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Rachel Roberts (actress)

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Title: Rachel Roberts (actress)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Foul Play (1978 film), Rex Harrison, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, This Sporting Life, Julie Walters
Collection: 1927 Births, 1980 Deaths, 20Th-Century Welsh Actresses, Actresses Who Committed Suicide, Alumni of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Alumni of the University of Wales, Best British Actress Bafta Award Winners, Best Supporting Actress Bafta Award Winners, Burials at Chapel of the Pines Crematory, Drama Desk Award Winners, Drug-Related Suicides in California, Female Suicides, Former Baptists, People from Llanelli, Welsh Expatriates in the United States, Welsh Film Actresses, Welsh Stage Actresses, Welsh Television Actresses
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Rachel Roberts (actress)

Rachel Roberts
Roberts in 1976
Born (1927-09-20)20 September 1927
Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Died 26 November 1980(1980-11-26) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Suicide
Years active 1953–1980
Spouse(s) Alan Dobie (1955-1961)
Rex Harrison (1962-1971)

Rachel Roberts (20 September 1927 – 26 November 1980) was a Welsh actress noted for her fervour and passion. Roberts is best remembered for her forthright screen performances as the older mistress of the central male character in two key films of the 1960s, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life. For This Sporting Life, Roberts was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress. In Australia, she is remembered for her performance as Mrs Appleyard in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Personal life and suicide 2
  • Filmography 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life and career

Roberts was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales. After a Baptist upbringing (against which she rebelled), followed by study at the University of Wales and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she began working with a repertory company in Swansea in 1950.[1] She made her film debut in the Welsh-set comedy Valley of Song (1953), directed by Gilbert Gunn.

Her portrayal of Brenda in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) won her a British Academy Film Award.[2] Lindsay Anderson cast her as the suffering Mrs Hammond in This Sporting Life (1963), earning another BAFTA and an Oscar nomination. Both films were significant examples of the British New Wave of film-making.

In theatre, she performed at the Royal Court and played the title role as the life-enhancing tart in Lionel Bart's musical Maggie May (1964). In films, she continued to play women with lusty appetites as in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973), although the haunting Australian-made Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), directed by Peter Weir, provided her with a different kind of role, as the authoritarian head teacher of a Victorian girls' school.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, she appeared in supporting roles in several American films such as Foul Play (1978). Her final British film was Yanks (1979), directed by John Schlesinger, for which she received a Supporting Actress BAFTA.[2]

In 1979, Roberts co-starred with Jill Bennett in the London Weekend Television production of Alan Bennett's The Old Crowd, directed by Lindsay Anderson and Stephen Frears.

Personal life and suicide

She married Los Angeles.

It was reported that her death was a result of swallowing lye, alkali, or another unidentified caustic substance, as well as barbiturates and alcohol, as detailed in her posthumously published journals. The corrosive effect of the poisonous agent was an immediate cause of death. Her gardener found her body on her kitchen floor, lying amidst shards of glass; she had fallen through a decorative glass divide between two rooms.[3] Her cause of death was initially reported as cardiac arrest.[3] The coroner documented the cause of death as "swallowing a caustic substance" and, later, "acute barbiturate intoxication."[3][4] It was ruled a suicide.[4] She was 53 years old.

She was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.[5] Her journals became the basis for No Bells on Sunday: The Memoirs of Rachel Roberts (1984).

In 1992, Roberts' ashes, along with those of her very good friend Jill Bennett (who committed suicide in 1990), were scattered on the River Thames in London by director Lindsay Anderson during a boat trip, with several of the two actresses' professional colleagues and friends aboard; musician Alan Price sang "Is That All There Is?" The event was included as a segment in Anderson's BBC documentary film, also titled Is That All There Is?


Year Film Role Notes
1953 Valley of Song Bessie Lewis Alternative title: Men Are Children Twice
The Limping Man Barmaid
1954 The Weak and the Wicked Pat, pregnant inmate Alternative title: Young and Willing
The Crowded Day Maggie Alternative title: Shop Spoiled
1957 The Good Companions Elsie and Effie Longstaff
1959 Our Man in Havana Prostitute Uncredited
1960 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Brenda BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1961 Girl on Approval Anne Howland
1963 This Sporting Life Mrs. Margaret Hammond BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1968 A Flea in Her Ear Suzanne de Castilian
1969 The Reckoning Joyce Eglington Alternative title: A Matter of Honour
1971 Doctors' Wives Della Randolph
Wild Rovers Maybell (town madam)
1973 Alpha Beta Nora Elliot
The Belstone Fox Cathie Smith Alternative title: Free Spirit
O Lucky Man! Gloria Rowe/Madame Paillard/Mrs. Richards
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Hildegarde Schmidt
1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock Mrs. Appleyard
1978 Foul Play Delia Darrow/Gerda Casswell
1979 Yanks Mrs. Clarrie Moreton BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
When a Stranger Calls Dr. Monk
1981 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen Mrs. Dangers
Year Title Role Notes
1958–1959 Our Mutual Friend Lizzie Hexam Miniseries
1960 On Trial Mrs. Rogerson 1 episode
BBC Sunday-Night Play Mrs. Holyoake 1 episode
1963 The Eleventh Hour Mary Newell 1 episode
1966 ITV Play of the Week Lady Hamilton 1 episode
Out of the Unknown Anna Preston 1 episode
Blithe Spirit Ruth Condomine US TV movie
1969 Destiny of a Spy Megan Thomas US TV movie
Happy Ever After 1 episode
1970 Night Gallery Rebecca Brigham 1 episode
1971 Marcus Welby, M.D. Dr. Victoria Thorson 1 episode
1973 Baffled! Mrs. Farraday Television movie
1974 Graceless Go I UK TV drama
Play for Today Olwen 1 episode
Great Expectations Mrs. Gargery Television movie
1976–1978 The Tony Randall Show Mrs. Bonnie McClellen 32 episodes
1977 A Circle of Children Helga USA TV movie
1979 Family Angela Brown 1 episode
Six Plays by Alan Bennett: The Old Crowd Pauline British Videotaped TV drama
3 by Cheever: The Sorrows of Gin Mrs. Henlein Television movie
1980 The Hostage Tower Sonya Television movie
1982 The Wall Regina Kowalska Television movie


  1. ^ Halliwell's Who's Who on the Movies. John Walker (ed); HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. (2003) pg398 ISBN 0-06-053423-0
  2. ^ a b The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008) p. 769 ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6
  3. ^ a b c Upton, Julian (2004). Fallen Stars. Headpress.  
  4. ^ a b "Rachel Roberts Ruled a Suicide".  
  5. ^ Edwards, Robert (2001-10-19). "Rachel Roberts (1927–1980)".  

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