Susannah York

Susannah York
Born Susannah Yolande Fletcher
(1939-01-09)9 January 1939
Chelsea, England, United Kingdom
Died 15 January 2011(2011-01-15) (aged 72)
Chelsea, England, United Kingdom
Cause of death Multiple myeloma
Residence London, England
Nationality British
Education Marr College
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Actress
Years active 1959–2010
Spouse(s) Michael Wells (1959–76, divorced)
Children Sasha Wells
Orlando Wells
Parent(s) Simon Fletcher (deceased)
Joan Hamilton (née Bowring)

Susannah Yolande Fletcher (9 January 1939[1] – 15 January 2011), known professionally as Susannah York, was an English film, stage and television actress. She was awarded a BAFTA as Best Supporting Actress for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)[2] and was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for the same film. She won best actress for Images at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. In 1991 she was appointed an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[2] Her appearances in various hit films of the 1960s formed the basis of her international reputation,[3] and an obituary in The Telegraph characterised her as "the blue-eyed English rose with the china-white skin and cupid lips who epitomised the sensuality of the swinging Sixties".[4]

Early life

York was born in Chelsea, London, in 1939, the younger daughter of Simon William Peel Vickers Fletcher (1910–2002), a merchant banker and steel magnate, and his first wife, the former Joan Nita Mary Bowring – they married in 1935 and divorced prior to 1943.[5][6][7][8][9][10] Her maternal grandfather was Walter Andrew Bowring, CBE, a British diplomat who served as Administrator of Dominica (1933–1935); she was a great-great-granddaughter of political economist Sir John Bowring.[4][6][11][12][13] York had an elder sister, as well as a half-brother, Eugene Xavier Charles William Peel Fletcher, from her father's second marriage to Pauline de Bearnez de Morton de La Chapelle.[5][14][15][16][17]

In early 1943, her mother married a Scottish businessman, Adam M. Hamilton, and moved, with her daughter, to Scotland.[18][19] At the age of 11 York entered Marr College in Troon, Ayrshire.[4][20] Later she became a boarder at Wispers School, a school housed in Wispers, a Norman Shaw-designed country house in the Sussex village of Stedham. At 13 she was removed – effectively expelled – from Wispers after owning up to a nude midnight swim in the school pool, and she transferred to East Haddon Hall in Northamptonshire.[4][20]

Enthusiastic about her experiences of acting at school (she had played an Ugly Sister in Cinderella at the age of nine), York first decided to apply to the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art; but after her mother had separated from her stepfather and moved to London, she instead auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).[2][4][20][21] There she won the Ronson award for most promising student[22] before graduating in 1958.[23]



Her film career began with Tunes of Glory (1960), co-starring with Alec Guinness and John Mills. In 1961, she played the leading role in The Greengage Summer, which co-starred Kenneth More and Danielle Darrieux. In 1962, she performed in Freud: The Secret Passion with Montgomery Clift in the title role.

York and co-star Michael Sarrazin in trailer to They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

York played Sophie Western opposite Albert Finney in the Oscar-winning Best Film Tom Jones (1963). She had turned the part down three times and only agreed to participate because she felt guilty over cooking a disastrous meal for the director Tony Richardson, who was determined not to accept her refusal.[3] She also appeared in Kaleidescope (1966), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Battle of Britain (1969). She co-starred with George C. Scott (as Edward Rochester), playing the title role in an American television movie of Jane Eyre (1970). It was also in 1970 that Susannah York played opposite Peter O'Toole in Country Dance.

York was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). She snubbed the Academy when, regarding her nomination, she declared it offended her to be nominated without being asked. She was highly praised for her performance, though she said "I don't think much of the film, or of myself in it." She did attend the ceremony but lost to Goldie Hawn for her role in Cactus Flower.[24]

In 1972, she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in Images.[25] She played Superman's mother Lara on the doomed planet Krypton in Superman (1978) and its sequels, Superman II (1980) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). York made extensive appearances in British television series, including Prince Regent (1979), as Maria Fitzherbert, the clandestine wife of the future George IV, and We'll Meet Again (1982).

In 1984, York starred as Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol (1984), based on the novel by Charles Dickens. She again co-starred with George C. Scott (as Ebenezer Scrooge), David Warner (Bob Cratchit), Frank Finlay (Jacob Marley), Angela Pleasence (The Ghost of Christmas Past) and Anthony Walters (Tiny Tim).

In 1992, she was a member of the jury at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.[26]

In 2003, York had a recurring role as hospital manager Helen Grant in the BBC1 television drama series Holby City. She reprised this role in two episodes of Holby City's sister series Casualty in May 2004. Her last film was The Calling, released in 2010 in the UK.

She was a patron of the Children's Film Unit and appeared in several of their films.


"York's greatest achievement was to escape the pigeonholing that is the curse of her profession and to overcome the perception of her as the flaxen-haired beauty of 1960s British movies. In her richly fulfilled later career, she proved that she was a real actor of extraordinary emotional range, not just a movie star."[3]

Media critic Michael Billington

In 1978, York appeared on stage at the New End Theatre in London in The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs with Lucinda Childs, directed by French director Simone Benmussa. This was the first of 10 projects she completed with the producer Richard Jackson.[3] The following year, she appeared in Paris, speaking French in a play by Henry James: Appearances, with Sami Frey. The play was again directed by Benmussa.[3]

In the 1980s, again with Benmussa, York played in For No Good Reason, an adaptation of George Moore's short story, with Susan Hampshire. In 1985 she appeared in Fatal Attraction by Bernard Slade at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. In 2007, she appeared in the UK tour of The Wings of the Dove, and continued performing her internationally well received solo show, The Loves of Shakespeare's Women. Also in 2007, she guest starred in the Doctor Who audio play Valhalla. In 2008, she played the part of Nelly in an adaptation by April De Angelis of Wuthering Heights.[27]

According to the website of Italian symphonic metal band Rhapsody of Fire (previously known as Rhapsody), York had been recruited for a narrated part on the band's next full-length album Triumph or Agony. In 2009, she starred alongside Jos Vantyler in the Tennessee Williams season at the New End Theatre, London for which she received critical acclaim.[28]

York's last stage performance was as Jean in Ronald Harwood's Quartet, at the Oxford Playhouse in August 2010.[29]

Writing and personal appearances

In the 1970s, she wrote two children's fantasy novels, In Search of Unicorns (1973, revised 1984) which was excerpted in the film Images, and Lark's Castle (1976, revised 1986).[30]

She was a guest, along with David Puttnam on the BBC Radio 4 documentary I Had The Misery Thursday, a tribute programme to film actor Montgomery Clift, which was aired in 1986, on the twentieth anniversary of Clift's death.[31] York had co-starred with him in Freud, John Huston's 1962 film biography of the psychoanalyst.[30]

Personal life

In 1959, York married Michael Wells, with whom she had two children, daughter Sasha (born May 1972) and son Orlando (born June 1973). They divorced in 1976. In the 1984 TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol, she played Mrs. Cratchit and both of her children co-starred as Cratchit offspring. Orlando gave York her first grandchild, Rafferty, in 2007.[32]

Politically, she was left-wing and publicly supported Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli dissident who revealed Israel's nuclear weapons programme.[33] While performing The Loves of Shakespeare's Women at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv in June 2007, York dedicated the performance to Vanunu, evoking both cheers and jeers from the audience.[34]


York was diagnosed with cancer late in 2010, but refused chemotherapy in order to honor a contractual obligation to appear in Ronald Harwood's Quartet.[3] She died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London[35][36] from multiple myeloma on 15 January 2011, six days after her 72nd birthday.[37][38]

TV and filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1960 The Richest Man in the World Martine Herrault
There Was a Crooked Man Ellen
Tunes of Glory Morag Sinclair
1961 ITV Television Playhouse Eva Sinding
Abigail Williams
episode: Midnight Sun
episode: The Crucible
The Greengage Summer Joss Grey
The First Gentleman Princess Charlotte
1962 The Slaughter of St. Teresa's Day Thelma Maguire
Freud: The Secret Passion Cecily Koertner Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1963 Tom Jones Sophie Western
1964 The 7th Dawn Candace Trumpey
Scene Nun, Take One The Actress
1965 Thursday Theatre Milly Theale episode: The Wings of the Dove
Sands of the Kalahari Grace Munkton
Scruggs Susan
1966 The Fall of the House of Usher Madeleine Usher
Kaleidoscope Angel McGinnis Laurel Award for Favorite Female Comedy Performance (5th place)
A Man for All Seasons Margaret More
Jackanory Storyteller episode: The Children of Green Knowe
1966-1967 Theatre 625 Bronwen
episode: The Winner
episode: Kiss on a Grass Green Pillow
1968 Sebastian Rebecca Howard
ITV Playhouse Grace episode: The Photographer
The Killing of Sister George Alice 'Childie' McNaught
Duffy Segolene
1969 Lock Up Your Daughters Hilaret
Oh! What a Lovely War Eleanor
Battle of Britain Section Officer Maggie Harvey
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Alice BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
1970 Country Dance Hilary Dow
Jane Eyre Jane Eyre Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
1971 Happy Birthday, Wanda June Penelope Ryan
1972 Zee and Co. Stella
Images Cathryn Best Actress Award (Cannes Film Festival)
1959-1972 Armchair Theatre Tekla
Mandy Hope
Cecily Cardew
7 episodes
1973 Great Mysteries Countess Josephine episode: La Grande Breteche
1974 Fallen Angels Julia Sterroll
Gold Terry Steyner
1975 The Maids Claire
That Lucky Touch Julia Richardson
Conduct Unbecoming Mrs. Marjorie Scarlett
1976 Sky Riders Ellen Bracken
Eliza Fraser Eliza Fraser
1977 A Month in the Country Natalia
1978 The Shout Rachel Fielding
The Silent Partner Julie Carver
Long Shot An Actress
Superman Lara
1979 Prince Regent Maria Fitzherbert
The Golden Gate Murders Sister Benecia
1980 The Awakening Jane Turner
Falling in Love Again Sue Lewis
Superman II Lara
1981 Second Chance Kate Hurst episode: April II
Loophole Dinah Booker
1982 We'll Meet Again Dr. Helen Dereham 13 episodes
Alice Queenie
1983 Nelly's Version Narrator (voice)
Yellowbeard Lady Churchill
1984 A Christmas Carol Mrs. Cratchit
1985 Star Quality Lorraine Barry
The Love Boat Kay Webber episode: Girl of the Midnight Sun/There'll Be Some Changes Made/Too Many Isaacs/Mr. Smith Goes to Stockholm
Daemon Rachel
1986 The Two Ronnies My Lady episode: Episode #12.2
1987 Prettykill Toni
Mio min Mio Seamstress
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Lara Voice
Barbablù, Barbablù Teresa
1988 A Summer Story Mrs. Narracombe
Just Ask for Diamond Lauren Bacardi
1989 Melancholia Catherine Lanham Franck
After the War Irene Jameson episode: Yesterday and Tomorrow
episode: Partners
A Handful of Time Susanne Walker
The Ray Bradbury Theater Nora episode: The Haunting of the New
1990 Screen Two Amy Wallace episode: The Man from the Pru
Boon Lady Tessa Bolton episode: Daddy's Girl
1991 Devices and Desires Meg Dennison 6 episodes
1991-1992 Trainer Rachel Ware 23 episodes
1992 Illusions Dr. Sinclair
1993 The Higher Mortals Miss Thorogood
Piccolo Grande Amore Queen Christina
1997 The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Liz episode: A Dark Blue Perfume
So This Is Romance? Mike's Mum
Loop Olivia
2000 St. Patrick: The Irish Legend Concessa
2002 Highway
The Book of Eve May
2003 Visitors Carolyn Perry Nominated-DVD Exclusive Award for Best Actress in a DVD Premiere Movie
Nominated-Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress
Holby City Helen Grant 9 episodes
2004 Casualty Helen Grant episode: Don't Go There
episode: Breaking Point
2006 The Gigolos Tessa Harrington
The Stoning Jean Fielding
2008 Franklyn Margaret
2009 The Calling The Prioress
2010 Missing Marjorie Claye episode: Episode #2.9
Doctors Lorna Robson episode: Gibberish, (Last appearance)


  1. "Births". The Times (11 January 1939). "FLETCHER. – on Jan. 9, 1939, at 18, Walpole Street, S.W.3. to Joan, wife of Peel Fletcher – a daughter"
  2. 1 2 3 'Susannah York', Film Obituaries, The Sunday Telegraph, 16 January 2011
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Michael Billington, Susannah York obituary, The Guardian, 16 January 2011
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Olga Craig, Ben Leach and Roya Nikkhah, "Actress Susannah York has died, aged 72", The Telegraph, 15 January 2011
  5. 1 2 'Simon Fletcher: Steelworks owner who lost his livelihood during the war and spent the next 57 years trying to sue the Government', obituary in The Times or The Sunday Times, 15 October 2002.
  6. 1 2 "The fifty-year war for a lost empire: Simon Fletcher has devoted his life to proving the establishment conspired to destroy his steel business" The Independent (27 December 1992)
  7. Simon Fletcher's Times obituary states that his first marriage produced two daughters, one of whom predeceased him; see "Simon Fletcher: Steelworks owner who lost his livelihood during the war and spent the next 57 years trying to sue the Government", obituary in The Times or The Sunday Times, 15 October 2002.
  8. Marriage between Joan N.M. Bowring and [Simon] William P. Fletcher listed in England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916–2005, accessed on on 16 January 2011
  9. Though York claimed she was born in 1942, the birth of Susannah Y. Fletcher to a mother whose maiden name was Bowring is recorded as having occurred in 1939 in England & Wales Birth Index: 1916–2005, accessed on on 16 January 2011
  10. The marriage between Joan N.M. Bowring Fletcher, and Adam M. Hamilton took place in London, England, in early 1943, according to England and Wales Marriage Index, 1916–2005, accessed on on 16 January 2010
  11. Stephen J F Plowman, 'Descendents of Sir John Bowring',
  12. Ben Cahoon, 'Dominica',
  13. Arthur Charles Fox Davies, Armorial Families (Hurst & Blackett, 1929), page 199
  14. The London Gazette, 28 August 1942, page 3,799, gives the full maiden name of York's stepmother as Pauline Laura Aylmer Eugenie de Bearnez de Morton de La Chapelle and gives her former married name as Marsh. The Nobilities of Europe (, page 327) states that she was a granddaughter of French historian Jean Joseph Xavier Alfred de La Chapelle, Count de La Chapelle and Morton.
  15. Eugene Xavier C. W. P. Fletcher was born to Simon Fletcher and his second wife, née de La Chapelle, in late 1942, in London, according to England & Wales Birth Index, 1916–2005, Volume 1a, page 435, accessed on on 16 January 2011. He is also listed in the same book (Volume 5c, page 5/62), same date, same location, but with the mother's maiden name being given as "Le Bearney Morton de la Chapelle".
  16. England & Wales Marriage Index, 1916–2005 (Volume 1a, page 705) states that Simon Fletcher married Pauline E.L.A. de Bearnaz de Morton de La Chapelle (formerly Mrs Marsh) in early 1943. The couple had divorced by early 1949, when Pauline Fletcher married her third husband, Richard G. Williams.
  17. Alan Freer, Descendants of William the Conqueror.
  18. The marriage between Joan N.M. Bowring Fletcher, and Adam M. Hamilton, took place in London, England, in early 1943, according to England and Wales Marriage Index, 1916–2005, accessed on on 16 January 2010
  19. Ben Leach, Olga Craig and Roya Nikkhah, 'Family pay tribute to actress Susannah York who has died, aged 72', Sunday Telegraph, 16 January 2011.
  20. 1 2 3 "PASSED/FAILED: Susannah York" The Independent (9 January 1997)
  21. Biography @ Yahoo! Movies
  22. Ben Quinn, "Susannah York, the gentle star of 1960s cinema, dies after battle against cancer", 16 January 2011
  23. "Susannah York profile at RADA
  24. "Goldie Hawn winning Best Supporting Actress for "Cactus Flower" on YouTube Retrieved 13 June 2010
  25. "List of 1972 Festival de Cannes Winners" Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  26. "Berlinale: 1992 Juries". Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  27. Groocock, Veronica (27 Sep 2008). "My perfect weekend: Susannah York". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  28. Dreamers: This Property is Condemned/The Lady of Larkspur Lotion/Talk to Me Like the Rain
  29. Quartet: Milton Keynes Theatre and touring to Oxford
  30. 1 2 Margalit Fox (16 January 2011). "Susannah York, British Actress, Dies at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  31. "A Cage to Hold My Dreams". Terence Pettigrew. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  32. "My perfect weekend: Susannah York" The Telegraph (27 September 2008).
  33. Vanunu released after 18 years. The Guardian. 21 April 2004.
  34. "Hijacking Shakespeare" Jerusalem Post (10 June 2007).
  35. "Tributes paid to 'wonderful' Susannah York". Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  36. Michael Billington (Jan 2015). "York, Susannah (1939–2011)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/103576. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  37. "Actress Susannah York dies at 72" "BBC News". 15 January 2011.
  38. Emma Brown (16 January 2011). "Susannah York, 72, Oscar nominee for role in 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
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