Myra Frances – Actress, animal welfare campaigner
Born April 13, 1942; died March 30, 2021
Myra Frances, who has died of cancer aged 78, was an actress who became a taboo busting pioneer when she shared British television’s first romantic kiss between women. That was in Girl (1974), James Robson’s play for BBC Birmingham’s Second City Firsts series of short stand-alone dramas by relatively new writers. Frances played Christine Harvey, the seemingly stern army corporal who appears opposite Alison Steadman’s discharged pregnant squaddie, Jackie.
As Jackie prepares to leave, the pair’s illicit tryst is revealed in a serious study of the effects their brief relationship has had on both of them amidst the double lives they each lead. As the two women are left alone together, the scene builds towards a bittersweet reckoning played out to the strains of Dusty Springfield’s hit version of Bacharach and David’s song, This Girl’s in Love With You. “Top of the gay girls’ hit parade”, as Frances’ character puts it.
Girl was an early standout for Frances in a twenty-year career on stage and screen that included roles in Terry Nation’s post apocalyptic pandemic based drama, Survivors, (1975), and in Robert Barr’s village squire based drama, Hadleigh (1976). In Survivors, Frances appeared in two episodes as the spoilt and selfish Anne Tranter, whose own sense of self-preservation is all that matters, whatever the cost to others. In the fourth and final series of Hadleigh, she was Stella Clisby, one of many upper crust romantic interests of Gerald Harper’s dashing overlord.
Frances also played Lady Adrasta, a memorable villain in Tom Baker era Doctor Who story, The Creature from the Pit (1979). Lady Adrasta rules the green planet Chloris, where her power is dependent on controlling the planet’s metal supply and keeping the creature that gives the story its title imprisoned. Frances presented her as an icily evil matriarch, whose reign of terror comes to an abrupt and unpleasant end.
Frances later moved into directing at the Mill Theatre in Sonning, Berkshire, where her second husband, actor Roger Egan, became the theatre’s first artistic director. She became a campaigner for various animal welfare charities after taking in rescue dogs with Egan. It became her life’s passion.
Frances was born Frances Piddock in Hastings, East Sussex, to music hall entertainers Jayne Bayley and Harry Piddock. Growing up in such a family it was perhaps inevitable she would pursue a similar career. After leaving Grey Coat Hospital School in London aged fifteen, she spent her evenings training at the Actors Workshop, while working in the daytimes as a secretary and personal assistant in the Duke of Edinburgh Award office.
Her day job came to an end in 1965 after she became an acting assistant stage manager with the rep company at Sheffield Playhouse, where she was soon being cast in acting roles. It wasn’t long before she was back in London, and by 1972 had taken over Deborah Grant’s role as the fiancée of a kidnapped politician in Michael Pertwee’s long-running farce, Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something! Frances spent a year with Brian Rix’s company at the Garrick, and repeated her role in the 1974 film version. This followed a TV version, Men of Affairs (1973), in which Frances also appeared.
May’s television career began in 1968, with two episodes of The Newcomers (1968), about a London family who move to the country. She went on to appear in The Ha Ha (1969), a study of a young woman’s breakdown written by Jennifer Lawson for ITV Playhouse.
In 1972, Frances appeared in an episode of Philip Mackie’s big business based drama, The Organization (1972). The main character of the series was played by Peter Egan. The pair married four years later, and were together ever after. The same year as she appeared in Girl, Frances played Norah Smyth in the Sylvia Pankhurst episode of Shoulder to Shoulder (1974), a dramatised history of the suffragette movement co-created by actress Georgia Brown.
In Heidi (1975), Frances was the orphaned Swiss girl’s aunt. In The Sweeney (1975) she was the surgeon girlfriend of a university-educated copper whose presence winds up John Thaw’s more street-smart Jack Regan. There were one-offs too in women’s prison based serial, Within These Walls (1975), nursing drama Angels (1975), and long running cop show, Z Cars (1978).
Frances was barrister Valerie Scott in two different stories for Crown Court (1976). She returned to the programme six years later playing a different part. She also appeared in Night People (1978), a BBC Play of the Week by Alan Plater, and Alan Garner’s John Mackenzie directed time-shifting cult classic, Red Shift (1978), for Play for Today. Two years later, she was a secretary to Alan Bates’ wealthy industrialist in John Osborne’s TV film, Very like a Whale (1980). Her last small screen appearance was in 1984 in an episode of Jill Gascoine led police drama, The Gentle Touch.
Frances’ move to supporting animal welfare charities in earnest began in 1988 after a Labrador collapsed in front of her. Adopting the dog, she and Egan raised it alongside their own pet Labrador. The couple took in other rescue dogs, and became great supporters of charities such as All Dogs Matter and Saving Suffering Strays.
She is survived by Egan, and her daughter Rebecca, from her first marriage to Robert Taylor.
The Herald, May 7th 2021