Angela Thorne obituary

<span>Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock

The actor Angela Thorne, who has died aged 84, excelled in comedy and had a commanding presence on both screen and stage, whether supporting Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles in the ratings-topping BBC sitcom To the Manor Born or starring as Margaret Thatcher in the scathing West End farce Anyone for Denis?

She brought an imperious, chillingly real quality to the role of the Iron Lady at the Whitehall theatre alongside John Wells as the henpecked Denis Thatcher in 1981. The Daily Mirror’s critic noted: “Angela Thorne is Mrs Thatcher to a T. The hair style, the accent, the slightly pained look, are captured to an astonishing degree by the actress.” Wells adapted the play from Private Eye’s satirical Dear Bill letters, with the prime minister hijacking Denis’s boozy weekend with his friends by turning up unexpectedly at Chequers.

Thorne took to the stage for Anyone for Denis? in the middle of To the Manor Born’s three-year run (1979-81). Peter Spence’s comedy creation cast her in the seemingly more passive role of Marjory Frobisher, the loyal friend of Keith’s snooty, domineering widow, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, who has been forced through death duties to move into the lodge on her estate after selling her manor house to the self-made millionaire Richard DeVere, played by Bowles.

Nevertheless, mousey Marjory – an “absolute brick”, according to Audrey – gives Thorne the opportunity to bring the supreme snob down to earth with a cutting remark in every episode.

To the Manor Born was revived for a 1997 BBC radio series with Thorne and Keith in their original roles, while Keith Barron took over from Bowles – although the original trio were reunited for a 2007 television special. It was Thorne’s turn to play the snob when she was cast as Daphne Trenchard in another TV sitcom, Three Up, Two Down (1985-89), which paired her with Michael Elphick – acting the cockney oik – in the roles of widowed in-laws forced to share a flat below their married children.

Born in Karachi, in pre-partition India (now in Pakistan), Angela was the daughter of Sylvia (nee Leslie), a teacher, and William Thorne, a doctor who went on to serve with the Indian Army Medical Corps during the second world war. He was made an OBE for commanding a field ambulance at the Battle of Monte Cassino during the allies’ Italian campaign in 1944. The Thorne family had links with India going back several generations.

At the age of five, Angela went as a boarder to Farlington school, in Horsham, West Sussex. Longing for a stage career but unsure how to pursue it, she then took a secretarial course and worked for a year at the Indonesian embassy in London.

Talking to a drama student at a party gave Thorne the chance to meet a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She took his advice to enrol for night courses, then won a scholarship to train at Guildhall, but she left after a year and found acting work with the producer Caryl Jenner’s Mobile Theatre company, taking plays to children.

Becoming an assistant stage manager in Paignton, Devon, in 1961 gave her further acting experience before seasons with the York Citizens’ theatre (1962-63) and at the Sheffield Playhouse (1964-65). At the Theatre Royal, Windsor, in 1965, Thorne made an impression as Olivia Grayne in Emlyn Williams’s psychological thriller Night Must Fall.

The West End and Ralph Richardson’s company beckoned for a revival of the George Bernard Shaw play You Never Can Tell (1966). “Angela Thorne makes a notable London debut as Gloria, looking beautiful, and being compelling and creative in a first-rate characterisation,” wrote the Stage’s critic. During the play’s run, the television producer Ned Sherrin auditioned her for Take a Sapphire (1966), a “chronicle with music” he had written with Caryl Brahms, and she played a princess.

Although Thorne had briefly been seen as a receptionist in a 1962 episode of The Avengers and did sketches with John Bird and Roy Hudd in Sherrin’s satiricial series That Was the Week That Was a year later, Take a Sapphire – and recognition for her performances on stage – kicked off her screen career.

She seemed ever-present on TV over the next 40 years. Sherrin produced her again when she played the “link woman” Nancy Chuff in BBC Two’s satirical series World in Ferment (1969), parodying current affairs programmes.

More conventionally, she acted Mrs Charmond in The Woodlanders (1970); Lettice Knollys in Elizabeth R (1971); Charlotte Verney, niece of the estate owner George in Emmerdale Farm, sorting out his financial affairs with her husband following his death (1978); and Val Kirby, wife of the eccentric vet of the title played by Anton Rodgers, in Noah’s Ark (1997-98).

Thorne also starred in the comedy series Farrington of the FO (1986-87). As Harriet Farrington, she plays the British consul general in an obscure South American banana republic coping with revolutions and a dyed-in-the-wool major colleague undermining her.

In the cinema, she was seen as Betty Smith in the musical satire Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and heard as the voice of the Queen of England in the 1989 animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Among half a dozen mainly dramatic roles in the West End, Thorne shone as Io in Prometheus Bound (Mermaid theatre, 1971). Again, she brought great presence to the part, this time with sadness etched in her face and a remarkable calmness as she gives a powerfully emotional speech about her character’s seduction by Zeus.

Anyone for Denis? later brought her an Olivier award nomination for best comedy performance. Thorne’s last West End role came in 2013 at the Vaudeville theatre as the eccentric widow Mrs Wilberforce renting rooms to criminals in The Ladykillers, based on the Ealing Studios film comedy.

In 1967, she married the actor Peter Penry-Jones; he died in 2009. She is survived by their actor sons Rupert and Laurence.

Angela Margaret Leslie Thorne, actor, born 25 January 1939; died 16 June 2023