British Dames

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1.
Sybil Thorndike
This distinguished theatrical tragedienne will be remembered forever if only for the fact George Bernard Shaw wrote his classic "Saint Joan" work specifically for her. Her over six-decade career allowed for a gallery of sterling, masterful portrayals, both classic and contemporary, performing all over the world including Australia...
 
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Ellen Terry
Actress, Potter's Clay
Legendary British stage actress who made a few silent film appearances. The daughter of strolling players, she was born in Coventry into an almost exclusively theatrical family. Her grandparents were actors, as were all six of her siblings. But only her son, Edward Gordon Craig, would in any way approach her fame in the theatre...
 
3.
Edith Evans
Edith Evans was the greatest actress on the English stage in the 20th century, treading the boards for over half-a-century. She made her professional stage debut in 1912 and excelled in both classic and modern roles in the West End of London and on Broadway, as well as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon and the Old Vic...
 
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Gladys Cooper
Actress, My Fair Lady
Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour Hicks to tour with his company in "Bluebell in Fairyland"...
 
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Agatha Christie
Agatha was born as "Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller" in 1890 to Frederick Alvah Miller and Clara Boehmer. Agatha was of American and British descent, her father being American and her mother British. Her father was a relatively affluent stockbroker. Agatha received home education from early childhood to when she turned 12-years-old in 1902...
 
8.
Judi Dench
Actress, Skyfall
Judi Dench was born in York, England, to Eleanora Olive (Jones), who was from Dublin, Ireland, and Reginald Arthur Dench, a doctor from Dorset, England. She attended Mount School in York, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She has performed with Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre...
 
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Maggie Smith
One of the world's most famous and distinguished actresses, Dame Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith in Essex. Her Scottish mother, Margaret (Hutton), worked as a secretary, and her English father, Nathaniel Smith, was a teacher at Oxford University. Smith has been married twice: to actor Robert Stephens and to playwright Beverley Cross...
 
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Joan Plowright
Dame Joan Ann Plowright, the Baroness Olivier, is one of the most distinguished actors of her generation. She may be best remembered as the third wife and widow of Laurence Olivier, generally considered the greatest anglophone actor of the 20th Century, but she had a distinguished career of her own on stage and screen spanning six decades...
 
14.
Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg is an English actress. She has had an extensive career in film and theatre, including playing the title role in Medea, both in London and New York, for which she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Rigg made her professional stage debut in 1957 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle...
 
15.
Helen Mirren
Actress, The Queen
Dame Helen Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London. Her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (Rogers), was from a working-class English family, and her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, was a Russian-born civil servant, from Kuryanovo, whose own father was a diplomat. Mirren attended St...
 
16.
Thora Hird
In a career than spanned eight decades, Thora Hird was widely-regarded as one of Britain's finest character actresses. She made over 100 films as well as starring in a host of TV comedies and, as a straight actress, excelled in the works of playwright Alan Bennett. Even in her 90s, she was working almost daily...
 
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Margot Fonteyn
Peggy Hookham was always destined to be a dancer. Her Brazilian/Irish mother groomed her for stardom from almost as soon as she could walk. When she was aged 8 her father's work took the family to Shanghai. Peggy and her Mother returned to the UK when she was 14. Her father stayed in Shanghai and was interned by the Japanese for the duration of the war...
 
20.
Ninette de Valois
Miscellaneous Crew, Checkmate
It has been rightly suggested that Dame Ninette de Valois is one of the most important women of the century. It was due to her drive and ambition that the modern English ballet was created. In that respect she changed history single handed. Born in Ireland, young Ninette (her stage name was her mother's suggestion) came to England aged 7 to study dance...
 
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Margaret Price
Actress, Aida
 
29.
Elizabeth Taylor
Actress, Giant
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was considered one of the last, if not the last, major star to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. She was known internationally for her beauty, especially for her violet eyes, with which she captured audiences early on in her youth and kept the world hooked on with since...
 
30.
Julie Andrews
Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on October 1, 1935, in England. Her mother, Barbara Ward (Morris), and stepfather, both vaudeville performers, discovered her freakish but undeniably lovely four-octave singing voice and immediately got her a singing career. She performed in music halls throughout her childhood and teens...
 
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Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, and raised in the nearby working class neighborhood of Splott. Her mother was originally from Yorkshire, and her father was a Nigerian seaman who left the family when she was less than two. She later helped to support her family by working in an Enamelware factory...
 
37.
Peggy Ashcroft
Actress, The 39 Steps
Academy Award-winning, legendary English actress - who maintained her status in the British acting elite for decades. Made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. Almost always on stage, she appeared rarely in film, her first being The Wandering Jew. On stage she was cast in many a Shakespearean role...
 
38.
Judith Anderson
Actress, Rebecca
Dame Judith Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson on February 10, 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia. She began her acting career in Australia before moving to New York in 1918. There she established herself as one of the greatest theatrical actresses and was a major star on Broadway throughout the 1930s...
 
39.
Eileen Atkins
Actress, Cold Mountain
Eileen Atkins was born in a Salvation Army Women's Hostel in north London. Her father was a gas meter reader; her mother, a seamstress and barmaid. A drama teacher taught her how to drop her Cockney accent, and she studied Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. Her breakthrough role in "The Killing of Sister George" took her to Broadway.
 
40.
Wendy Hiller
Wendy Hiller, daughter of Frank and Marie Hiller, was born on 15th August 1912 in Bramhall, near Stockport, Cheshire, England. She was educated at Winceby House School, Bexhill then moved on to Manchester Repertory Theatre. She appeared on stage in Sir John Barry's tour of Evensong, then as Sally Hardcastle in Love on the Dole...
 
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Janet Suzman
This alert and classy Britisher seemed poised for Hollywood stardom in the early 1970s. Although it wasn't meant to be, Janet Suzman has remained one of the more respected classical stage actresses of her time. Born in 1939, she was raised in a staunch, liberal family household in South Africa at a time when the country was confronted with the horrors of apartheid...
 
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Margaret Rutherford
One is always at pains to locate a reference to Margaret Rutherford which does not characterize her as either jut-chinned, eccentric or both. But such, taken together, made for the charm of the woman. The combination of those most mundane of attributes has led some to suggest that she was made for the role of Agatha Christie's indomitable sleuth...
 
47.
Dorothy Tutin
Actress, Cromwell
Dame Dorothy Tutin's esteemed company of peers included other remarkable dames, including Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Unlike these others, Dorothy had limited screen time over the years and would develop the respect but not the stardom afforded the other two outside the realm of the theatre...
 
48.
Dame May Whitty
Born Mary Whitty on June 19, 1865 to a Liverpool newspaper editor and his wife, she became known as May Whitty to the world. She first stepped on the London stage in 1882. She worked as an understudy at the St. James Theatre, and then, began playing leading roles when she joined a traveling stock company...
 
49.
Flora Robson
Flora Robson knew she was no beauty, but her wise and sympathetic face would become a familiar - indeed, shining - ornament of the 1930s and 40s silver screen. Though not sure of acting as a career in her early years, she nevertheless appeared on stage for the first time at 5 years old. She was educated...
 
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Myra Hess
Miscellaneous Crew, A Diary for Timothy
 
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Evelyn Glennie
Dame Evelyn Glennie, who was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2007 New Year Honours List, is one of the best-known figures in contemporary British music. An extraordinarily virtuosic percussionist as well as an engaging personality, she has long been subject to considerable media interest...
 
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Kiri Te Kanawa
Kiri Te Kanawa studied voice in New Zealand, where she was a popular singer as a teenager. She enrolled in the London Opera Center in 1966, and had her Covent Garden debut 1 December 1971. Although her acting ability is highly regarded on the operatic stage, she has made few theatrical films.
 
63.
Marie Rambert
Actress, The Red Shoes
A pioneer figure in British ballet since the 1920's. Marie was recruited by Diaghilev to assist Nijinsky with his choreography for The Rite of Spring. She settled in London and formed her own company, The Ballet Rambert. Based at the tiny Mercury Theatre she managed to create many notable ballets and to bring on some notable dancers and choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton...
“ Plot: Rose, Cloister Walk B. ” - Syl
 
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Gracie Fields
Soundtrack, Chicken Run
A comedienne and singer in the British Music Halls, she was the top box-office draw and the highest paid actress in Britain in the 1930's. Her Northern, working-class girl character was a favourite during the inter-war years.
 
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Anna Neagle
Actress, Odette
Dame Anna Neagle, the endearingly popular British star during WWII, was born Florence Marjorie Robertson and began dancing as a professional in chorus lines at age 14. She starred with actor Jack Buchanan in the musical "Stand Up and Sing" in the West End and earned her big break when producer/director Herbert Wilcox...
 
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Daphne Du Maurier
Writer, The Birds
Daphne Du Maurier was one of the most popular English writers of the 20th Century, when middle-brow genre fiction was accorded a higher level of respect in a more broadly literate age. For her services to literature, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1969, the female equivalent of a knighthood...
 
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Peggy Van Praagh
Miscellaneous Crew, Coppélia
 
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