Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts

Image of Rachel Roberts taken in 1975

Last updated: 24 July 2009

Bafta award-winning Rachel Roberts shone in the theatrical spotlight after starring in hit films in the 1960s and 1970s until her battle with depression and alcoholism ended in tragic circumstances.

Rachel Roberts was born in Llanelli on 20 September 1927. She trained at the prestigious RADA and worked on the British stage before forging her career in film.

She played gossipmonger Bessie Lewis, or 'Bessie the Milk', in her film debut in Welsh comedy Valley Of Song (1953). She starred in The Weak And The Wicked (1954) alongside fellow Welsh actor Glynis Johns and played various small parts in a series of films in the late 1950s. In 1955 she married for the first time, to actor Alan Dobie. The pair would divorce in 1961.

In 1960 she gave an outstanding performance in Karel Reisz's adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. Starring opposite Albert Finney, Roberts gained much acclaim and won the Bafta award for Best British Actress in her role as Brenda.

She backed up this award-winning performance with another just three years later in the role of Margaret Hammond in This Sporting Life starring opposite the late great Richard Harris. Both actors were nominated for Oscars for their performances and though both were beaten to the Academy Award (by Sidney Poitier and Patricia Neal), Roberts clinched the Best British Actress nod at the 1963 Baftas for the film.

In 1962 she married Rex Harrison, and in 1968 they starred together in film comedy A Flea In Her Ear. Other notable film appearances include Doctors' Wives (1971), O Lucky Man! (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975).

In 1979 she won the third Bafta award of her career, this time for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Clarrie Moreton in Yanks.

She and Harrison divorced in 1971, and much has been written about her downward spiral into alcoholism and depression following the split.

Roberts, who will sadly always be referred to as the fourth Mrs Rex Harrison, died from barbiturate poisoning on 26 November 1980. Her death, at the age of just 53, was ruled as suicide.

A collection of her intimate and extensive diary entries was published posthumously. Edited by Alex Walker, the bleak reflective work is entitled No Bells on Sunday: The Rachel Roberts Journals.

Selected film roles

  • Valley of Song (1953)
  • Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960)
  • This Sporting Life (1963)
  • O Lucky Man! (1973)
  • Yanks (1979)

Selected reading

  • No Bells on Sunday: The Rachel Roberts Journals

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.