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Collins, Pauline (1940-)


Main image of Collins, Pauline (1940-)

For many, actress Pauline Collins will always be associated with the title role in the film Shirley Valentine (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1988), and for the maid Sarah in Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1973), ITV's long-running drama of turn-of-the-century manners in a London household. However, straddling these roles is an impressive range of TV, film, and theatre work that was recognised with an OBE in 2001 for services to drama.

She was born in Exmouth, Devon on 3rd September 1940, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In 1964 she became pregnant and made the painful decision to put her daughter up for adoption, a period of her life chronicled in her biography Letter to Louise (1992). The two were finally reunited in 1986.

In 1967 she played Samantha Briggs in the Doctor Who story 'The Faceless Ones'. She was to reappear in the revived Doctor Who series in 2006 playing Queen Victoria in 'Tooth and Claw'. She also initially played opposite Polly James in the first series of the popular sitcom The Liver Birds (BBC, 1969) before scheduling clashes caused her to be replaced by Nerys Hughes.

But by then, Collins had become a household name in Upstairs, Downstairs. She also met and worked with her husband John Alderton on the programme, and the two branched out together as husband and wife in ITV's cosy comedy No Honesty (1974-1975), and then in the Upstairs, Downstairs spin-off series Thomas and Sarah (ITV, 1979) while also appearing in the BBC's Woodenhouse Playhouse (1975) series of dramas. The couple also narrated the BBC's children's animated series Little Misses (1983) and appeared together in the film Mrs. Caldicot's Cabbage War (d. Ian Sharp, 2002).

However, Pauline Collins' big claim to international fame came in Willy Russell's comedy of bored housewife Shirley Valentine, who has a holiday romance in Greece. First, she won a Tony Award for Best Actress for the Broadway stage version in 1989 and then reprised her role to acclaimed effect in the film, gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and bagging a Best Actress BAFTA award in 1990.

Part of Pauline Collins' appeal is a refusal to be typecast, as her subsequent film roles showed. In City of Joy (France/UK, d. Roland Joffé, 1991), she plays a feisty Irish-American nun in Calcutta, My Mother's Courage (Germany/UK/Austria, d. Michael Verhoeven, 1995) a Jewish mother in Nazi-held Budapest of 1944, and Paradise Road (US/Australia, 1997) an Australian missionary held captive with other women by the Japanese in the Second World War.

In 1998 she took the lead role as Harriet Smith, the new British ambassador in Ireland, in the 13 part BBC series The Ambassador. She also complemented an all-star cast as Miss Flyte in the BBC adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House (2005).

Eddie Dyja

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

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

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