Entertainment & Arts

Barbara Jefford: Leading classical actress dies aged 90

Barbara Jefford in Pygmalion at the Old Vic in 2008 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barbara Jefford in Pygmalion at the Old Vic in 2008

Barbara Jefford, one of the leading British stage actresses of the past 70 years, has died at the age of 90.

Jefford made many appearances for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Old Vic, playing almost every available classical role.

She also appeared on screen, earning a nomination for best British actress at the Bafta film awards in 1968 for playing Molly Bloom in Ulysses.

Her agents said she was "warm and generous" and "a sensational actress".

A statement from United Agents said: "In the course of an extraordinary 70-year career, Barbara has graced the screen within TV and film, but it was on stage that she truly felt at home."

Born in Devon, Jefford first made an impression at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), with The Times praising her "remarkable stage assurance" while she was still studying.

Her career took off quickly when she joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company - now the RSC - in Stratford-upon Avon. She made her debut as as Isabella in Measure for Measure opposite John Gielgud.

In the 1950s, she moved to the Old Vic - which would later become the National - and by 1961 was well-versed enough to combine her Shakespearean roles into a one-woman show titled Heroines of Shakespeare.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption With Judi Dench (right) in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1959

At the age of 34 in 1965, she was made an OBE for service to the theatre - reportedly becoming the youngest ever recipient of the award until that date. The Guardian described her as "one of the greatest of Shakespearean actors" when she was seen opposite Kenneth Branagh in Richard III in 2002.

She also frequently appeared on TV and radio, including in the BBC's The Canterbury Tales in the late 60s, Porterhouse Blue in the 80s and The House of Eliott in the early 90s.

On the big screen, her other credits included 1971 Hammer Horror film Lust for a Vampire, Federico Fellini's And the Ship Sails On in 1983, Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate in 1999, and Stephen Frears' Philomena in 2013.