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Granite graced with lace: How Kate O'Mara's Dynasty vamp seduced America


TV siblings: O’Mara, left, as Caress Morell, who played alongside Joan Collins as Alexis Colby’s sister in ‘Dynasty’

TV siblings: O’Mara, left, as Caress Morell, who played alongside Joan Collins as Alexis Colby’s sister in ‘Dynasty’

TV siblings: O’Mara, left, as Caress Morell, who played alongside Joan Collins as Alexis Colby’s sister in ‘Dynasty’

Kate O'Mara, who has died aged 74, was an actress whose cliff-high cheek bones, brooding glare and nifty line in tough talk fuelled a successful international TV career. She came to prominence in cult British shows such as Dr Who and Triangle, but found worldwide fame as the catty sister of Joan Collins in the hugely popular American television show Dynasty.

But her onscreen persona – granite graced with lace – was often at odds with the more placid elements of her personality. "Recently I did The Graham Norton Show, which was very alarming," she said in 2008. "He was being crude and I'm not very good with crude. I like sophistication and elegance."

As Cassandra 'Caress' Morrell – the revenge-obsessed sibling of Collins's Alexis Colby – O'Mara excelled in bouts of verbal sparring with her fellow Briton over 19 episodes in the mid-1980s.

Having been released from a Venezuelan prison – where she was incarcerated over an incident involving Alexis – Cassandra arrives in Denver, Colorado, under the name Caress. Her plan is to write a searing exposé on her sister's dark, salacious past.

But Alexis buys the publishers and pulps the book, sneering to her: "I've come to ask you for your autograph, congratulations sister dearest, it's a wonderful piece of fiction. Of course I've read it. It doesn't take very long. It's like a comic book without the pictures."

Recalled O'Mara: "We had a tremendous bitchy tension between us. My character Caress was like an annoying little mosquito."

It was a masterclass in melodrama – delivering a rollercoaster of fictional success and trauma matched by her own life: "I'm part of six generations of a theatrical family," she wrote in her memoirs, Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003). "For over 40 years I've done everything from Shakespeare to Hollywood soaps, from restoration comedy to cult television drama, from westerns to pantomime. I have been nothing if not diverse! My personal life, however, has been a disaster area. Rape, desertion, adoption, divorce and relationships with much younger men. And this for someone who sees herself as an intellectual and can't be doing with sex at all. Oh well, the show must go on!"

Kate O'Mara was born in Leicester on August 10 1939, the daughter of John F Carroll, an RAF flying instructor, and actress Hazel Bainbridge. After boarding school she studied at art school before becoming an actress. Early roles in the 1960s included roles in series such as The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers and Z-Cars.

In the early 1970s she made a more salacious name for herself as the voluptuous figure of desire in erotic horror B-movies such as The Vampire Lovers (1970).

Equally dubious was Triangle, an early-1980s soap opera. Set on a North Sea ferry route it has often been cited as one of the worst TV dramas ever.

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Moving to America for Dynasty had its own problems for an English country girl.

"I had a five-year contract on Dynasty and after two months I was thinking, 'goodness, how am I going to stand it out here'?" she recalled. "It's a desert at the end of the day. I love the seasons, I love winter and autumn and rain. The people were very charming but I did find that it wasn't terribly good for my soul."

She was let go after a series. Recalled O'Mara: "I was quite relieved. I'd been asked to appear in King Lear back in Britain, and they said, 'Oh you go back and do your little play', which I thought was hilarious."

If Triangle had been Crossroads-on-sea then her role in sailing soap opera Howard's Way in 1990 at least saw her play with the regatta set. She also had a recurring role as renegade timelord The Rani on Doctor Who, opposite both the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy incarnations of the doctor.

She was to play another character with a difficult sister – second sibling to Joanna Lumley's Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous.

During the 1990s she published novels When She Was Bad (1995) and Good Time Girl (1993), and the autobiographical Vamp Until Ready (2003), and Game Plan: A Woman's Survival Kit, (1990).

In 2012, her son Dickon was found hanged. He had had a history of mental illness. Late in life she told how she had beaten her own depression.

Country life in occasional retirement in Somerset suited her: "I'm not frightened of dying, but I love the countryside so much and I'm going to miss it."

She married Jeremy Young in 1961 (dissolved in 1976) and Richard Willis in 1993 (dissolved 1996).

She gave another son up for adoption and is survived by her sister Belinda.

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