Sylvia Syms

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Sylvia Syms

Sylvia May Laura Syms[1]

(1934-01-06) 6 January 1934 (age 88)
Woolwich, London, England
Years active1955–present
Alan Edney
(m. 1956; div. 1989)
Children2, including Beatie

Sylvia May Laura Syms[2] OBE (born 6 January 1934) is an English actress, best known for her roles in the films Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), Ice Cold in Alex (1958), No Trees in the Street (1959), Victim (1961), and The Tamarind Seed (1974). In 2006 she portrayed The Queen Mother in the Stephen Frears movie The Queen, about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and days leading up to Diana's funeral. She remains active in films, television and theatre.

Personal life[edit]

Syms was born in Woolwich, London, England, the daughter of Daisy (née Hale) and Edwin Syms, a trade unionist and civil servant.[3] She grew up in Well Hall, Eltham[4] and was educated at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, on whose council she later served. Her daughter Beatie Edney is also an actress, and she is the aunt of musicians Nick and Alex Webb.


In her second film, My Teenage Daughter (1954), she played Anna Neagle's troubled daughter. In 1958, she starred in the film Ice Cold in Alex (alongside John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews); that same year she appeared in the English Civil War film, The Moonraker. In 1959 she played in Expresso Bongo with Cliff Richard. She played opposite Dirk Bogarde in 1961 in the film Victim, as the wife of a barrister who is a closet homosexual. The film was thought to have broadened the debate which led to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private.[5] In 1962, she played opposite to Patrick McGoohan as the wife of a condemned man in The Quare Fellow and in 1963 she played Tony Hancock's wife in The Punch and Judy Man. The film also featured her nephew, Nick Webb. Other comedies followed, such as The Big Job (1965) with Hancock's former co-star Sid James and Bat Out of Hell (1967), but it was for drama that she won acclaim, including The Tamarind Seed (1974) with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif, for which she was nominated for a British Film Academy award. My Good Woman in 1972 was a husband-and-wife television comedy series which ran until 1974 with Leslie Crowther. At the same time, she was one of two team captains on the BBC's weekly Movie Quiz, hosted by Robin Ray. In 1975, she was the head of the jury at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival.[6] In 1989, Syms appeared in the Doctor Who story "Ghost Light".

Shortly after the end of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's period of office in 1990, Syms portrayed her in Thatcher: The Final Days (1991), a Granada television film for ITV, which dramatises the events surrounding her removal from power. She later recreated the role on the stage. From 2000 to 2003, she played Marion Riley in the ITV comedy-drama series At Home with the Braithwaites and in 2002, she featured in the serial The Jury and contributed "Sonnet 142" to the compilation album When Love Speaks. For Stephen Frears' The Queen (2006), she was cast in the role of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother with Dame Helen Mirren who, as her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, won an Oscar for her performance. She also appeared in The Poseidon Adventure (2005), an American TV film with a negligible connection to the 1972 feature film. She has also taken up producing and directing.

In 2009, she appeared in the film Is Anybody There? alongside Michael Caine and Anne-Marie Duff and in the ITV1 drama series Collision. In 2010, she guest-starred as a patient in BBC One's drama series Casualty, having played a different character in an episode from 2007. Syms also appeared as another character in Casualty's sister series Holby City in 2003. Since 2007, Syms has had a recurring role in BBC One's EastEnders, playing dressmaker Olive Woodhouse. Her most recent appearance in the role was on 20 July 2010. In 2010, Syms took part in the BBC's The Young Ones, a series in which six celebrities in their 70s and 80s attempted to overcome some of the problems of ageing by harking back to the 1970s.[7] From 2013 to 2019, Syms was the narrator of Talking Pictures, which aired on BBC Two.




  1. ^ Syms profile at Archived 20 April 2013 at Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  3. ^ Sylvia Syms Biography (1934–)
  4. ^ "Well Hall" entry of London Gazetteer by Russ Willey, (Chambers 2006) ISBN 0-550-10326-0 (online extract [1])
  5. ^ Greenfield, Steve; Osborn, Guy; Robson, Peter (2001), Film and the Law, Routledge, p. 118, ISBN 978-1-85941-639-6
  6. ^ "Berlinale 1975: Juries". Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  7. ^ "BBC One – The Young Ones". 22 December 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2012.

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