Ann Lynn obituary

<span>Photograph: Fremantle Media/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Fremantle Media/REX/Shutterstock

Ann Lynn, who has died aged 86, was a prolific stage and screen actor whose serious looks were more suited to television plays and crime series than the films in which she appeared in the 1950s and 60s.

However, she was best known for a comedy role later in her small-screen career, as Paul Nicholas’s mother in Just Good Friends. The sitcom, written by John Sullivan, starred Nicholas as Vincent Pinner, who rekindles his relationship with Penny Warrender (played by Jan Francis) five years after leaving her standing at the altar.

Lynn joined for the second and third series (1984 and 1986) as Rita Pinner, driven around by her scrap-dealer husband in a flashy car, with her favourite rock’n’roll music booming from it – and looked down on by Penny’s snobbish parents, who regard Vincent as a “wideboy”.

Lynn’s own personal life veered more towards tragedy than comedy. At the age of 18, she fell in love with Anthony Newley. It was a passionate but stormy relationship and, as Garth Bardsley revealed in Stop the World, his 2003 biography of the actor-singer, she arranged a backstreet abortion (abortion was then illegal) after becoming pregnant when the two agreed that a child would hinder their careers. “He wasn’t very supportive,” she said of Newley. “He just wanted to get rid of it and forget about it.”

He cheated on Lynn and made it clear that he did not want a baby when she became pregnant again. After her attempts at terminating the pregnancy failed, she married Newley in August 1956, with Sean Connery among the guests at the reception. Four months later, their son, Simon, was born with spina bifida. He died of a congenital infirmity at the age of six weeks.

Lynn in the television series Danger Man, 1965
Lynn in the television series Danger Man, 1965. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

As his career found new impetus on Broadway and he landed a recording contract, Newley had a relationship with the actor Anneke Wills. Infatuated, Lynn turned a blind eye to his affairs. Then, he met Joan Collins, who described him at the time as “a half-Jewish cockney git” and herself as “a half-Jewish princess from Bayswater via Sunset Boulevard”. In 1963, Lynn successfully sued for divorce on the grounds of his adultery with Collins, and Collins became his second wife later that year. Lynn channelled her energies into her career for the next 30 years.

She was born in Fulham, London, to Olive (nee Harvey) and Basil Lynn. Her father was assistant house manager at the Streatham Astoria cinema and part of a showbusiness dynasty. The monocle-wearing farceur Ralph Lynn was her great-uncle and her cousin Robert was a director who also produced the children’s film classic The Railway Children.

At six months old, Ann appeared as Fay Compton’s daughter in the film musical Song at Eventide (1934). Although she started a career as a dancer at the age of 16 and was a member of the Tiller Girls troupe, she then decided to train as an actor.

After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1952, Lynn performed with repertory companies, toured in Wild Horses (1953) and had a first glimpse of London theatre as assistant stage manager for the actor-manager Brian Rix at the Whitehall theatre.

She made her West End debut in Jane Arden’s play The Party (New theatre, 1958) as Henrietta Brough, the ashamed teenage daughter of a drunken father (Charles Laughton), in a story suggesting incest, with her boyfriend played by Albert Finney, also in his first London role. “Ann Lynn catches the adolescent unhappiness and puzzlement of Henrietta,” wrote the Stage’s critic.

Similarly, one of her first television appearances, in the Armchair theatre production The Report on Jessie Dean (1958), from a Dorothea Gotfurt stage play, touched on subjects controversial at the time. Lynn played an unmarried mother with an unwanted baby stolen by a woman who has lost hers.

More controversy came when she had a leading role alongside Oliver Reed in the film The Party’s Over (1965), depicting the dark side of the swinging 60s and given an X-certificate after the British censors labelled it “tasteless” and “offensive”, and demanded 18 minutes of cuts.

She appeared in more than 20 movies following her screen debut in 1956 – with A Shot in the Dark (1964) and I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname (1967) among an assortment of hits and misses – but the critic David Quinlan observed: “Her rather mournful looks got her cast as downtrodden daughters or conniving bitches … [although] she was often the best thing in her films.”

Television served Lynn better, with guest roles in popular series such as The Baron (1966), Z Cars (1968) and Callan (1969), and parts in many plays. She had a chance to show her classical acting skills as Regan in King Lear (1974), one of her standout screen performances.

Her other TV roles included Rose Mellors, first bedding Terry (Dennis Waterman) while on the trail of a stash of stolen money, then involved in a diamonds scam, in two episodes of Minder (1979 and 1980), and Jackie Wallace, mother of Joe, a gay chef who dies of Aids, in EastEnders (1991 and 1994).

Following her final screen appearance, as Audrey Turner, mother of Raquel, in the 1996 Christmas special of Only Fools and Horses – another sitcom written by Sullivan – Lynn retired and led a quiet life at her home in Oxfordshire.

She is survived by Kash, the son of her partner of 20 years, Aubrey Dewar, who died in 1988, and by her half-brother, Michael Whitfield.

• Elizabeth Ann Lynn, actor, born 7 November 1933; died 30 August 2020