Anne Stallybrass: Why
I Chose Death For Mrs Onedin
At the start of the last
television series of “The Onedin Line” actress Anne Stallybrass had to
make the most difficult decision of her career: whether to have a rest
“I could see that the series
might go on for years and I did not want to become typecast,” she
explained in her dressing room at the theatre.
“Television makes you very
well-known, much more so than a play in the West End, but there is an
awful danger of the public getting bored and saying: ‘Oh no. Not her
again!’ There comes a time when you have got to take a stand like this
and do something different.”
So Anne announced that she did
not want to make any further instalments. “I was told that if I just
wanted a rest, I could be written out of the script for a while, but
that if I was absolutely sure that I wanted to leave, they would kill me
off. When that happens you cannot be tempted to return.”
As the vivacious Miss
Stallybrass wanted to go back to the live theatre, she chose death. This
irrevocable step caused great dismay among many of her fans, who
considered her sensitive portrayal of Anne Onedin to be the focal point
of the series.
“I was very surprised and
pleased by the reaction,” she admitted, sipping coffee from a green
plastic mug. “The strange thing is that people keep writing to me saying
how sorry they were that I died at the end of the last episode, but add
that they expect I’ll be coming back.
“On the one hand they
completely believe in the story. Yet, on the other, they think I can be
There were times during this
successful series that Anne, who is scared of the water, thought she
might be risking her neck for real.
“We spent the majority of the
time filming at sea and did at least 50 trips on the Charlotte Rhodes,”
she said. “There were some very rough days with force seven gales, and a
number of frightening moments.
“I had a dread of falling
overboard. The costumes were so weighty that I was convinced I would
drown, but everyone assured me that with all those petticoats, I’d have
“At least they kept me warm,
but I took off the whalebone corset because it was so terribly
uncomfortable when I walked up and down the deck. The clothes must have
been hell for women in those days!”
Although the cast survived on
sea-sickness pills in the early days of “The Onedin Line”, they soon
became immune to the pitch and roll of the old sailing ship.
“Actors who were doing only one
episode would join us on a lovely sunny morning and, as we sailed out of
the harbour, would say: ‘Isn’t this wonderful. What a marvellous life,’”
“Two hours later, when it was
getting choppy, they would be terribly ill in their false beards, and be
desperate to get back to dry land.”
Anne is much prettier and more
petite than she appears on the Box, with her smiling brown eyes*, soft
complexion and casually-combed dark hair.
She has won this year’s TV
Times Actress of the Year award for her performance as Anna Strauss in
“The Strauss Family”, and her many television performances include
leading roles in “Love on the Dole”, “Thursday’s Child”, “Wuthering
Heights” and “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” in which she played Jane
After gaining a teaching
diploma in English, speech and drama at the Royal Academy of Music (“My
father thought a qualification would give me security”), Essex-born Anne
spent four years in repertory, starting out as an assistant stage
manager in Folkestone.
Her first television appearance
was in one episode of “Emergency Ward 10”, and she has been in two
films. “They were very minor roles,” she said with obvious regret. “I
had a non-speaking part in ‘David Copperfield’, and played a pregnant
peasant in ‘Countess Dracula’. Not very memorable roles.”
Talented and articulate, she
has a strong sense of humour - a valuable asset in acting which, she
describes with an impish grin, as “a terrible life”.
It has always been her ambition
to play on the West End stage and she hopes that “Glasstown”, based on
the lives of the Bronte family, will go to a London theatre at the end
of its so far successful provincial run.
She has one other goal - to get
out of crinolines for a while. “Having done so many parts in wigs and
costumes, I would love to play a modern woman of my own age,” confided
Anne, who was looking thoroughly modern in brown flared trousers, a
patterned blouse and a cream ribbed knit tank top.
“I have had enough of
long-suffering terribly nice ladies. One does get bored with being such
a good person all the time. It would be lovely to play a loud brassy
barmaid instead of all these repressed wives.”
As for widower Captain Onedin,
alias actor Peter Gilmore, Anne tells me that in the next series of “The
Onedin Line” he will be consoling himself with two new girl friends.
Isn’t that just like a man.
© Betty Hughes
South Wales Evening Post
11 May 1973
Anne actually has grey eyes