The actor Julia Lockwood, who has died of pneumonia aged 77, began life in the shadow of her famous mother, Margaret Lockwood, who was confirmed as one of Britain’s biggest box-office stars with her appearance in the 1945 film classic The Wicked Lady, four years after her daughter’s birth.
However, after being given an initial leg-up by her mother – famous for the trademark beauty spot painted high on her left cheek – the young Lockwood forged her own career, navigating the difficult transition from child to adult actor. She enjoyed a steady flow of work in films and on television but gained her greatest fulfilment in the theatre.
When she was eight Julia fell in love with Peter Pan on seeing her mother play the role in what had already established itself as an annual postwar institution at the Scala theatre in London. It made her determined to be up on stage herself, “flying through the air and fighting the pirates”. Later, aged 16 and playing Wendy, she joined her mother in the 1957 Christmas production. She returned to the role a year later before achieving her dream of starring at the Scala as Peter Pan herself – four times (1959, 1960, 1963 and 1966). “Each time I play him, I discover hidden things I never thought of before,” she enthused. “He’s a boy with so many emotions. You can play him as a fey creature or right down to earth. I try to give him something of an unearthly quality.”
From her mid-20s Lockwood was seen on the West End stage in Arsenic and Old Lace (Vaudeville theatre, 1966), The Servant of Two Masters (Queen’s theatre, 1968), Charlie Girl (Adelphi theatre, 1969), Birds on the Wing (Piccadilly theatre, 1969), alongside Bruce Forsyth making his debut as a straight actor, and The Jockey Club Stakes (Vaudeville theatre, 1970).
Then, in 1972, she married the actor Ernest Clark, best known as the irascible Geoffrey Loftus in Doctor in the House and its TV sequels, and her fellow star in the Ray Cooney farce The Mating Game (Apollo theatre, 1972). Shortly afterwards, in her early 30s, she gave up acting to concentrate on bringing up her four children. As an only child herself, she had once said: “I love children. When I marry, I shall have a large family. I don’t believe in raising an only child. I’ve been pretty lonely at times.”
Julia was born in Ringwood, Hampshire, when her father, Rupert Leon, a commodities clerk, was serving in the army while her mother continued her film career. As both parents were rarely around at that point, Julia spent the war years with her grandmother and a nanny.
When peace came, her mother was keen for her daughter to follow in her footsteps. Aged four, Julia made her screen debut playing her daughter in Hungry Hill (released in 1947), based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel about a feud between two Irish families. They appeared together again in the romantic melodrama The White Unicorn (1947).
Lockwood attended drama school from the age of five and – following her parents’ divorce – was just 12 when cast as the star of Heidi for a 1953 children’s TV serial. She was in the following year’s sequel, Heidi Grows Up, by which time she was training at the Arts Educational School in London.
In 1954 she also took the title role in a 1954 BBC production of Alice in Wonderland, which she had performed at Q theatre in Kew, south-west London, on her stage debut the previous Christmas. She was reunited with her mother on TV in The Royalty (1957-58), as mother and daughter Mollie and Carol running a posh London hotel, and its 1965 sequel, The Flying Swan.
Her other small-screen roles included the bargee’s daughter Julia Dean in the sitcom Don’t Tell Father (1959), Martha Barlow in the suspense serial The Six Proud Walkers (1962), the marriage-breaking secretary Anthea Keane in the magazine soap Compact during 1963, and Samantha in the TV sitcom version of Birds on the Wing (1971), alongside Richard Briers, with whom she starred in the radio comedy Brothers in Law (1971-72).
Her short film career, finishing with the 1960 comedy No Kidding, was over by the time she was 20. The promise of a screen test with Columbia Pictures came to nothing – apart from the nose operation and filed teeth that she had in preparation for it.
She taught at her old drama school in the early 1990s and, after the death of her husband in 1994, retired to Spain. She returned to Britain to live in Somerset in 2007.
She is survived by her children with Clark, Nick, Lucy and Katharine, and her son, Tim, from a previous relationship.
• Julia Lockwood (Margaret Julia Leon), actor, born 23 August 1941; died 24 March 2019