The actor Ann Davies, who has died aged 87, was a likable character player with a light touch who was a familiar face on the small screen – sometimes alongside her husband, Richard Briers.
She was a gifted performer in her own right – diminutive with laughing eyes and cherubic features that lent themselves to comic characters, she proved equally capable of high drama.
Television immortality came early on when she joined forces with the first Doctor Who, William Hartnell, in 1964 in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. As Jenny, a determined and capable freedom fighter, Davies was a cold and efficient co-combatant with the series regular Barbara (Jacqueline Hill, in real life Davies’s friend and neighbour).
The action required them to encounter the Daleks in arresting scenes filmed at London landmarks. At one point they smashed through a patrol with a van, which required early morning shooting in the capital to avoid the crowds. Although it was just one guest role in her long career, Davies remained in demand for Doctor Who interviews and signings.
If Jenny had a harsh exterior that masked great vulnerability, then Dorothy Clarke in a 1996 adaptation of Minette Walters’ The Sculptress, starring Pauline Quirke, found Davies skilfully going the other way, misdirecting the audience with an unobtrusive, mousy persona which disguised the fact that she was the killer of the piece. Another favourite performance of hers was in Jill Hyem’s Equal Terms (1973), a two-hander in which she played a former psychiatric patient presenting a tricky case for Judy Parfitt’s novice social worker.
Ann was born in Hornchurch, east London, the eldest child of Ronald Davies, a solicitor, and his wife, Sally (nee Simmonds), who worked as his secretary. Thanks to the second world war, her early education was peripatetic until she settled at the Queen’s school in Chester. Academically bright, she was encouraged by her parents and teachers towards university at Oxford or Cambridge, but her love for theatre led to her “running away to the circus” and she joined the Liverpool Playhouse as an acting stage manager aged 18.
She was offered a place at Rada in London in 1956, but while at Liverpool had fallen in love with Briers after taking pity on the thin and hungry newcomer to the company and cooking him meals. They married within eight months and so she mastered her trade first at Liverpool and then in repertory at Coventry and Guildford, before making her London debut at the Arts theatre in 1959.
She and Briers tried to work together where possible, including in Major Barbara (in which she was Jenny Hill, Belgrade theatre, 1958), Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance theatre touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with Davies as the First Fairy, 1990-91) and in Simon Paisley Day’s Spike (Davies as the repressed wife, Nuffield theatre, Southampton, 2001), this time joined by their daughter Lucy and in which Davies was “perfectly cast” according to the Stage and “superb” in the opinion of the Telegraph.
After her first small screen appearance in 1955, she was part of Britain’s televisual furniture for five decades, in popular drama – Z-Cars (four different roles between 1968 and 1973), Poldark (1976), Within These Walls (1975-78), Widows (1985), The Bill (three roles, 1993-96), EastEnders (1997), Grange Hill (1998-99), Doctors (2003) and Whitechapel (2013) – and comedy – Charley’s Aunt (1965), All in Good Faith (1988), After Henry (1990), and Keeping Up Appearances (1993).
She was Bridget Bigwell in Alvin Rakoff’s 11-part production of John Mortimer’s Paradise Postponed (1986) and had great fun as Mrs Ripper opposite her husband’s Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles (1987-89). She also appeared in Branagh’s feature films Peter’s Friends (1992) and In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), and in the big-screen Run For Your Wife (2012).
Dedicated to her family, she ensured that her daughters had the further education she had denied herself, though she later took an Open University degree.
Briers died in 2013. She is survived by their daughters, Kate and Lucy, her siblings, Sally, Maggi and Richard, and two grandchildren, Harry and Rachael.
• Ann Cuerton Davies, actor, born 25 November 1934; died 26 April 2022