Peggy Ashcroft

Peggy Ashcroft
Peggy Ashcroft
Born Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft
22 December 1907(1907-12-22)
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died 14 June 1991(1991-06-14) (aged 83)
Occupation Actress
Years active 1929–1991
Spouse Rupert Hart-Davis (m. 1929–1933) «start: (1929)–end+1: (1934)»"Marriage: Rupert Hart-Davis to Peggy Ashcroft" Location: (linkback://
Theodore Komisarjevsky (m. 1934)
Jeremy Hutchinson (m. 1940–1965) «start: (1940)–end+1: (1966)»"Marriage: Jeremy Hutchinson to Peggy Ashcroft" Location: (linkback://

Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE (22 December 1907 – 14 June 1991)[1] was an English actress.


Early years

Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama.[2] A prolific stage actress from a young age, she first gained notoriety playing Naemi in Jew Suss in 1929, and Desdemona opposite Paul Robeson's Othello two years later, during which time the two had a brief affair.[3]


Stardom came in 1934 when she played Juliet in a legendary production of Romeo and Juliet, at the New Theatre, in which Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud alternated in the roles of Romeo and Mercutio. She and Gielgud would later be acclaimed as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing which they played together a number of times, including a London engagement and European tour for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1955 (she also played Cordelia to his King Lear during that tour). When she first played Beatrice with him in 1950, Gielgud found her performance "a revelation - an impish, rather tactless girl with a curious resemblance to Bea Lillie," while a teenage Peter Hall observed in her "English containment and decency, contrasted with a wild passion." She stayed at the top of the British theatrical profession throughout her career, with some of the highlights Three Sisters (1937) in which she played Irina, The Heiress (1949), Antony and Cleopatra (1953), As You Like It and Cymbeline (as Imogen) (1957), The Taming of the Shrew (1960), and The War of the Roses, the Royal Shakespeare Company's massive landmark compendium of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III, directed by Peter Hall for the RSC in 1963.

Ashcroft's film and television appearances were rare but memorable. One of her earliest film roles was the minor part of the crofter's wife in the Robert Donat version of The Thirty-Nine Steps, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

In 1937, she appeared in a 30-minute excerpt of Twelfth Night on the BBC Television Service, alongside Greer Garson, the first known instance of a Shakespeare play being performed on television.

She had minor supporting roles in The Nun's Story (1959) opposite Audrey Hepburn; Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony (1968) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow; and Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) featuring Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson.

In the 1970s, she starred in Der Fußgänger (English title: The Pedestrian), the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning film, which won the Best Foreign Language Foreign Film of 1974, . The film was directed by Austrian actor-director Maximilian Schell, and starred former international early screen peers Käthe Haack, Lil Dagover and Françoise Rosay.

Possibly her best known celluloid role was that of Mrs. Moore in David Lean's 1984 film A Passage to India — a role for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress among many other awards, including a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award. Ashcroft did not appear in person at the telecast to accept the Oscar, so Angela Lansbury accepted it on her behalf.

Ashcroft's final theatrical motion picture role was in John Schlesinger's Madame Sousatzka (1988) starring Shirley MacLaine.

On television, Ashcroft played Barbie Batchelor in the internationally acclaimed British miniseries The Jewel in the Crown (1984), for which she won a BAFTA Best Television Actress award and an Emmy Award nomination. Other memorable television roles include the miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson, Stephen Poliakoff's drama special Caught on a Train, and a miniseries version of John Le Carre's A Perfect Spy, for which she received her second Emmy nomination.


In May 1986 Ashcroft was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.[citation needed]


Ashcroft was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1951, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1956.

Personal life

She was married three times, first to Rupert Hart-Davis (from 1929–33), and then to Theodore Komisarjevsky (1934). She had two children, a son Nicholas, born 1946[1] and a daughter Eliza[1] born in June 1941 with her third husband, Jeremy Hutchinson, whom she married on 14 September 1940[1] and divorced in 1965. Her granddaughter is the French singer Emily Loizeau.[citation needed]

Ashcroft was the inspiration for the character Julie Walters portrayed in the film Driving Lessons, written and directed by Jeremy Brock who worked for Ashcroft decades earlier.


Peggy Ashcroft died of a stroke on 14 June 1991, aged 83.


She was commemorated with memorial plaque in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey (just above the grave of fellow Central School of Speech and Drama pupil and friend Laurence Olivier and 18th Century actor David Garrick). The Ashcroft Theatre is a theatre located within the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, South London. The theatre was named after Croydon-born Dame Peggy Ashcroft and is a proscenium theatre with a stepped auditorium.






  1. ^ a b c d "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" entry on Flickr, accessed 9 May 2010
  2. ^ Ian Herbert, ed (1981). "ASHCROFT, Dame Peggy". Who's Who in the Theatre. 1. Gale Research Company. pp. 24–26. ISSN 0083-9833. 
  3. ^ Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson, 1989, pg 143.

External links

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