She was an altogether exceptional woman.
Of Welsh origin, Lynette Davies was an apparition of captivating beauty; tall, blond, elegant, and with a speaking voice to die for. She was generous, and her fondness of people, coupled with curiosity, intelligence and a vibrant vivacity, made her an easy person to engage in conversation and to be with. She was an unusually gifted actress, and as a friend and colleague in the business I adored her. Our lives were interwoven at different junctures across all of four decades when Lynette’s life and career abruptly ended.
The following are the reminiscing and recollections of an old man and a tribute to a friend I will never forget. It is also a testimonial to my lifelong affection and respect for the theatre and the impassioned people embodying its art and crafts.
The first time I met Lynette was during a rehearsal of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma sometime in the late autumn of 1966. Watching her find her way with the title role, I was mesmerised.
We were both in our teens and students at ArtsEd in London. Commonly called by its formal name in those days, London School of Arts Educational, ArtsEd was situated in the very heart of Central London, conveniently close to Hyde Park.
I say conveniently because every now and then when we didn’t fancy more fatty chips and stodgy refectory puddings and we had a few pennies to spare, we’d dash out after school, buy a couple of apples from a fruit stall, along with a good lump of mature cheddar cheese and a bar of KitKat each at a nearby corner shop. Then we’d wander off into the park, finding a friendly bench by the water or settling down in the grass to enjoy our modest picnic. We’d natter about all and sundry, always in complete agreement a Cox’s tasted best with cheddar, albeit a Granny Smith would do but really was stretching it.
My cohort was due to do a production of Dark of the Moon, a play by Howard Richardson and William Berney. Despite having caused considerable controversy when it was first produced on Broadway in 1945, the play was later selected to be the maiden production of the now acclaimed New York Circle in the Square Theatre in 1951.
I had been cast in the role as Hank Guder and Lynette was to play Barbara Allen, the female lead. Our wonderful and gracious drama teacher, Maurice Harty, directed the play.
We had fun days rehearsing, and Dame Beryl Grey, then ArtsEd’s Director, would pop in from time to time watching our progress. She used to arrive with a big pile of paper that she would keep leafing through, meticulously reading them all, then signing some. Whenever something really interested her she’d look up; the rustling sound of paper and scratching noises from her fountain pen would abruptly stop.
Lynette always grabbed her attention. Me, too, which I found unnerving, so much so it caused my voice to tremble when speaking my lines, or sing off-pitch if I were to sing, alas, and alack, every single time. It still stings. Self-consciousness is an actor’s terrible enemy.
One day Lynette didn’t show for rehearsal. She eventually turned up just as we all were about to go home for the day. Lynette and I agreed to go for a stroll in the park; she had something important to share with me, she half whispered with a tacit smile on her face.
It turned out she’d spent the day auditioning for a place at RADA. “I even cried,” she told me and looked both chuffed and a tad bemused at the thought. “Imagine!” she added “Real tears! I have no idea where they came from, I just noticed my cheeks getting wet.” “Do you think you convinced the jury? Will they let you in? What’s your feeling?” I bombarded her with my questions, all eager and excited. “I don’t know,” Lynette responded. After pausing for a moment, she added in a voice barely audible, “I feel so excited! And very, very anxious.”
In my bag I happened to carry with me a rather huge orange I’d bought on my way to school in the morning. Sitting in the grass at the edge of the Serpentine, we celebrated an extraordinary day by peeling and sharing it.
And just for the record, albeit, I’m sure, this is quite unnecessary to assert: Lynette did get a place.
She graduated in 1969 with a RADA Diploma in Acting. By then I had long since returned to Norway.
Like many aspiring actors just out of drama school, Lynette went into rep after graduating. It’s a great way to gain experience, lots of it, and fast. This is how many actors acquire his or her Equity card, the be-all and end-all of a professional theatre career, and it was how Lynette got hers.
In 1972, following her time in rep and a couple of television appearances, she joined the cast for the world tour of Peter Brook’s celebrated production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Shakespeare Company. She had met Indian-English actor Roshan Seth who, after training at LAMDA, had been in the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the RSC, joining the touring cast for this famous production which quickly became known as “Peter Brook’s Dream“. Love’s destiny would have it the two would become a couple, spending a decade or so together.
After the world tour Lynette continued her work with the RSC, most notably appearing as Regan in Lear, an adaptation of King Lear by Buzz Goodbody (1974), the RSC’s first woman director and much loved by the actors who worked with her; as Yulia Filipovna in the first British dramatisation of Maxim Gorky’s Summerfolk, directed by David Jones (1974-75), and as Maria in Love’s Labour Lost, also directed by
Roshan Seth, in turn, was becoming increasingly flustered. Although he had appeared in Richard Lester‘s film Juggernaut in 1974, he kept being offered parts in ethnic roles only, a fact he found frustrating. Increasingly disillusioned he decided to put his acting career more or less on hold and return to his native India. Lynette joined him and for a period of time they made an attempt at dividing their almanacs between India and England. Roshan Seth worked as a writer and was the editor of an arts and literary magazine for many years, if my memory serves me right. Once or twice a year they would come back to the UK to work.
Lynette enjoyed great success during the 70s with a number of notable stage and television appearances. Her success peaked when the boardroom-to-bedroom drama The Foundation was aired in 1977-78. The series ran for two seasons and became a huge hit abroad also, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and even Turkey. Lynette starred as Davinia Prince, the widowed head of her late tycoon husband’s business. May be some of the series’ popularity was due to the fact this was the first series of its kind portraying a leading lady who could behave every bit as badly – utterly ruthless – as any man.
By 1978 I had returned to England to do a post-graduate training in directing at the Drama Studio in London. During much of the 70s Lynette and I had not had much contact other than occasional correspondence. My return to England created an opportunity to catch up for lost time. She had purchased a lovely house on Greville Road in St John’s Wood and I was living in Swiss Cottage; we were practically neighbours!
I treasure the memories of the many lovely evenings we spent together, enjoying good food and wine whilst nattering about all things important and unimportant. As the evening wore on meandering cigarette smoke would continually turn and twist and twirl in an ethereal dance peculiarly pleasing to the eye should one happen to notice it; I was heavy on the Stuyvesants, whereas Lynette preferred those extra long and slim More cigarettes, reds, or Sobranies. Lynette’s choice of brand may have been entirely for dramatic effect, I have no idea, but the elegance of the cigarettes matched hers; the cigarettes became her.
We revelled in anecdotes from life in the theatre, cried a little and laughed much more, and usually ended the night by discussing a play or reading poetry for one another. A particularly fond memory of mine is of Lynette reading Cynara by Ernest Christopher Dowson, a poem, she once told me, her father used to read out loud when she was a young girl growing up in Wales.
We spoke much and often about her recent success. With it came fame and celebrity; she was invited hither and thither, at home and abroad, regularly being featured in papers and magazines. Yet she seemed bemused, almost puzzled and a little bit ill at ease even, with everything following in the traces of success.
Produced by ATV, The Foundation was aired on UK’s independent television channel, ITV. The BBC and ITV have always been competitive with regards to attracting viewers. Thus, picking up on the success of The Foundation, the BBC produced a copy-cat version, Tycoon, launched in October 1978, just over a year after the first episode of The Foundation had premiered. Lynette understood the whys of course, and despite Tycoon appearing somewhat pale and not particularly successful in comparison, I know she felt flattered but also bothered. The greatest of complements is being imitated, the adage goes, but when you find yourself involuntarily stuck in the middle of a battlefield such bywords easily lose any significance.
After two seasons and twenty-six episodes of The Foundation, Lynette declined doing a third season. “In the end I couldn’t bear the thought of speaking more of those lines. Sometimes when reading the script of an upcoming episode, I asked myself: Am I really expected to say these words? After a while it all started to seem quite meaningless,” she told me. And I understand her. Lynette always loved the stage more than the screen, and well versed in the crafts and arts of the theatre she knew full well the treasure literary greatness of a good script represents.
She said once, somewhat revealingly, poignantly to be quoted by The Independent’s Andrew Heyward in his obituary for Lynette years later,
“I enjoy acting, but I also enjoy my privacy. I really didn’t want to make millions and be a star.”
On my 29th birthday Lynette had invited me for a meal at a local Italian restaurant. When we were about to order dessert the lights suddenly went into black-out. The sound of mumbling and humming bit by bit turning into song filled the darkness, and, in procession, the restaurant owner and all the waiters trailed their way through the restaurant arriving at our table singing Happy Birthday full throttle and carrying a birthday cake decorated with a sea of flickering candles. A surprise so unexpected I didn’t even have time to feel neither self-conscious nor bothered. I had been hijacked by pure joy and surrendered.
This lovely gesture illustrates the kind of human being Lynette Davies indeed was: a woman of heart. My 29th is a birthday I have never forgotten. May be this is the reason, too, that I’m writing these very words on my birthday, 41 years later.
As graduation was getting closer, in Spring 1979, a couple of my fellow students were keen to put on Sexual Perversity in Chicago by American playwright David Mamet. Would I direct it? Rehearsals for the students’ end-of-year shows were about to begin, and the particular group of students I was working with were to do Ebb & Kander’s Cabaret, scheduled to be shown at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, and with Trevor Cooper giving a memorable performance, it would turn out, in his humorous, albeit sinister, interpretation of the Emcee. Nevertheless, I read the Mamet play, fell utterly in love, and despite an exceedingly busy schedule already, ended up saying yes to directing it.
The cast of four in Sexual Perversity in Chicago – three Americans and a Scot – were excellent. I remember the rehearsal period as a joyful time of creativity and collective effort. By a stroke of luck we were given the opportunity for a brief run at The Round House in Chalk Farm. I had invited Lynette who arrived accompanied by Roshan Seth.
We had decided to go for a meal afterwards and enjoyed a lovely evening. Roshan praised the production and said it reminded him of his work with Peter Brook. The two of them kept extrapolating, analysing details and directorial choices. It pleased me no end of course, and because Thelma Holt, the artistic director at The Round House at the time, had made a point of grabbing hold of me just as I was leaving the House, had told me only a half an hour earlier, “I just feel a need to say that I was taken by surprise – your production looks nothing at all like the typical drama school production – it’s, er… just very professional. It’s excellent!”
Bestowed such complements upon felt somewhat overwhelming, almost too much to bear; the introvert character I am, too much fuss around my person has a nasty tendency to make me implode, threatening to turn me into a babbling bundle of unshapely timidity and shyness.
Incidentally, I believe it was around this time David Attenborough approached Roshan Seth trying to convince him to get back into acting and accept the part of Nehru in Gandhi, which was to be Attenborough’s next feature. Roshan ended up saying yes, and the rest is history. The film – collecting a host of awards, including several BAFTAs and Oscars – represented a big breakthrough for Roshan Seth, catapulting his acting career to new heights.
This decade was a decade of changes, big changes, for both Lynette and I, albeit in very different ways.
After returning to Norway and working as a director for a few years, I suddenly found myself utterly tired out. The theatre is certainly not to blame for my wanting out and my eventual departure, nor are the many wonderful people in it. It was all me, in me – the way I’m put together and the fact that a series of life-changing events in my personal life had brought about some deep internal changes. These changes felt fundamental, bringing issues concerning essential authenticity to the surface; my staying in the business or leaving it had become a question of personal integrity.
As a consequence I packed up my flat in Oslo in 1984, and after placing everything for storage at my parents’ house in the country, I headed back to England to study psychology and re-train as a psychotherapist. I never looked back, never regretted my decision. The sense of loss was considerable, however, and I still experience the occasional pangs of mourning, even now, all these years later; my love and respect for the theatre and the people is undying and as deep as ever.
Lynette’s was a different story. After a successful stint at the Bristol Old Vic in the late 70s, she co-starred with Simon Ward in Whose Life Is It Anyway? in a production directed by Kim Grant (1980). Then followed Business of Murder, which, after a short pre-run at the Theatre Royal Windsor in February, transferred to the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End where it opened on 2nd April 1981. The play, in the murder mystery category, is written by British television writer Richard Harris and the director was legendary . A great success the play seemed destined to run forever, and if my memory serves me right, the play ran with various casts for some eight or ten consecutive years after its opening.
I got to see Business of Murder a few months into its run. Visiting Lynette backstage, I remember her expressing feeling tired – six evening performances and two matinees a week is taxing after a while; any actor lucky enough to have landed a part in a successful, long-running production can easily feel trapped in what seems like a never ending story after a while. The internal battle between having regular work and a secure income fiercely at war with wanting out and a regained freedom to explore other and new ventures can be challenging; it is in itself taxing.
Lynette continued to be offered a lot of work for television during the 80s – Miracles Take Longer, The District Nurse, two episodes of Tales of the Unexpected, an episode of Bergerac, and the BBC mini-series The Watch House among others.
In 1986 she joined the English Shakespeare Company. Motivated by a grudge against RSC policies (so rumour will have it), yet first and foremost from harbouring a sincere wish to promote the works of Shakespeare nationally and internationally, director Michael Bogdanov and actor Michael Pennington had decided to co-found the company.
With funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain, in addition to a couple of commercial sponsors, the company’s inaugural production was an anthology entitled The Henrys (Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V) which opened at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth in December 1986. Subsequently the ESC staged several of Shakespeare’s plays at the Aldwych in London, before expanding The Henrys anthology into a cycle of Shakespeare’s historical plays (Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3 and Richard III), naming the cycle The Wars of the Roses.
In late 1987 and early 1988 the company initially toured Britain with The Wars of the Roses, visiting 17 different venues, including playing at the Old Vic in London, before launching an international tour which lasted until July. To an outsider’s eye the international touring schedule appears strenuous; it included visiting Stamford, Connecticut, the Spoleto Festival, Melbourne, the Adelaide Festival, Brisbane, The Netherlands, Hamburg, Berlin and Frankfurt, opening the new Tokyo Globe Theatre, visiting the Hong Kong Festival, and being the centrepiece of The World Theatre Festival of Chicago.
During the tour, whilst in the States, Lynette began displaying behaviour indicating she was getting increasingly out of kilter. Thinking her condition may have been caused by all the strains of a demanding touring schedule, the company initially tried to contain her (yes, indeed – actors and others working in the theatre are wonderful people; when push comes to shove there’s no limit to their loyalty and willingness to provide support and a helping hand; I have witnessed many examples of such generosity during my 25 years in the business.) But alas, in the end they were forced to give in and her husband was called upon. He promptly arrived, accompanying Lynette back to England where she was hospitalised.
Well recovered and bringing her cat, Lynette had gone back across the Atlantic to Toronto, Canada, to live with her second husband, José Furtado, a television set designer of Portuguese origin. In Toronto Lynette did work on stage, in television and on the radio, and in early 1992 she appeared in an episode of Street Legal, a highly rated Canadian TV series in the legal drama category, renowned for its excellent scripts and first class performances.
Later that year, in 1992, Lynette landed a starring role in The Lifeboat, a new BBC series devised by Lynda La Plante who had received enormous praise as the creator of the much acclaimed Prime Suspect series. The Lifeboat was to be filmed during 1993 in Pembrokeshire in Lynette’s native Wales, hence Lynette was both excited and very much looking forward to this new project. I had met up with her and José while they were in London, and during dinner our conversation about the series ping-ponged across the table all evening.
Unfortunately, as the shooting started and the first rushes were ready, illness had befallen Lynette yet again. Distraught and despondent she retreated to Cardiff. The show had to be recast and some of the scenes re-shot. The observant eye, however, would be able to spot a couple of scenes during the first episode where Lynette briefly was seen in the frame in rushes that had escaped ending up on the cutting room floor.
The Fates abruptly hit the pause button after just three of the 90s years had passed. It had an explosive effect on me; I remember the moment the blow struck as if it were yesterday.
It happened on a Sunday, the date being December 12th. I had been going through my usual Sunday ritual: a healthy sleep-in and a late breakfast, followed by a visit to the newsagent’s to buy The Sunday Times, The Observer, and a copy of The Independent. Then I’d leisurely head for one of my friendly local pubs to read my papers, scribble a little in the notebook I always carried with me, all whilst enjoying a couple of pints.
On this particular Sunday I was at the Prince Albert, a local pub on Royal College Street, sitting at my favourite table and enjoying the gentle warmth of the pub’s tabby curled up and purring next to me, as was his habit whenever I paid a visit.
I’d just finished reading The Times, having thrown away the sports, property and business sections as usual, leaving the rest of the supplements to read in the evening. I was half way through The Independent when this small notice hit me:
Hit me right between the eyes. My brain short-circuited. Time stood still.
Gradually coming back to reality, my insides felt as if they were about to explode. Filled with confusion and disbelief, my head was being bombarded with endless questions without any of the answers.
What had happened? I read the notice again. Again. And again.
I rushed home. Having crawled the telephone directory for Wales I eventually got to speak with Lynette’s mother. She filled in the gaps, answering all my bewildered questions to the best of her ability.
Lynette had gone missing. One day in early December they had discovered a bag with her shopping lying on the beach at Lavernock Point in Cardiff Bay. Some distance away they found her fur coat. Sometime later her body was recovered, also at Lavernock Point, near Penarth. The cause of death was drowning and, Lynette’s mother revealed, they suspected suicide but the coroner’s verdict had not yet been determined.
Marked by the devastation of such an event – nothing is worse for a parent than losing one’s child, through suicide greatly adding to the anguish – I ended the conversation with Lynette’s grieving mother.
Such a sad conversation. Such sad news. Such sad circumstances. A sad, sad Sunday indeed.
For Lynette the pause button had jammed. No dislodging possible. Stuck in a jam causing full stop.
Standing by the graveside in the churchyard surrounding the old stone church in the Vale of Glamorgan, watching the coffin slowly being lowered after the beautiful and moving funeral service, I overheard the mutterings of one of the many actors present, “What a waste of great talent. What a sad, terrible waste!” Feeling alone and bereft, caught in the cruel grip of sorrow, I wanted to grab his arm and hold on to this man who knew and felt the same as I did. But I didn’t reach out. Heartbreak is indeed a solitary devoir.
In the evening, sitting on the train on my way back to London, I felt British. For the very first time I felt wonderfully, meaningfully British. Through partaking in this sacred rite, the funeral of a loved one, I had been part of a collective and fundamental shared experience involving the very basics of our human condition – love, life, loss, death – the only matters of real importance; so extraordinary, yet entirely common. By partaking in this common sacred rite I had been given the precious gift of community, a sense of belonging.
Being taken home I was comforted by the steady rhythm from the wheels of the train, like a mother’s gentle rocking of her child’s cradle, and I felt overcome with gratitude.
Early in the New Year, in March or April, I think it was, I attended the memorial service held in London in Lynette’s honour. It was a moving service, solemn and dignified. Amongst the many who paid tribute were some of the finest actors in Britain saying a few words, reciting a poem, or reading a text. A Welsh male choir sang traditional Welsh hymns. I, too, contributed my bit and spoke of how Lynette and I had met as young teenagers at drama school, about Cox’s apples and cheddar cheese, and how our lives had been interwoven at different junctures across four decades.
Lynette’s parents were concerned about the cat. Lynette had arranged for her cat to be returned from Canada to England a while back, thus the poor creature had been quarantined at Stansted Airport for the last five months. “No problem!” I said. “I’ll take him. Honestly, I’d love to!”
A few weeks later Lynette’s brother arrived at my door, delivering Mr Gorgeous himself, a wonderful grey tabby with dark stripes and named Bizet. I came to realise Lynette may have called him Bizet because he had a habit of doing the most elegant jumps; fiercely curving his back and his fiery eyes in a fixed gaze he looked just like a passionate flamenco dancer. Amused, I always imagined he would have been perfectly cast in Carmen.
Bizet was my comfort and joy for many years, a symbolic representation and a bridging link between that which is and that which is no longer. Bizet provided meaning to the meaningless and his presence filled an emptiness left by loss.
I’m an old man now and I can spend entire days reminiscing. These recollections have been written down on my 70th birthday. Memories take on great importance as one grows old. For some it is all there is left.
Good memories – our memories of precious moments of sharing, of another’s loving acceptance, warts and all, of unexpected generosity and random acts of kindness, of those who stood up for us when it would have been easier for them not to; memories of those who forgave our trespasses and trusted and respected us enough to speak the truth to our face so we could become whole; a memory of he who did your shopping when you were too ill to leave the house; memories of people and places, circumstances and objects creating joy and authenticity and moments of exquisite beauty. And of she who transformed an ordinary day into an event never to be forgotten.
Memories of being perfectly alive, of having loved and being loved – memories such as these evoke gratitude. Nothing is as important, nothing else as meaningful.
Some people never leave you, not even after they’re long since gone. At some point and unnoticably a decision was made they were to reside inside you and remain there, soul-dancing, deep inside. Such people are few and far in between. For me Lynette will always be one of those rare ones.
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
Some of Lynette Davies’ TV Appearances Available on the Internet
Chronological Listings of Film and Television Work
Selected Stage Work
- Duchess of York/Doll Tearsheet/Alice/Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester/Elizabeth | The Wars of the Roses | English Shakespeare Company
- Gillian | Bell, Book and Candle | Kimbrell Stepham Associates and Mark Furness
- The Business of Murder
- Dr Scott | Whose Life Is It Anyway? | 1980 | Royal Theatre Norwich; Richmond Theatre; New Theatre Cardiff; Oxford Playhouse | Director: Kim Grant
- Ruth Carson | Night and Day | 1979 | New Zealand Tour | Director: Eric Thompson
- Love For Love
- The Cocktail Party
- Performer | The Actors Are Come Hither…Buzz, Buzz | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Maria | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Regan | Lear, Royal Shakespeare Company
- Maria | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Filipovna Yulia | Summerfolk | Royal Shakespeare Company
- King John
- Lady | Cymbeline | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Regan | Lear | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Filipovna Yulia | Summerfolk | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Lady | Cymbeline | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Regan | Lear | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Unnamed parts | King John | Royal Shakespeare Company
- Bella Manningham | Gaslight | Crewe Theatre Trust Ltd.
- Fairy | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Royal Shakespeare Company
- The Lark | RADA
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s archives
| RSC productions with Lynette Davies
A Short Biography
Lynette Vaynor Davies was born 18 October 1948 in Tonypandy, South Glamorgan, Wales.
She attended Our Lady’s Convent School in Cardiff, and as a young girl she took ballet lessons. In the mid-60s she moved to London, becoming a student at ArtsEd (London School of Arts Educational). She later transferred to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), graduating with a Diploma in Acting in 1969.
In 1972 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for the World Tour with the company’s internationally acclaimed and influential production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Brook. She later joined the Bristol Old Vic, and in the second half of the 80s she joined the English Shakespeare Company which had been founded in 1986 by actor Michael Pennington and director Michael Bogdanov.
Her most famous role was as Davinia Prince, ruthless head of The Foundation, the boardroom-to-bedroom TV drama (ATV, 1977-1978). Her last role was co-starring in The Christmas Stallion, set in Wales and filmed back-to-back in a Welsh language version, first aired in December 1992, only a year before her death.
Her body was found in early December 1993 at Lavernock Point, near Penarth, South Glamorgan, Wales. She’d suffered death by drowning, the coroner’s verdict being suicide. She was laid to rest in the Vale of Glamorgan.
In early 1994 a memorial service was held in her honour in London, followed by a gathering of family, friends and colleagues for a commemoration at the London Welsh Centre at Gray’s Inn Road in Camden.
Lynette Davies was twice married. She had no children.
Anthony Heyward | Obituary: Lynette Davies (The Independent, Monday 13 December 1993)
18 October 1948 – 1 December 1993
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