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Virginia Maskell was born in Shepherd's Bush, London. After the outbreak of World War II, Maskell's family were evacuated to South Africa. After the war she returned to London and entered a convent school, where she developed an interest in acting.
She made a minor film debut for director Roy Boulting with Happy is the Bride (1957), and then began hopping between the theatre and the screen, her next major film being director Pat Jackson's comedy Virgin Island (1958). She resultantly won a British Lion contract and went on to appear in The Man Upstairs (1958) with Richard Attenborough, and as an air-hostess in Jet Storm (1959).
She also made an impact on the stage, in The Catalyst, and in live TV drama. She later starred in Doctor in Love (1960), and as Peter Sellers's wife in Only Two Can Play (1962); Sellers was unconvinced she could manage a credible Welsh accent and asked for her dismissal, though it was suspected that his ulterior motive was to replace Maskell with Welsh born actress Siân Phillips.
She took a break from acting from 1962 to concentrate on her family, other than occasional TV appearances in such popular series as Danger Man and The Prisoner, but returned after the birth of her second son to shoot Interlude in the summer of 1967. Interlude was released after her death and she won a posthumous National Board of Review award and a BAFTA nomination for her work in the film.
Maskell was also a poet and an artist.
Maskell married Sir Geoffrey Adam Shakerley, 6th Baronet on 3 July 1962. The couple had two sons, the first, Nicholas, born in December 1963.
After the birth of her second son in February 1966, Maskell showed signs of post-natal depression. Following the shooting of Interlude in the summer of 1967, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown and was hospitalised at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for six weeks.
On Wednesday, January 24, 1968, she left home in her car and six hours later her husband reported her missing. Police searched woods 700 feet up in the Chiltern Hills after her car was found a mile from her home. Maskell had apparently wandered through the woods for hours before collapsing where the police eventually found her. She was taken to hospital and given emergency treatment for an overdose of barbiturates, and although doctors revived her, she died the following day.
- ""I love acting, but I also want to be alive. Publicity is like a prison. If you're not careful, you begin to live according to everyone's idea of how you ought to live. Ambition? To be a big, big star...on the stage."
- Happy Is the Bride (1958)
- The Man Upstairs (1958)
- Virgin Island (1959)
- Jet Storm (1959)
- Doctor in Love (1960)
- Suspect (1960)
- Only Two Can Play (1962)
- The Wild and the Willing (1962)
- Interlude (1968)