Nicola Pagett (1945-2021)

From Twitter:

East Sheen Village@EastSheenVlg.5 de mar.

We are terribly sorry to hear news of the amazing actress Nicola Pagett’s passing. She lived in East Sheen”

Michael Coveney wrote in The Guardian of Thu 4 Mar 2021:

“Nicola Pagett, who has died suddenly of a brain tumour aged 75, will not easily be forgotten by anyone who saw her on stage or screen over a career of 30 years. She was a glacial, beautiful presence in plays from Shaw to Pinter and she illuminated Upstairs, Downstairs on television in the early 1970s. She played Elizabeth Bellamy, the spoilt and self-absorbed daughter of the upscale Belgravia household in Eaton Square, who makes the mistake of marrying a poet with no interest in the physical side of love. She has an affair with his publisher and conceives a child. Other amorous adventures follow before she leaves for New York.

Other starring roles soon followed: Elizabeth Fanshawe in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) on television, widely considered to be one of the best Frankenstein films; the title role in 10 50-minute episodes of Anna Karenina, a 1977 BBC television epic co-starring Eric Porter as Karenin and Stuart Wilson as Vronsky; and Liz Rodenhurst in A Bit of a Do (1989) adapted from the Yorkshire novels of David Nobbs, with David Jason and Gwen Taylor. Liz was the promiscuous, middle-class mother of the bride who starts an affair with Jason’s working-class Ted Simcock, father of the groom.

However, her career was overshadowed by a long period of mental illness, which she wrote about in a book, Diamonds Behind My Eyes, published in 1997. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic and she developed an obsession with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spokesperson, whom she bombarded with love letters…

She was just 17 when she went to Rada in 1962. On graduating she changed her surname to Pagett, then spent several years in repertory theatres, including the Glasgow Citizens and the Connaught, Worthing, before making a London debut in A Boston Story (1968) at the Duchess theatre, adapted by Ronald Gow from Henry James, and starring Tony Britton and Dinah Sheridan.

She immediately became a West End regular, employed by the producer Michael Codron in no less than three important roles opposite Alec Guinness: in John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father (1971) at the Haymarket; in Julian Mitchell’s adaptation of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s A Family and a Fortune (1975) at the Apollo – in which she met the actor/writer Graham Swannell, whom she married in 1975 – and as Jonathan Swift’s muse, Stella, in Alan Strachan’s “entertainment” Yahoo, based on the life and work of the mordant Irish satirist. In all three roles her beauty was tempered with a fascinating mixture of steeliness and reserve…

Pagett was working onstage in a 1976 London revival of Gaslight when she first heard that she was being considered for the role of Anna. The TV series had initially been proposed to BBC by the late Italian producer Carlo Ponti as a vehicle for his wife, Sophia Loren, and, funnily enough, Pagett was not the BBC’s first choice for the role. That was Diana Rigg (The Avengers), who left the project after becoming dissatisfied with the script.

(Having already committed to Gaslight, Pagett could not accept the Anna role. Luckily for her, production on Anna Karenina was postponed for a few months. When it was revived in the summer of 1976, writer/producer Donald Wilson, among others, came to lunch at Pagett’s home in the London suburb of Mortlake to see if she was still interested in the part. In a 1978 interview with arts reporter Ralph Tyler, the actress recalled, “It was a beautiful hot day. I made an enormous Greek salad and nobody was hungry. We sat in the garden drinking wine and that’s when they asked me whether I’d like to play the role.”)

…Around this time, in 1974, she joined a remarkable season directed at the Greenwich theatre by Jonathan Miller, in which a nucleus of four lead actors – Pagett, Irene Worth, Peter Eyre and Robert Stephens – examined the Freudian themes and links between three great classics – Hamlet, Ibsen’s Ghosts and Chekhov’s The Seagull. She was perfect as Ophelia, Regina the maid and the lovelorn Masha, trapped in a romantic triangle….

After divorcing Graham in 1997, she lived alone in East Sheen, south-west London – with a couple of Persian cats keeping her suitably feline company – stoically dealing with her illness, making a domestic agenda of cooking and gardening, and going for power walks whenever she could. She is survived by her daughter, Eve, from her marriage, and by her sister, Angela.”

(It must have been in 1997 or 1998 that a group of us walking across Mortlake Green saw Nicola Pagett approaching along the path, with a companion who may or may not have been Graham Swannell.

The mother of a three year old in our party was earnestly explaining to the child that the tall chimney he could see belonged to Mortlake Brewery. The child dutifully repeated his new word, “brewery”, as they passed; their smiles were indulgent and sweet…)

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