Kathleen Byron
Kathleen Byron.jpg
Kathleen Elizabeth Fell[1]

(1921-01-11)11 January 1921
Manor Park, Essex, England
Died18 January 2009(2009-01-18) (aged 88)
Other namesKathleen Jacob
Years active1938–2001
Daniel Bowen
(m. 1943; div. 1950)

(m. 1953; died 1995)

Kathleen Elizabeth Fell (11 January 1921 – 18 January 2009), known professionally as Kathleen Byron, was an English actress.

Early life

Byron was born in Manor Park (then part of Essex)[1][2] to what she described as "staunch working-class socialists", who later became Labour mayors of the County Borough of East Ham. She attended the local grammar school and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She had her first speaking film role in Carol Reed's The Young Mr. Pitt (1942), in which she had two lines as a maid opposite Robert Donat.[3]


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Kathleen Byron as Ann Peters[4]
Kathleen Byron as Ann Peters[4]

In 1943, Byron married a USAAF pilot, Lt. John Daniel Bowen, and moved to the United States. The director Michael Powell persuaded her to return to Britain where she made her best remembered films.[3] She was cast in several films of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger partnership: as an angel in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), the disturbed Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus (1947, for which she was nominated for Best Actress by the New York Film Critics' Circle) and in The Small Back Room (1949). Byron was romantically linked with Michael Powell for a time; he was named as a co-respondent when her first marriage was dissolved in 1950.[3] Her success in Black Narcissus eventually led her to Hollywood, which resulted in a supporting role in Young Bess (1953). She found the experience an unrewarding one and soon returned to Britain. Her subsequent roles of the time were mostly in B films. She had an occasional role in the 1957–67 soap Emergency Ward 10, playing the alcoholic wife of the consultant gynaecologist Harold de la Roux (John Barron).

In the 1960s and 1970s, Byron did extensive television work, including a small role as Queen Louise of Denmark in Edward the Seventh (1975), Madame Celeste Lekeu in two episodes of the BBC drama Secret Army (1977), entitled "Bait" and "Good Friday", a brief stint on the soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1979, and one of the leads in the daytime soap Together (1980-81, its second series broadcast live). Byron continued to act into the new millennium, her film, theatre and television work included Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap (1990), an adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma (1996), Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998), Midsomer Murders (1999) (as Dorothea Pike in S2:E2 “Strangler’s Wood”) and Stephen Poliakoff's series, Perfect Strangers (2001).

Personal life and death

In 1953, Byron married her second husband, the British journalist and writer Alaric Jacob (who predeceased her); Jacob was then working for the BBC. They had one son and daughter; with a child from Jacob's previous marriage.[5]

Byron died on 18 January 2009 at Denville Hall in Northwood, London.[3][6] She had breast cancer.[1]


Year Title Role Note
1938 Climbing High Model on Sofa Uncredited
1942 The Young Mr. Pitt Millicent Grey Uncredited
1943 The Silver Fleet Schoolmistress
1946 A Matter of Life and Death An Angel
1947 Black Narcissus Sister Ruth
1949 The Small Back Room Susan
Madness of the Heart Verite Faimont
1950 The Reluctant Widow Mme. Annette de Chevreaux
Prelude to Fame Signora Anne Bondini
1951 Scarlet Thread Josephine
Life in Her Hands Ann Peters
Hell Is Sold Out Arlette de Balzamann
I'll Never Forget You Duchess of Devonshire
Four Days Lucienne Templar
Tom Brown's Schooldays Mrs. Brown
1952 My Death Is a Mockery Helen Bradley
The Gambler and the Lady Pat
1953 Young Bess Ann Seymour
1954 Star of My Night Eve Malone
Profile Margot
Night of the Silvery Moon Jane
1955 Secret Venture Renne L'Epine
Handcuffs, London Janet Tedford
1961 Hand in Hand Mrs. O'Malley
Design for Murder Elizabeth Carr TV movie
1962 Night of the Eagle Evelyn Sawtelle
1967 Who Is Sylvia? Mrs. Proudpiece TV series
1968 Hammerhead Lady Calvet
The Portrait of a Lady Countess Gemini TV series
1969 The Confessions of Marian Evans TV movie
Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood Katherine of Locksley
1971 Private Road Mrs. Halpern
Twins of Evil Katy Weil
1972 The Golden Bowl Fanny Assingham TV series
The Moonstone Lady Verinder TV series
1973 Nothing But the Night Dr. Rose
1974 Craze Muriel Sharp
The Abdication Queen Mother
The Little Mermaid Queen TV movie
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing Colonel's Wife
1980 The Elephant Man Lady Waddington
1981 Hedda Gabler Juliana Tesman TV movie
From a Far Country Tadek's Mother
1996 Emma Mrs. Goddard
1998 Les Misérables Mother Superior
Saving Private Ryan Old Mrs. Ryan
Diary Short
2010 Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff Herself Documentary


  1. ^ a b c "Byron, Kathleen (1921–2009)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/100787. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ 1921 Birth records index
  3. ^ a b c d Kathleen Byron obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Watch Life in Her Hands". BFI Player. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  5. ^ Brian Baxter Kathleen Byron obituary, The Guardian,19 January 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2009
  6. ^ "Kathleen Byron: Actress who played Sister Ruth in "Black Narcissus"". The Independent. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2018.