Kathleen Byron

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Kathleen Byron
Kathleen Byron.jpg
Byron in a trailer for Black Narcissus
Born Kathleen Elizabeth Fell[1]
(1921-01-11)11 January 1921
West Ham, Essex, England
Died 18 January 2009(2009-01-18) (aged 88)
Northwood, London, England
Other names Kathleen Jacob
Occupation Actress
Years active 1938–2001
Spouse(s) Daniel Bowen (m. 1943–50)
Alaric Jacob (m. 1953–95)

Kathleen Byron (born Kathleen Elizabeth Fell, 11 January 1921 – 18 January 2009)[2] was a British actress of stage, screen and television.

Early life[edit]

Byron was born in West Ham, Essex[3] . Her father was a railway clerk who later became a Labour mayor of the County Borough of East Ham.

She attended the local grammar school and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She had her first speaking film role in Carol Reed's The Young Mr Pitt (1942), in which she had two lines as a maid opposite Robert Donat.[2]


In 1943, she married a USAAF pilot, Lt. John Daniel Bowen, and moved to the United States. The director Michael Powell persuaded her to return to Britain where she made her best remembered films.[2] She was cast in several films of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger partnership: as an angel in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), the disturbed Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus (1947) and in The Small Back Room (1949). Byron was romantically linked with Michael Powell for a time; he was named as a co-respondent when her first marriage was dissolved in 1950.[2]

Her success in Black Narcissus eventually led her to Hollywood, which resulted in a supporting role in Young Bess (1953). She found the experience an unrewarding one and soon returned to Britain. Her subsequent roles of the time were mostly in B films. She had an occasional role in the 1957-67 soap Emergency Ward 10, playing the alcoholic wife of the consultant gynaecologist Harold de la Roux (John Barron). In the 1960s and 1970s, she did extensive television work, including a small role as Queen Louise of Denmark in Edward the Seventh (1975), Mme Celeste Lekeu in two episodes of the BBC drama Secret Army (1977), a brief stint on the soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1979.

Byron continued to act into the new millennium, her film, theatre and television work included Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap (1990), an adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma (1996), Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Stephen Poliakoff's series, Perfect Strangers (2001).

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1953, she married her second husband, the British journalist and writer Alaric Jacob (who predeceased her); Jacob was then working for the BBC. They had one son and daughter; with a child from Jacob's previous marriage.[4]

She died 18 January 2009 in Northwood, London.[5]

Partial filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Note
1938 Climbing High Model on Sofa Uncredited
1942 The Young Mr Pitt Millicent Grey Uncredited
1943 The Silver Fleet Schoolmistress
1946 A Matter of Life and Death An Angel
1947 Black Narcissus Sister Ruth
1949 The Small Back Room Susan
Madness of the Heart Verite Faimont
1950 The Reluctant Widow Mme. Annette de Chevreaux
Prelude to Fame Signora Anne Bondini
1951 Scarlet Thread Josephine
Hell Is Sold Out Arlette de Balzamann
I'll Never Forget You Duchess of Devonshire
Four Days Lucienne Templar
Life in Her Hands Scarlett
Tom Brown's Schooldays Mrs. Brown
1953 The Gambler and the Lady Pat
Young Bess Ann Seymour
1954 Star of My Night Eve Malone
1955 Secret Venture Renne L'Epine
1960 Hand in Hand Mrs. O'Malley
1962 Night of the Eagle Evelyn Sawtelle
1968 Hammerhead Lady Calvet
1969 Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood Katherine of Locksley
1971 Private Road Mrs. Halpern
Twins of Evil Katy Weil
1973 Nothing But the Night Dr. Rose
1974 Craze Muriel Sharp
The Abdication Queen Mother
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing Colonel's Wife
1980 The Elephant Man Lady Waddington
1981 From a Far Country Tadek's Mother
1996 Emma Mrs. Goddard
1998 Saving Private Ryan Old Mrs. Ryan
Les Misérables Mother Superior
2010 Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff Herself Documentary


  1. ^ BFI biodata
  2. ^ a b c d Kathleen Byron obituary, 21 January 2009 The Daily Telegraph accessed 21 January 2009
  3. ^ 1921 Birth records index
  4. ^ Brian Baxter Obituary: Kathleen Byron, The Guardian,19 January 2009, accessed 21 January 2009
  5. ^ "Kathleen Byron: Actress who played Sister Ruth in "Black Narcissus"". The Independent. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2009. 


  • McFarlane, Brian. An Autobiography of British Cinema. London: Methuen. 1997. ISBN 0-413-70520-X

External links[edit]