Obituary: Peggy Evans
Actress trained at Rank's 'charm school' who made her mark as the gangster's moll in 'The Blue Lamp'
Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30
Peggy Evans, who has died aged 94, was best known for playing the girlfriend of the criminal delinquent Dirk Bogarde in The Blue Lamp (1950); an early example of a "social realism" film, it starred Jack Warner as PC Dixon, and became the inspiration for the television series Dixon of Dock Green (1955-1976).
One of four children, Peggy Evans was born in Sheffield on January 10, 1921, and grew up in Ealing, west London. When she was 16, her father suggested that she and her three siblings keep themselves busy on a rainy afternoon by entering a creative writing competition in a Sunday newspaper. Peggy ended up winning, and as a result, she was given the opportunity to be screen-tested by the Rank Organisation.
She was also given a role as an extra, and can be seen getting on and off a bus in the comedy thriller The Lightning Conductor (1938), produced by Anthony Havelock-Allan. Her screen test was so good that Rank recruited her for their "charm school", where she would go on to meet Diana Dors, Christopher Lee and Petula Clark.
The following year, her potential was noticed by Lord Grantley, a film executive, who took it upon himself to encourage the emerging starlet.
Having attended Rada, Peggy Evans was then given small parts in Secret Flight (written and directed by Peter Ustinov, 1946) and School for Secrets (1946), starring Ralph Richardson. In 1948, she appeared opposite Christopher Lee and Diana Dors in Penny and the Pownall Case (1948), playing Penny Justin, a "glamour model" who helps Scotland Yard to catch a criminal gang.
A small part in Look Before You Love (1948) was followed by Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951), in which she was the acquisitive girlfriend of a robber whom she encourages to get involved in a plot to steal gold bullion. But it was her role as the 17-year-old runaway, Diana Lewis, in The Blue Lamp for which she will be best remembered.
With her platinum-blonde hair, strong jaw, full mouth and ability to look provocatively defiant, she was the perfect young gangster's moll, opposite a boyish but menacing Dirk Bogarde. He played the reckless young villain Tom Riley, who gets involved in a series of robberies which bring him to the attention of the unwaveringly honest and wholesome PC George Dixon (Jack Warner).
Half-way through the film, Riley shoots Dixon, and the scene in which Mrs Dixon (Gladys Henson) is told of her husband's death is infused with understated, dignified grief. Audiences, however, wanted more of Jack Dixon and he was subsequently resurrected for Dixon of Dock Green. The Blue Lamp won the 1951 Bafta award for Best British Film, and was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 1950 Venice Film Festival.
In 1949, Peggy Evans married Michael Howard, whom she had met while acting with him in the stage version of The Cat and the Canary. They went on to work together on the BBC radio and television show Here's Howard (1951). Her marriage to Howard ended in 1956 and she decided, despite being offered the opportunity to work in Hollywood, to give up acting and devote her time to bringing up her two children.
In later years, Peggy Evans learnt Portuguese and lived in the Algarve for part of each year, where she took great delight in beach life, Portuguese food and outdoor living.
A consummate hostess, she loved entertaining and always enjoyed hearing about new shows, trends, comedians and online avenues for creative expression. When she was in her 90s, she hired an expert to teach her how to use a computer and she became proficient with email and Skype.
Her second husband, Peter Stevens, whom she married in 1990, predeceased her and she is survived by a son and a daughter from her first marriage. Peggy Evans died on July 26.