Sad news to hear that Peggy Cummins passed away on December 29th, at the age of 92.
Born in Prestatyn, North Wales on 18th December, 1925 to Irish parents visiting the area, Cummins grew up in Dublin and made her stage debut at the Gate Theatre as the juvenile lead on her 13th birthday. On the strength of this, she became a child actress and was cast in her first movie, Dr O'Dowd in 1940. Five years later she was brought to Hollywood by Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, and starred in several films, the most notable being the 1949 noir Gun Crazy, in which she played the trigger-happy moll of John Dall's bank robber. She returned to England the following year and continued her career making such classic films as Night of the Demon and Hell Drivers, as well comedies like Dentist In The Chair and Carry On Admiral. She retired from screen acting in the early 1960s following the birth of her second child and daughter. In the 1970s she became highly active in charity work, fundraising and chairing Stars Organisation for Spastics (SOS) which later became known as Stars Action for Cerebral Palsy. Cummins remained a trustee of the charity until her death.
31st December saw the passing of another Irish actress, Doreen Keogh, at the age of 91.
The Dublin born Keogh became a household name in the 1960s for her role as Concepta Riley, the first barmaid of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street. She made her debut in the soap on the fifth episode in 1960 and stayed there until 1964, returning in 1967 and again for another stint from 1972 to 1975. Away from the cobbles, Keogh's other famous roles included Mary Carroll, the twinkly Irish neighbour of The Royle Family, and Mrs Dineen in Father Ted. She also appeared in Ballykissangel and was an original cast member in Irish soap opera Fair City from the late '80s to the early '90s.
2017 also saw some notable passings that I have only just heard about and I'd like to take a moment to list some of them here.
Born Sandra Eileen Anne Smith in 1945, Suzanna Leigh changed her name on the advice of her godmother, who was none other than Vivien Leigh. She started out as a child actress and appeared in many classic ITC productions of the 1960s, such as The Saint and The Persuaders! She was perhaps best known though for her role as Elvis Presley's love interest in the King's 1966 film Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Other film roles included Boeing Boeing, The Pleasure Seekers and the horror films The Deadly Bees, The Lost Continent, Lust For a Vampire and The Fiend. Leigh died in Florida on the 11th December following a year long battle with liver cancer. RIP.
It's easier to say what Heathcote Williams wasn't than it is to say what he was, but here goes: actor, playwright and dramatist, songwriter, poet, journalist and editor, magician, artist and sculptor, political activist and naturalist, Williams was a fascinating figure. Born in Helsby, Cheshire in 1941, the old Etonian wrote his first book The Speakers, an account of the lives of public orators at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, when he was just 22 years old. His first full length play AC/DC made its debut at London's Royal Court in 1970. Around this time he was taught fire eating by Bob Hoskins and was keen to show off this new talent to his then girlfriend, Jean Shrimpton. Unfortunately, he set himself on fire on her doorstep! Other stunts include a series of agit graffiti both in Notting Hill and on Buckingham Palace - a protest against the Queen's stance towards Malcolm X. This activism continued in the '70s with Williams at the fore of the squatting movement, running the 'squatting agency' Ruff Tuff Cream Puff and, with a couple of hundred other squatters, establishing the free state of Frestonia in the aforementioned Notting Hill in 1977, an independence it enjoyed for a decade exasperating the authorities, with Williams serving as UK ambassador. He wrote the lyrics for Why D'Ya Do It? a track that appeared on Marianne Faithfull's 1979 album Broken English, which proved so sexually explicit that the female staff at EMI's production line staged a walk out. That same year Williams proved a memorable Prospero in Derek Jarman's big screen adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and a career in film continued into the 00s with appearances in Stormy Monday, Wish You Were Here, Orlando, The Browning Version, The Steal, Blue Juice, Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis, Basic Instinct 2 and City of Ember. He even appeared in the Friends episode, The One with Ross' Wedding. He discovered a new species of honey producing wasp in the Amazon, which inspired him to write the poetry anthology Forbidden Fruit. Other book-length volumes of poetry Williams penned were Autogedden, Falling For a Dolphin, and 1988's Whale Nation, an argument calling for the worldwide ban on whaling. Some of his last works include American Porn, a critique on Trump and the US political establishment published on Trump's inauguration, and The Blond Beast of Brexit, a similar attack on Boris Johnson. He died of kidney failure on July 1st in Oxford, following a long stay in hospital with a chest infection. RIP.
Born in Rome, 1950 to an Italian mother and an English father (a former British soldier who met his wife at the close of the war and elected to set up home there) Ray Lovelock was a stalwart of Italian genre cinema, appearing in the likes of celebrated cult classics such as The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, and Oasis of Fear. He also appeared in Fiddler on the Roof and The Cassandra Crossing. He died in Trevi, on November 10th at the age of 67. RIP.
Trevor Byfield, aka Ziggy Byfield,
aka Zig Byfield
Byfield first came to prominence in the early '70s using the name Ziggy as a star of musical theatre. He took over from Oliver Tobias in Hair on London's West End in 1970 and was an original cast member of Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1973, playing the dual role of Eddie and Dr Everett Scott initially, before undertaking the lead role of Dr Frank N Furter. Born in Redditch to parents serving in the Salvation Army, one cannot help but wonder what they made of these taboo breaking ventures. In 1980 he was the lead singer of Ziggy Byfield and the Blackheart Band, releasing an album entitled Running, before penning the 1986 rock opera Virgin Warrior, based on the life of Joan of Arc. But it was as a character actor that Byfield established himself, specialising in craggy faced, rasping villains and diamond geezers. He memorably played a nemesis of Lewis Collins' Bodie, gleeful at the taciturn hardman's uncharacteristic seeming cowardice in an episode of The Professionals, starred as a former pop star in the sitcom So Haunt Me from 1992 to '93, and appeared in The Bill in 14 different roles from 1989 to 2008. He's perhaps best remembered for playing the hapless manager of the Starlight Rooms in the classic Only Fools and Horses episode which saw Del hire Tony Ferrino (Philip Pope) a singer with the unfortunate problem of being unable to pronounce his 'R's'. A tractor accident on the set of Heartbeat in 2009 led to a broken hip, ribs and a collapsed lung, events he never fully recovered from. He died of pneumonia on October 11th at the age of 73. RIP.
Christopher Morahan CBE
Veteran British director Christopher Morahan initially commenced his career in the theatre, working as a stage manager on Orson Welles' tour of Othello. It was not a happy experience; Morahan and Welles clashed and he found the theatre dispiriting. He subsequently moved into television and soon made his mark on the medium, helming the legendary Wednesday Play, Fable in 1965, which he followed up the following year with Talking to a Stranger, starring a young Judi Dench. From 1972 to 1976, Morahan served as Head of Plays at the BBC, responsible for the commissioning of Play for Today and Play of the Month. This was a purple patch for stand alone plays on TV and Morahan, as the man who gave the green light to some of the nation's best writers and directors, must take much of the credit for that. He famously stood up to MI5 appointing blacklisted Roy Battersby to direct Colin Welland's play Leeds United! After leaving the BBC, Morahan served as Deputy Director at the National Theatre in 1977 and co-directed and produced ITV's prestigious and award winning period drama The Jewel in the Crown in 1984. He also directed the films Diamonds For Breakfast (1968), All Neat In Black Stockings (1969), Clockwise (1986), Paper Mask (1990) and Element of Doubt (1996). He was married to Juliet Bravo actress Anna Carteret and fathered five children, one of whom is the actress Hattie Morahan. He died on the 7th April at the age of 87. RIP.