Haydn Gwynne, a celebrated performer known for her diverse roles on stage and cinema, died tragically at age 66 following a battle with cancer. Gwynne’s tremendous career, which included theater and television roles, brought her praise and admiration.
Gwynne had a lasting impression on the entertainment industry, perhaps best known for her part as the caustic assistant editor Alex Pates in Channel 4’s office farce “Drop the Dead Donkey.”
She received nominations for various accolades in recognition of her extraordinary talent, including Olivier and Tony nods for her performance as a dance instructor in “Billy Elliot the Musical” in both London and New York. She was also nominated for three other Olivier Awards for her excellent work in musical productions like “City of Angels,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (based on the Pedro Almodóvar film), and “The Threepenny Opera.”
Gwynne’s representative confirmed that the talented actress had gone away in the hospital while being surrounded by her cherished sons, extended family, and friends in a statement made on Friday. The hospital workers and teams at the Royal Marsden and Brompton hospitals were thanked in the statement for their extraordinary care during her final weeks.
The playwright Jack Thorne, who collaborated with Gwynne on the play “When Winston Went to War With the Wireless” at the Donmar Warehouse in London, was among several in the entertainment business who paid respect to Gwynne’s legacy. Helen King, a retired police officer and now the principal of St Anne’s College in Oxford, recalled Gwynne as perceptive, hard-working, and humorous while shadowing her for her role as Supt Susan Blake in the TV series “Merseybeat.” Thorne called Gwynne “the kindest, loveliest soul and a wonderful performer who gave everything to everything.” Writer Jonathan Harvey praised her as “a gifted and versatile all-rounder.”
Gwynne withdrew from “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends,” a West End revue, soon before its intended premiere in September 2023. Gwynne’s memorable performance in the gala premiere was honored by producer Cameron Mackintosh, who also declared that the evening’s performance of “Old Friends” will be devoted to her memory and her accomplished career.
Gwynne’s remarkable career also featured notable West End theater performances, including Lady Wishfort in the Restoration comedy “The Way of the World” at the Donmar in 2018 and Margaret Thatcher in Peter Morgan’s play “The Audience” with Helen Mirren in 2013.
Even in 2023, she appeared on stage in “The Great British Bake Off Musical” as a strict judge. She played Queen Elizabeth alongside Kevin Spacey in “Richard III” at the London Old Vic in 2011 and Volumnia in “Coriolanus” for the RSC in 2017.
The National Theatre’s director, Rufus Norris, acknowledged his shock at Gwynne’s demise and lauded her special blend of humor, depravity, grace, and courageous skill. He remembered her contributions to the National Theatre with affection, as well as the staff’s great love and regard for her.
Gwynne was renowned for her versatility, frequently portraying regal and noble characters, such as Camilla in the comedy “The Windsors” on Channel 4 and Lady Susan Hussey in Netflix’s “The Crown,” as well as a cunning gallerist in the BBC’s “Sherlock,” and having recurring roles on “Peak Practice” and “Merseybeat.”
Gwynne received accolades for her performance as an English lecturer in the 1989 television miniseries “Nice Work,” which was based on the book by David Lodge. However, her performance as Alex Pates in “Drop the Dead Donkey” was what really made her famous. She appeared in the first two seasons of this well-known comedy and received a Bafta nomination for Best Light Entertainment Performance; nevertheless, her character eventually left GlobeLink News.
Gwynne, a West Sussex native, started her career in entertainment with amateur theatrical plays in her community and proceeded with sociology coursework at the University of Nottingham. She also dabbled in student theater during the Edinburgh Fringe when she was there. She lectured in English at the University of Rome after receiving her degree.
A major opportunity came Gwynne’s way in 1984 when Alan Ayckbourn cast her in Sandy Wilson’s musical play, “His Monkey Wife,” which was adapted from John Collier’s book and performed in Scarborough. It is noteworthy that Gwynne did not attend drama school. Gwynne and her partner, Jason Phipps, have two sons.