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Thea Gregory, actress who became the wife of John Gregson – obituary

Thea Gregory with her husband John Gregson in 1957 - Popperfoto via Getty Images
Thea Gregory with her husband John Gregson in 1957 - Popperfoto via Getty Images

Thea Gregory, who has died aged 96, started out on stage before finding her feet on film as a leading lady in B-movie thrillers, including The Golden Link and Profile (both 1954); away from the screen, she was the wife of the British actor and leading man John Gregson, famous for his roles in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and Genevieve (1953), among others.

She was born Ida Reddish in Nottingham in 1926, and began her stage career with Birmingham Rep, appearing in plays that included King John (1945), with Denis Quilley, and The Insect Play (1946), co-starring a young Paul Eddington.

She first met Gregson, then a budding actor, in 1945, shortly after he had been demobbed out of the Royal Navy following a knee injury when his minesweeper was torpedoed. Working under the name of Thea Kronberg, she had gone up to Perth to join a small repertory company of which he had also just become a member.

Gregson had become interested in amateur dramatics when watching shows put on for the troops by Ensa. He later became a member of the Liverpool Playhouse before moving to Perth.

Thea Gregory and John Gregson with Captain Frederick Secker Bell of the Royal Navy at the premiere of The Battle of the River Plate in 1956 - Franks/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Thea Gregory and John Gregson with Captain Frederick Secker Bell of the Royal Navy at the premiere of The Battle of the River Plate in 1956 - Franks/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They stayed in Scotland for eight months then moved to London in 1947 and married, settling into a small flat in Ealing. Thea Gregory quickly adapted to married life as her husband’s career began to soar. As his prominence grew, so did hers by association, and they began working at Ealing Studios for the Rank Organisation.

She made her film debut as a nurse, under the name of Thea Gregory, in the Ealing comedy The Magnet (1950), about a boy who gets caught up in a series of scrapes after stealing a powerful magnet from another boy, then took time out to devote to her growing family. She returned to the screen in 1954 with a supporting role in the prison drama The Weak and the Wicked, which starred her husband alongside Glynis Johns and Diana Dors.

That year was her busiest. She won her first lead role in the minor crime drama Solution by Phone, in which an actor seeks help from a crime novelist as he tries to dispose of a body. Next came the Africa-set adventure yarn The Scarlet Spear, followed by the crime drama Five Days, in which she played the wife of a failing businessman; he hires a friend to kill him so she can collect the insurance but changes his mind when his prospects improve.

The Gregsons at home in 1957 with, l-r, Stanley Baker, Lyn Fairhurst and Tony Wrigh - Popperfoto via Getty Images
The Gregsons at home in 1957 with, l-r, Stanley Baker, Lyn Fairhurst and Tony Wrigh - Popperfoto via Getty Images

She took the female lead again in the police drama The Golden Link, playing the daughter of a detective who suspects her of murder. Patrick Gibbs in The Daily Telegraph described it as “an unpretentious, workmanlike whodunnit which will provide much pleasure for, I trust, little initial cost.” Of the “ladies”, wrote Gibbs, “Thea Gregory and Marla Landi [a future Play School presenter] were worth the most detailed investigation.”

But by then she was busy bringing up her growing family, which eventually grew to three daughters and three sons, but she did appear on television in episodes of The Vise, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Stryker of the Yard, as well as the 1956 sci-fi thriller Satellite in the Sky on the big screen. She and her fellow cast members were, wrote the Telegraph, “as good as such stuff lets them be”.

In 1958, the Gregsons bought Creek House, an Arts & Crafts building in Shepperton close to the film studios. It had been home to the Canadian television personalities, Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly.

The Gregsons made Creek House their own, inviting a regular assortment of guests including Vivien Leigh, Peter Ustinov, Vera Day, Sean Connery and Peter O’Toole. A devout Roman Catholic, Thea Gregory built a small unconsecrated chapel in the acre of ground across from the creek which gave the house its name.

By this time Gregson’s film career was on the wane, though the police drama series Gideon’s Way (1964-66) kept him going. He died in 1975 of a heart attack on holiday near Porlock Weir in Somerset while out walking. He was 55.

At his memorial service, she recalled: “I waited, because I didn’t want to talk about Johnny at all. I started tiptoeing out, and there at the back was Alec Guinness, and he knew why I’d waited. He was a great friend of ours, so I went up to him and said: ‘I can’t talk.’ And he said: ‘There is no need.’”

Thea Gregory stayed on at Creek House for a few years, eventually settling in the Cotswolds, making twice-yearly pilgrimages to her former home. She remained active in the Catholic Church, taking twice-weekly communion.

Thea Gregory is survived by her children.

Thea Gregory, born 1926, died December 18 2022