighting for what was true and just. She was never troubled by pride and this enabled her to lend her magical presence to often small parts in a huge variety of productions. Way was memorable in The Vikings (1958), with Kirk Douglas, and in Jon Amiel's Queen of Hearts (1989), films separated by over 30 years. At 16 she had been the youngest student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and by the early Thirties was in the Stratford company, notably the 'first ever barefoot Audrey' (a sensation) in As You Like It. In the Forties she appeared in many plays in London including Laurence Olivier's production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Aldwych in 1949, with Vivien Leigh.
Way's career spanned six decades and she found steady employment, from its early days, in television - she was always ready for something new. She featured in the soap opera The Newcomers, and in Dixon of Dock Green, Dr Who, Upstairs Downstairs, Poldark, Inspector Morse, The Bill and scores of others - most recently as Mrs Pebbles in Sean's Show on
Her interest in politics and theatre never waned, nor her loyalty to her friends. She would set off from her home in Canterbury, armed with railway timetables, for fringe theatres or friends' houses. I remember her battling through the snow to attend my 25th wedding anniversary, when she was 74, and her trying to refuse a lift to the station.
She accepted her last illness with grace and dignity, dying in her own home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. My last sight of her was only a few days before she died, in a broadcast of the BBC production of D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (1988), on television in my hotel room in Vancouver. She looked beautiful and acted with truth and distinction. I asked my wife to tell her that I had seen her and that she must 'hang on for the repeat fee'. Eileen's humour never deserted her: she laughed gamely.