Sylvia Syms

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Sylvia May Laura Syms, OBE
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Sylvia May Laura Syms OBE (6 January 1934 – 27 January 2023) was an English actress, best known for her roles in the films Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), Ice Cold in Alex (1958), No Trees in the Street (1959), Victim (1961), and The Tamarind Seed (1974).

She continued to act until 2019 and portrayed the Queen Mother in the 2006 movie The Queen.

Personal life

Syms was born in Woolwich, London, England, the daughter of Daisy (née Hale) and Edwin Syms, a trade unionist and civil servant. She grew up in Well Hall, Eltham and was educated at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, on whose council she later served. Her daughter Beatie Edney is also an actress, and she was the aunt of musicians Nick and Alex Webb.

Syms was a long term supporter of the Stars Foundation for Cerebral Palsy, serving on their board as an officer for sixteen years until 2020, with singer Vera Lynn.

In the last year of her life, Syms lived at Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors in London. She died there on 27 January 2023, at the age of 89.


In her second film, My Teenage Daughter (1956), she played Anna Neagle's troubled daughter. In 1958, she starred in the film Ice Cold in Alex (alongside John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews); that same year she appeared in the English Civil War film, The Moonraker. In 1959 she played in Expresso Bongo with Cliff Richard. She played opposite Dirk Bogarde in 1961 in the film Victim, as the wife of a barrister who is a closet homosexual. The film was thought to have broadened the debate which led to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private. In 1962, she played opposite Patrick McGoohan as the wife of a condemned man in The Quare Fellow and in 1963 she played Tony Hancock's wife in The Punch and Judy Man. The film also featured her nephew, Nick Webb. Other comedies followed, such as The Big Job (1965) with Hancock's former co-star Sid James and Bat Out of Hell (1967), but it was for drama that she won acclaim, including The Tamarind Seed (1974) with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif, for which she was nominated for a British Film Academy award. My Good Woman in 1972 was a husband-and-wife television comedy series which ran until 1974 with Leslie Crowther. At the same time, she was one of two team captains on the BBC's weekly Movie Quiz, hosted by Robin Ray. In 1975, she was the head of the jury at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival. In 1989, Syms appeared in the Doctor Who story "Ghost Light".

Shortly after the end of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's period of office in 1990, Syms portrayed her in Thatcher: The Final Days (1991), a Granada television film for ITV, which dramatises the events surrounding her removal from power. She later recreated the role on the stage. From 2000 to 2003, she played Marion Riley in the ITV comedy-drama series At Home with the Braithwaites and in 2002, she featured in the serial The Jury and contributed "Sonnet 142" to the compilation album When Love Speaks. For Stephen Frears' The Queen (2006), she was cast in the role of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother opposite Dame Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. She also appeared in The Poseidon Adventure (2005), an American TV film that was a loose remake of the 1972 feature film. She also took up producing and directing.

In 2009, she appeared in the film Is Anybody There? alongside Michael Caine and Anne-Marie Duff and in the ITV1 drama series Collision. In 2010, she guest-starred as a patient in BBC One's drama series Casualty, having played a different character in an episode from 2007. Syms also appeared as another character in Casualty's sister series Holby City in 2003. From 2007 to 2010, Syms had a recurring role in BBC One's EastEnders, playing dressmaker Olive Woodhouse. 

In 2010, Syms took part in the BBC's The Young Ones, a series in which six celebrities in their seventies and eighties attempted to overcome some of the problems of ageing by harking back to the 1970s. From 2013 to 2019, Syms was the narrator of Talking Pictures, which aired on BBC Two.



  • 1955 The Driving Seat as Sylvia Bayton
  • 1956 My Teenage Daughter as Janet Carr
  • 1957 The Birthday Present as Jean Scott
             Woman in a Dressing Gown as Georgie
             No Time for Tears as Nurse Margaret Collier
  • 1958 The Moonraker as Anne Wyndham
             Ice Cold in Alex as Sister Diana Murdoch
             Bachelor of Hearts as Ann Wainwright
  • 1959 No Trees in the Street as Hetty
             Ferry to Hong Kong as Liz Ferrers
             Expresso Bongo as Maisie King
  • 1960 Conspiracy of Hearts as Sister Mitya
             The World of Suzie Wong as Kay O'Neill
  • 1961 Amazons of Rome as Clelia
             Flame in the Streets as Kathie Palmer
             Victim as Laura Farr
  • 1962 The Quare Fellow as Kathleen
  • 1963 The Punch and Judy Man as Delia Pinner
             The World Ten Times Over as Billa
  • 1964 East of Sudan as Miss Woodville
  • 1965 Operation Crossbow as Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith
             The Big Job as Myrtle Robbins
  • 1967 Danger Route as Barbara Canning
  • 1968 Hostile Witness as Sheila Larkin
             The Fiction Makers as Amos Klein
  • 1969 Run Wild, Run Free as Mrs. Ransome
             The Desperados as Laura
  • 1972 Asylum as Ruth
  • 1974 The Tamarind Seed as Margaret Stephenson
  • 1978 Give Us Tomorrow as Wendy Hammond
  • 1980 There Goes the Bride as Ursula Westerby
  • 1986 Absolute Beginners as Cynthia Eve
  • 1988 A Chorus of Disapproval as Rebecca Huntley-Pike
  • 1989 Shirley Valentine as Headmistress
  • 1992 Shining Through as Linda's Mother
  • 1993 Dirty Weekend as Mrs. Crosby
  • 1994 Staggered as Margaret
  • 1997 The House of Angelo as Mrs. Harvey-Brown
  • 1998 Food of Love as Alice Angelo
  • 2002 Deep Down as Vera
  • 2003 What a Girl Wants as Princess Charlotte
             I'll Sleep When I'm Dead as Mrs. Bartz
  • 2004 Mavis and the Mermaid as Gioga
  • 2006 The Queen as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
  • 2008 Is Anybody There? as Lilian
  • 2009 Bunny and the Bull as Hotelier
  • 2012 Booked Out as Mrs. Nicholls
             Run for Your Wife as Hospital Patient
  • 2018 Together as Rosemary
  • 1955 Life with the Lyons (13 July 1955)
  • 1962 It's a Square World (11 August 1962)
  • 1964 The Saint ("The Noble Sportsman") as Lady Anne Yearley
  • 1964 The Saint ("Jeannine") as Jeannine Roger
  • 1965 Danger Man ("It's Up to the Lady") as Paula Glover
  • 1965 The Human Jungle ("Success Machine") as Margo
  • 1965 The Baron ("Farewell to Yesterday") as Cathy Dorne
  • 1966 Bat out of Hell as Diana
  • 1968 The Saint ("The Fiction Makers") as Amos Klein
  • 1969 Strange Report
  • 1971 Paul Temple
  • 1972 The Adventurer
  • 1972–1974 My Good Woman
  • 1982 Nancy Astor as Nanaire Langhorne
  • 1982 It's Your Move (TV Short) as The Wife
  • 1985 Miss Marple: A Murder is Announced as Mrs Easterbrook
  • 1989 Doctor Who (Ghost Light) as Mrs Pritchard
  • 1991 Thatcher: The Final Days as Margaret Thatcher
  • 1991 Countdown - guest in Dictionary Corner
  • 1993 Mulberry as Springtime
  • 1993-1995 Peak Practice as Isabel de Gines
  • 1995 The Glass Virgin as Lady Constance
  • 1998 Heartbeat ("Where There's a Will") as Peggy Tatton
  • 2000–2003 At Home with the Braithwaites as Marion Riley
  • 2002 Doctor Zhivago as Madame Fleury
  • 2005 The Poseidon Adventure as Belle Rosen
  • 2006 Dalziel and Pascoe episode: "The Cave Woman" as Maisie Barron
  • 2007, 2009, 2010 EastEnders as Olive Woodhouse
  • 2008 New Tricks ("Communal Living") as Beatrice
  • 2009 Blue Murder
  • 2009 Agatha Christie's Marple ("Murder Is Easy") as Lavinia Enid Pinkerton
  • 2010 Doctors
  • 2011 Case Histories
  • 2011 Rev. as Joan
  • 2014 Playhouse Presents as Alice
  • 2019 Gentleman Jack as Mrs Rawson


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