Wednesday 21 March 2018

Actress who sizzled as the saucy servant girl in 'Poldark''

Angharad Rees, the actress, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 63, was best-known as the headstrong Demelza in Poldark, the BBC's hugely popular saga of impoverished gentry, smugglers and derelict tin mines in 18th-Century Cornwall.

Noted for her flouncy dresses, wild auburn tresses and overripe West Country accent, Angharad Rees starred as the former servant-girl who "drops her knickers for a shilling".

Despite her humble birth, she eventually marries Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis), a dashing young army captain in snug breeches who returns from the American Revolution to find his family estate in ruins, his mines for sale and the love of his life, Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), betrothed to his cousin.

The 29-episode drama featured a host of twists and sub-plots, with Demelza becoming pregnant by Captain Poldark, who also finds himself embroiled in a feud with his neighbour, the rapacious George Warleggan, played by Ralph Bates.

Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, the series, which was broadcast between 1975 and 1977, examined the relationship between wealthy landowners and the oppressed poor.

Coming at a time of contemporary social upheaval, it attracted 15 million viewers in Britain and was shown in a further 21 countries. In Cornwall, the series was so popular that churches had to reschedule their services on Sunday nights.

Angharad Mary Rees was born in Cardiff on July 16, 1949. Her father, Professor Linford Rees CBE, was a psychiatrist and academic who later led the first professorial department of psychological medicine at Bart's Hospital in London.

Educated at the private Commonweal Lodge in Surrey, where she struggled with dyslexia, Angharad at 16 went on to study for two terms at the Sorbonne in Paris before winning a scholarship to the Rose Bruford drama school in Surrey. She also studied at the University of Madrid, and taught English at a psychiatric clinic in the Spanish capital.

Returning to Britain, she sought acting work in repertory and on television, finally landing her first professional job as a maid in Man and Superman with Maggie Smith and Eric Porter.

She first came to public notice in 1969 as Marie Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, a television adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel. In the same year she appeared as Desdemona opposite the American singer PJ Proby as Cassio in Jack Good's rock musical Catch My Soul, loosely based on the story of Othello.

She gave up full-time acting in 1981 when she split from her first husband, actor Christopher Casenove, the first of two splits from him, in order to spend more time with the children.

She coached businesspeople to speak in public and on radio and television before, in 1995, the television company HTV announced plans to adapt the final novels in the Poldark saga. It asked Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis to recreate their parts, 18 years after they had co-starred in the BBC series. Both accepted, and though they had agreed a fee of £60,000 each to appear, only to be told that they would actually only be paid £30,000 -- exactly, and (they thought) insultingly, half the original sum. Angharad Rees sued the company, and in the event both parts were recast.

Her stage appearances included roles in The Millionairess (Haymarket), It's a Foot, Six Inches Above The Ground World (Wyndhams), and as Perdita in A Winter's Tale (Young Vic). On television she played Celia in As You Like It, and performed in many American co-productions and series including Tutenkamun's Tomb, Windmill of the Gods, Forgotten Story and The Gathering Storm.

In 1971 she co-starred with Eric Porter as the murderous daughter of Jack the Ripper in the Hammer film Hands Of The Ripper. Her other films included Under Milk Wood (1972) by Dylan Thomas, and The Little Girl In Blue Velvet (1978), directed by Alan Bridges.

In 2005 she founded a jewellery design company, Angharad, and was commissioned to design necklaces and earrings for the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). She married the actor Christopher Cazenove in 1973.

The couple divorced in 1994 and in 2005, following a well publicised relationship with the actor Alan Bates, she married David McAlpine of the McAlpine construction company family (and brother of the Conservative Party treasurer). He survives her with Rhys, the younger son of her first marriage.

Her elder son, Linford, was killed in a car crash in 1999, aged 25. Christopher Cazenove died in 2010.

Angharad Rees, born July 16, 1949, died July 21, 2012.

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