Stephanie Cole

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Stephanie Cole
Stephanie Cole1.jpg
Cole on set filming Series 4 of Doc Martin in Port Isaac, June 2009
Born Patricia Stephanie Cole
(1941-10-05) 5 October 1941 (age 73)
Solihull, Warwickshire, England, UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1968–present
Spouse(s) Henry Marshall (m. 1973–1986, divorced) 1 child
Peter Birrel (m. 1998–2004, his death)

Stephanie Cole, OBE (born Patricia Stephanie Cole; 5 October 1941)[1] is an English stage, television, radio and film actress, best known for high-profile television roles in shows such as Tenko (1981-85), Open All Hours (1982-85), A Bit of a Do (1989), Waiting for God (1990-94), Keeping Mum (1997-98), Doc Martin (2004-09), Still Open All Hours (2013) and as Sylvia Goodwin in ITV soap opera Coronation Street from 2011 to 2013.

She won Best TV Actress at the 1992 British Comedy Awards for her role in Waiting For God and won Best Comedy Performance at the 2012 British Soap Awards for her role in Coronation Street. She was made an OBE in the 2005 Queens Birthday Honours.

Early life[edit]

Born in Solihull, Warwickshire, she trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School from 1958 to 1960 and went on to consolidate her acting skills in repertory theatres around the United Kingdom. She made her stage debut at the age of seventeen playing the eccentric, elderly medium Madame Arcati in Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. At the age of 63 she returned to the same role when the play was revived at the West End's Savoy Theatre in 2004.

Television and radio career[edit]

One of her most recognised and popular roles was of Dr Beatrice Mason in the 1980s television series Tenko, a drama which chronicled the lives of British women in Singapore after the Japanese invasion and their consequent confinement in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The series was explicit in its portrayal of the horrific conditions and brutality faced by the women during their imprisonment, and dealt with issues such as rape, stillbirth, lesbianism, suicide, abortion and euthanasia. Cole played the role of the stern, officious yet kindly doctor over three series and a one-off special between 1981 and 1985.

During this same period Cole also played the elderly, paranoid and morose customer Mrs Delphine Featherstone (nicknamed "The Black Widow") in the BBC comedy Open All Hours. Mrs Featherstone was the only rival to Nurse Gladys Emmanuel for the affections of shopkeeper Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker (who had recommended her to play the part after seeing her in Tenko), although she was attracted to him only because she liked his stingy ways. Arkwright was scared of her advances and often hid when he saw her approaching the shop. Cole was actually only in her early forties when she took the role; playing characters much older than she actually is (notably in Waiting for God), has become a hallmark of her career.

In 1988 Cole joined actors including Thora Hird, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Patricia Routledge in the award-winning first series of Talking Heads, a series of dramatic monologues written for BBC Television by British playwright Alan Bennett. Cole performed the role of Muriel to great acclaim during the half-hour monologue "Soldiering On". In later years Cole would repeat her performance of this now famous monologue on both the London stage and for BBC Radio.

Another of Cole's famous roles was of the bad-tempered retired photojournalist Diana Trent in the sitcom Waiting for God which ran from 1990 to 1994. Although Diana was supposed to be a pensioner, Cole was actually 48 years old when she took the role, for which she received the 1992 Best TV Comedy Actress award at the British Comedy Awards.

From 2004 to 2009 Cole starred alongside Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz in the ITV comedy-drama, Doc Martin, playing Joan Norton, aunt of Clunes's character Dr Martin Ellingham. In 2006 Cole starred alongside Victoria Wood in the BAFTA award winning World War II drama Housewife, 49 as Mrs Waite, the local head of what was then the WVS. Cole also had a small role in the 2008 romantic comedy Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, as Miss Pettigrew's grumpy boss, Miss Holt.

She has also recently appeared in the BBC Radio 4 comedy, Ed Reardon's Week as Olive, a student in Ed's writing class. Other work for BBC Radio 4 includes the role of Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Allam in the successful airline sitcom Cabin Pressure.[2]

In April 2011, Cole joined the cast of Coronation Street, playing Sylvia Goodwin, the mother of regular character Roy Cropper. In August 2012 Cole departed Coronation Street but returned to the show in 2013. That same month she was confirmed among the cast for an adaptation of the 1938 thriller film The Lady Vanishes by the BBC.[3] In August 2013 it was announced that Cole had left Coronation Street, just episodes after her onscreen daughter-in-law had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer .[4] It was initially speculated that her sudden departure was due to illness but Cole later confirmed on Twitter that she was not ill and that her already pending departure had been brought forward due to the death of her brother.[5]

In December 2013 Cole reprised her role as Mrs Delphine Featherstone in Still Open All Hours alongside David Jason and Lynda Baron.

Stage career and honours[edit]

Cole has also performed as a stage actress for more than fifty years. On the West End stage she has featured in Noises Off in 1983 (Savoy Theatre), Steel Magnolias in 1989 (Lyric Theatre) and Quartet in 1999 (Albery Theatre). Her most prominent stage role was as Betty in the hit comedy A Passionate Woman written by Kay Mellor. The play, directed by Ned Sherrin, opened at the Comedy Theatre in 1994 and had a nine month extended run. On the West End's production's last curtain call, Cole was made the subject of This Is Your Life.

In 1998, Cole's career in comedy was commemorated in the BBC documentary series Funny Women.[6] In the same year, Cole's autobiography A Passionate Life was published. The book's foreword was written by British theatre director Ned Sherrin.

Cole was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts degree from the University of Bristol in 2002.[7] In 2005, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to drama, the elderly and mental health charities.

Cole was voted Solihull's favourite Silhillian in a competition run by Solihull Council in December 2006. She beat Lucy Davis, Martin Johnson and Richard Hammond to pick up the top crown in The S Factor.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Cole married fight director Henry Marshall in 1973. Marshall was one of the founders of the British Academy of Dramatic Combat and was a Master at Arms at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[9] They have a daughter Emma Battcock (born 1973). They divorced in 1988.

In 1998 Cole married fellow actor Peter Birrel after meeting him again by chance, thirty years after they first appeared together in a production of Richard II at the Bristol Old Vic. She remained his wife until his death from cancer in 2004.

Cole is a patron of Cat Action Trust 1977, Age Concern and Rethink, the largest severe mental illness charity in the UK.[10]

Television roles[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Reference
1978 Lillie Agnes Langtry Episode title: America!
1981 to 1985 Tenko Dr. Beatrice Mason
1982 to 1985 Open All Hours Mrs. Delphine Featherstone
1988 Talking Heads Muriel Episode title: Soldiering On
1989 A Bit of a Do Betty Sillitoe
1990 to 1994 Waiting for God Diana Trent
1997 to 1998 Keeping Mum Mrs. Bear
2001 Life As We Know It Lizzie Cameron
2004 to 2009 Doc Martin Joan Norton
2011 - 2013 Coronation Street Sylvia Goodwin [11]
2013 Still Open All Hours Mrs. Delphine Featherstone
2013 The Lady Vanishes (2013 film) Evelyn Floodporter

Award wins[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]