Sylvia Syms, prolific British actor, dies aged 89

<span>Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Sylvia Syms, the versatile British actor who appeared in a string of films including Ice Cold in Alex, Expresso Bongo, The Tamarind Seed and The Queen, has died aged 89.

According to a statement given to PA by her family, Syms “died peacefully” on Friday at Denville Hall, a care home in London for those in the entertainment industry. Her children, Beatie and Ben Edney, said: “Our mother, Sylvia, died peacefully this morning. She has lived an amazing life and gave us joy and laughter right up to the end. Just yesterday we were reminiscing together about all our adventures. She will be so very missed.”

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Born in 1934, Syms studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and made an instant impact with her first major film role, as a delinquent in My Teenage Daughter (1956). She followed it up the next year with a key supporting role in the early kitchen-sink drama Woman in a Dressing Gown, for which she was nominated for the Bafta for best British actress. More prominent roles followed: she played a nurse in the classic war thriller Ice Cold in Alex (1958), wannabe singer Maisie in Expresso Bongo (1959), and the wife of Dirk Bogarde’s closeted barrister in Victim (1961).

Sylvia Syms receiving her OBE from the Queen in 2007
Sylvia Syms receiving her OBE from the Queen in 2007. Photograph: Martin Keene/PA

The 1960s saw her turn to comedy: in 1963 she played Tony Hancock’s aspirational wife Delia in The Punch and Judy Man; in 1965 she starred in the Carry On-esque caper The Big Job, alongside Sid James, Dick Emery and Joan Sims. Syms was nominated for another Bafta, for best supporting actress, for her role as a diplomat’s wife in the 1974 romantic thriller The Tamarind Seed, starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif.

Syms continued to work on TV in the 70s and 80s, playing opposite Leslie Crowther in My Good Woman and taking guest roles in Miss Marple, Doctor Who and a TV series about Nancy Astor. In 1991 she played the title role in the ITV film Thatcher: The Final Days, a part she took to with enthusiasm, and later played the Queen Mother opposite Helen Mirren in the 2006 Oscar-winner The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears. Her most recent role was in the 2019 TV series Gentleman Jack.

Syms was married to Alan Edney from 1956 to 1989; she is survived by two children, one of whom, Beatie Edney, is also an actor.