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Marsh, Jean (1934-)

Actor, Writer

Main image of Marsh, Jean (1934-)

With her gamine figure, sharp features and angular face, Jean Marsh quickly established herself as a striking-looking character actress with a forceful personality. Often cast in dark or equivocal roles, she has brought intelligence and sensitivity to them all, even when portraying outright villains.

Jean Lyndsey Torren Marsh was born on 1 July 1934 in Stoke Newington, London, attended the Aida Foster stage school and made her film and television debuts while still in her teens. After several years in rep, Marsh arrived on Broadway in 1959, which led to her appearance in Rod Serling's groundbreaking anthology, The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-64), the first of dozens of roles in the US. Over the years she has amassed strong cult TV credentials with roles in Adam Adamant Lives (BBC, 1966-67), the 90s revival of The Tomorrow People (ITV, 1992-95) as well as multiple appearances in such long-running shows as The Saint (ITV, 1961-68), Danger Man (ITV, 1959-60, 1964-67) and Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89; 2005- ) where, as Sara Kingdom, she shocked millions of viewers with her demise after eight weeks as the companion to William Hartnell's Doctor.

Marsh has worked more sporadically for the cinema, notable productions including Unearthly Stranger (d. John Krish, 1963, as the secretary hiding a deadly secret), Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) and John Sturges' star-studded war movie The Eagle Has Landed (1976, as the Nazi collaborator). Her best-known role, however, remains Rose Buck, the hard-bitten but ultimately kind-hearted maid in Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-75), which she also created in collaboration with her close friend and fellow actress Eileen Atkins. It proved to be an enormous success and turned Marsh into a household name. She and Atkins later devised another popular costume drama, The House of Eliott (BBC, 1991-94).

She played witches in the Hollywood blockbusters Willow (1988) and Return to Oz (1985), as well as the Shakespeare-tinged Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse (ITV, tx. 23/12/1997) but displayed a welcome flair for comedy both in No Strings (ITV, 1989), a mellow sitcom of marital infidelity, and as Joanna Lumley's houseboat neighbour in the bittersweet Sensitive Skin (BBC, 2005-07).

Bringing her career full circle, Marsh has recently returned both to Sara Kingdom, for a series of well received audio productions, and to Rose, now promoted from parlour maid to housekeeper, in the BBC continuation of Upstairs, Downstairs (2010).

From 1955 to 1960 Marsh was married to the actor Jon Pertwee.

Sergio Angelini

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Thumbnail image of Unearthly Stranger (1963)Unearthly Stranger (1963)

Intelligent, understated sci-fi about a race of female alien invaders

Thumbnail image of Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)

Hugely popular drama about life in an early 20th Century London household

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)

Recently regenerated time-travelling adventures

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Atkins, Eileen (1934-)Atkins, Eileen (1934-)

Actor, Writer