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Kendal, Felicity (1946-)


Main image of Kendal, Felicity (1946-)

Felicity Kendal is a daughter of the theatre, whose stage appearances have far outnumbered her screen roles. However, during the 1970s and 1980s, with quietly controlled scripts and producers' sympathetic handling of actors, she created some memorable television characters.

Spending the early part of her life as a travelling Shakespearean actor in India and the Far East, where her parents ran a touring theatrical company, she returned to Britain after appearing in Merchant-Ivory's Shakespeare-Wallah (India, 1965), a film based on the family's experiences in India.

Although she was seen as 'bewitching' and 'pert' by contemporary reviewers for her early television performances - one of the first being opposite Sir John Gielgud in the bitter-sweet Wednesday Play comedy 'The Mayfly and the Frog' (BBC, tx. 21/12/1966) - her elfin charm didn't really come to notice until The Good Life (BBC, 1975-78).

One of the most popular programmes in the new 1970s BBC carefree sitcoms, The Good Life featured Kendal and Richard Briers as a suburban couple who decide to practice self-sufficiency and live off the land, much to the annoyance of their disapproving middle-class neighbours Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. The characters, as in most well-crafted sitcoms - Kendal and Briers' warm and amiable young couple, Eddington's easy-going husband to Keith's snobby matriarch - were near enough (but not too near) to real life types with whom most viewers could identify, with Kendal standing out as the epitome of friendly suburban sexiness in her tight blue jeans.

After The Good Life, she made fleeting TV appearances - notably as Viola in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night (tx. 6/1/1980) - until Carla Lane's comedy drama Solo (BBC, 1981-82). This was a strongly feminist, war-of-the-sexes piece with Kendal as a self-assertive but doubtful, competent yet insecure young woman who decides to reject her job, eject her unfaithful boyfriend and go it alone.

Taking a step forward from her brink-of-adultery theme in the earlier Butterflies (BBC, 1978-83), Lane constructed The Mistress (BBC, 1985; 1987), featuring Kendal as a doggedly independent single woman who is also the mistress of a married man.

The Camomile Lawn (Channel 4, 1992), a steamy upper-middle-class family saga spanning several decades, infused with long, languorous sex scenes, was adapted from Mary Wesley's 1984 novel. Screened initially in four parts, the production featured a magnificent cast, including Kendal, Paul Eddington, Claire Bloom, Rosemary Harris and a young Jennifer Ehle, who, between them, created an embalmed surface calm hiding an inner turbulence.

After a lengthy hiatus (during which she remained active in the theatre), she returned to the small screen with the unlikely horticultural whodunit Rosemary and Thyme (ITV, 2003-). This perilously simple series seemed to get by on the strength of its experienced and sprightly cast, with Kendal, as plant pathologist Rosemary Boxer, and Pam Ferris, as fellow plant-lover Laura Thyme, giving pleasantly skittish performances. This rather farcical series, full of cartoonish peering around doors and chases down hallways, makes a peculiarly dispiriting addition to the list of British detective drama.

She was voted the Variety Club Most Promising Newcomer, 1974; Best Actress, 1979; the Clarence Derwent Award, 1980; and Variety Club Woman of the year and Best Actress, 1984. She received a CBE in 1995.

Tise Vahimagi

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Thumbnail image of Camomile Lawn, The (1992)Camomile Lawn, The (1992)

Controversial WWII drama series adapted from Mary Wesley's novel

Thumbnail image of Good Life, The (1975-77)Good Life, The (1975-77)

Much-loved sitcom about a self-sufficient couple in Surbiton

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