Margaret Nolan – actress, artist
Margaret Nolan, who has died aged 76, was every inch the personification of a very British kind of big-screen glamour. Nolan’s trademark voluptuousness came to the fore in the Carry On series of saucy comedies, as well as on a 1970s UK sit-com circuit that included Steptoe and Son and Nearest and Dearest.
Nolan was already known from sharing a casino scene with Wilfred Brambell in Richard Lester’s Beatles flick, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and receiving an unreconstructed slap on the behind from Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964). Nolan played Bond’s masseuse, Dink. The role had been part of the deal after she was hired to be the gold-painted icon for the third Bond film’s memorable title sequence.
It was another Carry On actress, Shirley Eaton, whose character came a cropper after being spray-painted gold in the film itself. Yet it was Nolan’s statuesque shape-throwing, set against Shirley Bassey’s rendition of John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s theme song at its start, that defined the film’s dangerously sexy image.
With key clips of the film projected onto Nolan’s gold bikini clad body creating a collage effect, Robert Brownjohn’s title sequence arguably influenced Nolan’s own adventures in visual art, in which she made montages using vintage promotional photographs of herself. By exploring how a public image is controlled, Nolan went some way to reclaiming a sense of self-determination.
Prior to being typecast as a pneumatic blonde bombshell in British comedy, Nolan worked in politically driven fringe theatre with her playwright/actor husband Tom Kempinski, and played serious roles in TV plays. in France, she was cast in a similarly straight role in Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965). Having dropped out of acting in the 1980s to explore visual art and permaculture, a late return to the screen a decade ago saw Nolan play with her perceived image some more.
Margaret Ann Nolan was born in Norton Badstock, Somerset, one of non-identical twin daughters to her mother Molly, an English nurse, and her father Jack, an Irish army clerk. They spent the Second World War years in County Waterford in Ireland before moving to Hampstead, where Nolan grew up. She initially began training as a teacher, but became a glamour model, sometimes under the name of Vicky Kennedy.
Moving into acting, Nolan appeared in episodes of The Saint (1963) and Danger Man, (1965), and in Gerry and the Pacemakers vehicle, Ferry Cross the Mersey (1964). Nolan was cast in six Carry On films, beginning with Carry On Cowboy (1965) through to Carry On Dick (1974). Inbetween, she appeared in Anthony Newley’s mid-life crisis musical, Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness (1969), and played a seductive alien in Val Guest’s awkward mix of sci-fi, pop music and comedy, Toomorrow (1970). In the film version of Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriot’s’s stage farce, No Sex Please, We’re British (1973), Nolan formed a formidable double act with fellow Brit girl, Valerie Leon. The two appeared together in Carry On Girls the same year.
Nolan played a stripper in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s jailbird drama starring Adam Faith, Budgie (1970-71, and was seen in several of Spike Milligan’s Q series’ (1976). She was a gangster’s moll in The Sweeney (1975), and was in three episodes of Trevor Preston’s epic chronicle of a London underworld dynasty, Fox (1980). Later parts included Brideshead Revisited (1981), and with Andrew Cruikshank in Crown Court (1983).
Nolan and Kempinski divorced in 1972, and in the late 1980s she moved to Spain, where she lived in a secluded farmhouse for twenty years. It was here she began making art, exhibiting there before showing in several London galleries.
Nolan last appeared onscreen in 2011, in The Power of Three, Yvonne Deutschmann's dramady about the empowerment of older women. In a part especially written for her, Nolan cameoed as Dame Margaret, a version of herself who returns to acting with an all female production team.
More recently, Nolan filmed Last Night in Soho, a psychological horror that sees a young fashion designer step back in time to the 1960s. Due for release in 2021, Edgar Wright’s film features other ‘60s idols, including Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and Diana Rigg.
Announcing Nolan’s passing on Twitter, Shaun of the Dead director Wright called her “the middle of the Venn diagram of everything cool in the 60’s;”
Nolan’s website showcasing her montages quotes from art critic John Berger’s seminal 1973 book, Ways of Seeing, in which Berger writes about how ‘Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at…’ This was something Nolan recognised first hand.
“They’re very lonely,” Nolan said of her artworks in a revealing 2007 interview with denofgeek.com. “And there’s this kind of passive ‘look’, which is part of what it was like in the sixties… we weren’t allowed to have an expression on our face. The idea was really just to look beautiful…and passive, the way men liked you to look… that’s why I made some of them quite grotesque, really…the idea that I was there as this passive woman, being looked at, but behind it all, behind my eyes, of course I knew what was going on.”
Nolan is survived by her two sons, Oscar Deeks and Luke O’Sullivan, and two grandchildren.
The Herald, October 27th 2020