|Born||Irene Margaret Blackford.
17 November 1898
Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom
|Died||7 April 1996
|Other names||Colleen Blackford|
|Spouse(s)||Major. Douglas "Jerry" Clifford (1933-1953)|
|Awards||John Campbell Fellowship
Irene Margaret Clifford (nee Blackford) (17 November 1898 – 7 April 1996), professionally known as Colleen Clifford, was a British-born performer, in radio, stage, television and film as an actress, dancer, comedian, theatre director and producer and singer and classical pianist who was a specialist in voice production, drama and music. In a career spanning nearly eight decades, she was one of the most popular actresses in both England and Australia particular in theatre and a grand dame and matriarch of the entertainment profession and performing arts.
Clifford was an early radio and television performer for the BBC in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s hosting cabaret and variety shows, and during the Second World War, in news broadcasting and war concerts. Clifford was, at one time, featured on a 15-minute radio show showcasing her singing and musical performances. She later did radio plays for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In her later years after emigrating to Australia in 1954, she was a highly recognizable character actress of stage and subsequently television during the 1970s, 80s and 90's, with appearances in series, mini series and films.
Biography and Career
Born in Taunton, Somerset, England as Irene Margaret Blackford to an entrepreneurial mother and a father who served in the British army. Colleen Clifford lived in various parts of England as well as New Zealand during her childhood. She studied as a pianist in Belgium at the Brussels Conservatoire, before receiving a scholarship at the Royal Academy in London and was active in British theatre as a London stage performer for almost thirty years before emigrating to Perth, Australia in 1954, after the death of her husband Douglass Clifford, a member of The Royal Air Force. She continued her theatrical career there and, in 1959, she made her first television appearance performing on the variety show Spotlight (Australian TV series). It was first-ever television program to be broadcast in Western Australia. She founded the Perth Theatre Guild and Drama School and taught voice production, drama and music. and spending the next fifteen years helping develop and train talent for the theatre. She staged six successful musicals using entirely local talent and without importing professional actors. These included stage productions of Annie Get Your Gun (1959), starring Leone Martin Smith in the title role, Oklahoma (1961) and South Pacific (1962) at His Majesty's Theatre, Perth.
Clifford moved to Sydney in 1969 where she regularly performed at the Old Tote Theatre. Although she remained in the theatre, she also began taking on television and film roles. Clifford made her television acting debut as a guest star on the soap opera Dynasty  and The Godfathers in 1971. While touring in New Zealand in 1972, Clifford fell ill and was unable to perform for the first few shows. Being under a "no play, no pay" policy with the theatre company, meaning payment would be withheld from an actor during an illness, she was forced to remain in her Wellington apartment with no means of support. Clifford was then in her late-70s and, with rent money and doctor bills piling up, Michael Craig, Honour Blackman and other members of the company raised enough money to financially support Clifford until she was well enough to rejoin the cast.
In 1978, she guest starred on legal drama Case for the Defence. A year later, she appeared on the cult series Prisoner: Cell Block H in a brief but memorable role as Edie Wharton, an elderly woman imprisoned for vagrancy. That same year, she made another guest appearance on The Young Doctors.
She took a three-year absence to return to the theatre full-time but, in 1981, began playing a recurring role as Miss Bird on A Country Practice. She also appeared in the television miniseries 1915 (1982) and the historical drama film Careful, He Might Hear You (1983). She spent the next decade starring in a variety of supporting roles in film and television. These included appearances on Mother and Son and Five Mile Creek, Where the Green Ants Dream (1984), The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), Double Sculls (1986), The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Barracuda (1988). In 1990, the 92-year-old Clifford starred in the latest version of her one-woman show A Nightingale Still At It in Berkeley Square. She was awarded the John Campbell Fellowship for her contribution to theatre two years later.
She returned to A Country Practice playing several different roles between 1989 and 1993 ; that same year, she starred in Frauds (1993)  and This Won't Hurt a Bit (1993) marking her final film and television roles. Clifford suffered a heart attack in 1995, and was fitted with a pacemaker, she died in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on 7 April 1996, at the age of 97.
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