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Lumley, Joanna (1946-)

Actor, Presenter

Main image of Lumley, Joanna (1946-)

Actress, presenter, author and activist Joanna Lumley's journey into the British public's affection and admiration has spanned four decades, notably through her appearances in The New Avengers (ITV, 1976-1977), Sapphire and Steel (ITV, 1979-1982), Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992-2004), Sensitive Skin (BBC, 2005) and Jam and Jerusalem (BBC, 2006-). However, the plummy-voiced actress with the self-deprecating demeanour has also proved to be a champion of worthy causes, not least the plight of Gurkha soldiers denied residency in Britain (her father, Major James Rutherford Lumley, served in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles), a campaign which she publicly spearheaded and which led to a change in Government policy.

She was born on 1 May 1946 in Srinigar, Kashmir, India but following her father's postings to Hong Kong and Malaya her family settled in Rolvenden, Kent, in 1954. She started modelling in the mid-1960s although she hankered after an acting career. With no formal acting training her early film roles exploited her sex appeal including an appearance in the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (d. Peter Hunt, 1969) and shedding her clothes in Games That Lovers Play (d. Malcolm Leigh, 1970).

Determined to be taken seriously, she appeared on BBC's up-market game show Call My Bluff (1972) where her wit and intelligence so impressed Frank Muir that he asked her back for more shows. Her film work remained largely sporadic while TV credits included short stints on Coronation Street (ITV, 1973) and General Hospital (ITV, 1975).

Her big career break came when she landed the role of high kicking, all-action girl Purdey in The New Avengers. That was swiftly followed by ITV's cult psychological sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel (playing Sapphire to David McCallum's Steel). By now Lumley was able to call more of the shots, and was also able to embark on some theatre work which she felt helped established her credentials as a serious actress, earning good reviews in performances of Private Lives, Hedda Gabler and Blithe Spirit.

Ironically, it was in comedy that perhaps her most memorable creation was formed in the shape of the frequently inebriated, chain-smoking, sexually amoral Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous. Lumley earned two BAFTAs in 1993 (Best Light Entertainment Performance) and 1995 (Best Comedy Performance). Far from mirroring the self-obsessed celebrity behaviour of Patsy, Joanna Lumley's view on fame, wealth and its association with happiness is far more philosophical ("I've been to very poor countries and I'm convinced that happiness is not connected with wealth."), and has interspersed her higher-profile TV work with personal documentary projects such as In Search of the White Rajahs (BBC, tx. 24/9/1991), Girl Friday (BBC, tx. 26/11/1994) and Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights (BBC, tx. 7/9/2008). She was awarded the OBE in 1995.

Eddie Dyja

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby plays Bond in one of the series' most underrated entries

Thumbnail image of Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2003)Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2003)

Hugely influential sitcom about a ghastly PR executive

Thumbnail image of Cazalets, The (2001)Cazalets, The (2001)

Drama about how the wealthy Cazalets are affected by World War II

Thumbnail image of Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)

Science-fiction series relating six adventures of two 'time detectives'

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