Davina Whitehouse

Actress in 'Prisoner: Cell Block H'

Wednesday 01 January 2003 01:00
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Davina Whitehouse, actress: born London 16 December 1912; OBE 1985; married (two sons); died Auckland, New Zealand 25 December 2002.

One of New Zealand's acting doyennes and familiar to fans of Australian television's worldwide cult hit Prisoner (screened in Britain as Prisoner: Cell Block H), Davina Whitehouse was an English actress who became a big fish in a small pond after moving to the other side of the world.

Born in London in 1912, she had early ambitions to act. Establishing herself in the theatre, Whitehouse appeared alongside stage greats such as John Gielgud before emigrating to New Zealand in 1952 with her businessman husband, Archie, and two sons. There she worked as a radio producer for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and became its radio drama director – the first woman to hold the post (1958-78).

Whitehouse returned to acting in the feature films Sleeping Dogs (alongside Sam Neill, 1977) and Solo (1978), and the television film The Night Nurse (1978), for which she won a Sammy Award. She was seen worldwide in 1983 in Prisoner, the Australian serial about women held at Wentworth Detention Centre, playing Maggie May Kennedy, a 72-year-old drug runner. Through her tall tales, Maggie May tried to convince the other inmates that she was just a dotty old woman, and was eventually extradited to the United States.

Whitehouse then took roles in the New Zealand soaps Close to Home (as Lady Anthea Chilwell), Gloss and Marlin Bay. She also appeared in the director Peter Jackson's horror comedy Braindead (1992).

She was appointed OBE in 1985 for services to the theatre, served on New Zealand's Film Commission and was the first subject of New Zealand television's This Is Your Life (1987). In 1999 she published an autobiography, Davina – An Acting Life (1999).

Anthony Hayward

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