11 September 2018
Actress Fenella Fielding has died at the age of 90 after suffering a stroke.
She was a serious actress remembered for a single, stand-out comic performance.
Fenella survived a violent upbringing to play Ibsen, Shakespeare and Euripides on stage. As an artist, her sheer versatility captivated both Federico Fellini and Noel Coward. This was a woman of wit and wisdom who kept a copy of Plato beside the bed.
But, for millions, that serious side is long forgotten. Instead, she will forever be Valeria: the camp vamp star of Carry On Screaming (1966) – draped on a divan in a skin-tight dress; her voice oozing with sex appeal and sporting eyelashes like upturned claws.
She turned down all future Carry On work but the die was cast. In the public mind, she was the quintessential Sixties femme fatale, delivering double entendres with lashings of false innocence. And sadly, as a performer, her career slowly drifted into obscurity almost as soon as she uttered her most immortal line, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
She did Morecambe & Wise Christmas specials and some voice work for the cult hit series, The Prisoner, and a Magic Roundabout project – Dougal and The Blue Cat. But she didn’t make another film for almost 15 years.
Fielding was rarely completely out of work. She continued on stage – with a string of well-reviewed provincial shows – in which she didn’t have to play “either a Lady or a Tart”. But, eventually, she struggled for money and was forced to go to the social security office to claim benefits – an experience she found demeaning.
She never married, despite a string of interested male admirers. One possible future husband died, another couldn’t get over his alcoholism and had to be abandoned.
For 20 years, she maintained two separate lovers and managed to prevent them ever meeting. “I loved them both,” she wrote but decided on “never committing; never having a marriage that could have gone awful”.
Latterly, there was work with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in Guest House Paradiso and a role as an eccentric granny in the gritty teenage drama, Skins.
But, for Fenella Fielding, her best work always took place on stage. At the age of nearly 90, the Financial Times described her performance in Euripides’ The Trojan Women as “unbearably moving . . . at the extreme limits of pathos”.