Samantha Spiro
Born (1968-06-20) 20 June 1968 (age 55)
Mill Hill, London, England[1]
Occupation(s)Actress, singer
Years active1994–present
SpouseMark Leadbetter (m. 2002)
Children2 Award for Best Actress in a Musical, 2000, Joseph Jefferson Award for Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical, 2004

Samantha Spiro (born 20 June 1968) is an English actress and singer. She is best known for portraying Barbara Windsor in the stage play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick and the television films Cor, Blimey! and Babs, DI Vivien Friend in M.I.T.: Murder Investigation Team, Melessa Tarly in the HBO series Game of Thrones and Maureen Groff in Sex Education. She has won two Laurence Olivier Awards.


Born in Mill Hill, London, England, Spiro grew up in Radlett, Hertfordshire.[2] She is Jewish.[3][4] Spiro decided to be an actress at the age of ten after seeing a production of Androcles and the Lion at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.[2] She joined the National Youth Theatre and later trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.[5]

Spiro attended Bancroft's School from 1982 to 1985 and subsequently returned in 2016 for an Arts & Drama masterclass [6] Spiro spoke about how her time at Bancroft's had fuelled her enthusiasm for a career in the Arts.

Spiro married actor Mark Leadbetter, whom she met at drama school, in February 2002.[7] They have two daughters and live in Queen's Park, London.[2]



Spiro's first acting job after graduating from drama school was with the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, in productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Boys From Syracuse and Macbeth.[2] Her many theatre credits include As You Like It, Teechers, The Tragic Roundabout, Jumpers, On the Piste, Roots, How the Other Half Loves and Glyn and It, opposite Penelope Keith.[8]

Spiro played Barbara Windsor in Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick at the National Theatre, a production she credits as her first big break, which "open[ed] a lot of doors".[5] She has also appeared in the Minerva Theatre production of Funny Girl and the first West End revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce.[1][8]

Spiro played Rachel in Mike Leigh's production of Two Thousand Years at the National Theatre. This was the first Jewish role of her career. She said:

For English/Jewish artists in this business, we’re English first and the Jewish thing comes down the line. Whereas in the United States, Jewishness is a much celebrated thing. Jewishness is a part of their very being.

Here, I think, we repress it and, far from celebrating it, almost shy away from it. After Two Thousand Years, I suddenly felt that there is a place for people like me. Until that point I hadn’t had a career playing Jewish people. I had got that stuff out of the way by the time I came to play Fanny Brice [in Funny Girl] who is very much a Jewish character.[3]

In 2009, Spiro played Maria in the Donmar Warehouse production of Twelfth Night at the Wyndham's Theatre, alongside Derek Jacobi, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the Open Air Theatre.[5][9] Most recently, she appeared in the acclaimed Open Air Theatre production of Hello, Dolly!, playing Dolly Levi.[2][5]

In 2013, Spiro played Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe, alongside Billy Boyd and Joseph Millson.

Discussing whether she prefers acting in the theatre to television or film, Spiro said: "I think theatre prefers me. These days you have to do both, but it never feels as if the TV casting people are beating down my door to offer me work. I just feel that in this business you are lucky if you’re doing something you enjoy."[5]

Television, film and radio

Spiro reprised the role of Barbara Windsor in the television adaptation of Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, Cor, Blimey!, starring opposite Geoffrey Hutchings.[10]

Her other television credits include The Bill, Cold Feet, Plebs, Coupling, After You've Gone and M.I.T.: Murder Investigation Team, in which she played the lead role of DI Vivien Friend. She described the role of Friend as "quite an unusual departure for me...I've done quite a bit of comedy and I've played characters who are light-hearted and characters who are tarts with hearts. In M.I.T. there is no tart or heart!"[11] In order to research the part, Spiro spent time with a female Detective Inspector with the real-life Murder Investigation Team.[11] From 9 August 2010, Spiro starred in the BBC comedy Grandma's House. She plays the part of Simon Amstell's aunt Liz. In 2012 she also appeared in the SkyArts comedy series Psychobitches, where she played various female icons including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Mary Whitehouse.

In September 2013, Spiro joined the cast of the BBC Three sitcom Bad Education as Professor Celia Green, the new deputy headmaster and adversary to Jack Whitehall's character.

In 2013 Spiro starred in an episode of the Sky Atlantic series Little Crackers, an autobiographical comedy written by Rebecca Front in which Spiro played Front's mother.

In 2016 she joined the HBO series Game of Thrones in Season 6 as Melessa Tarly, the mother of Samwell Tarly.[12] That year she also joined Tracey Ullman's Show in the recurring role of Birgit, the fictitious fridge-magnet-loving personal assistant and confidante to Tracey Ullman's impression of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She reprised her role in Ullman's Tracey Breaks the News. In 2017 Spiro reprised her role of Barbara Windsor in the BBC1 drama Babs, a biopic based on the life of Windsor. She also appeared in the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor Falls", as Hazran.

Spiro has appeared in the films Beyond Bedlam (1994), as WPC Foster, and Tomorrow La Scala! (2002), as Janey. She also played Martha Tabram in From Hell (2001), opposite Johnny Depp.

Her radio drama credits include The Casebook of Inspector Steine, Gospel According to Mary, Little Cinderellas, Beside the Seaside, Show Boat in which she played Magnolia Hawks, Sarah Kahn in Chicken Soup with Barley and the Guy Meredith play Spring Forward, Fall Back for BBC Radio 7.[13]

In 2018 Spiro played the role of Mrs Erlynne in Kathy Burke's production of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan at London's Vaudeville Theatre. This production was recorded and shown in cinemas under the "More2Screen" initiative.

From 2019, Spiro has portrayed the recurring character Maureen Groff in Laurie Nunn's British comedy-drama series Sex Education.


In 2001, Spiro was awarded the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the 2000 season Donmar Warehouse production of Merrily We Roll Along. She won a award for Best Actress in a Musical for the same production.[1] In 2010, Spiro was once again awarded the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.

Spiro won a 2004 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical, for the production of A Little Night Music at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois.[14]

In the 2011 British Comedy Awards she won the Best Female Comedy Breakthrough Artist award for her performance in Grandma's House.[15]



Year Film Role Notes
1994 Beyond Bedlam WPC Foster
1998 Guru in Seven Sharon
2001 From Hell Martha Tabram
2002 Tomorrow La Scala! Janey
2016 Me Before You Josie Clark
2017 Carnage Edith Paper
2017 Catherine the Great: Husbands, Lovers and Sons Catherine II
2019 Horrible Histories: The Movie Mrs. Felix
TBA One Life Esther Rantzen Filming


Year Show Role Notes
1994 The Bill Cherie Episode: "Dealer Wins"
1994 The Knock Young Woman Episode: #1.1
2000 Cor, Blimey! Barbara Windsor TV film
2001 Cold Feet Ruth Wylie 3 episodes
TV Go Home Sarah Galoshes Unknown episodes
2002 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Red Lady Voice; TV film
2003 M.I.T.: Murder Investigation Team DI Vivien Friend 8 episodes
2004 Coupling Jeffina Episode: "9½ Months"
2007 After You've Gone Ann Venables 2 episodes
2010–2012 Grandma's House Auntie Liz All 12 episodes
2011 Rock & Chips Beryl Bird Episode: "The Frog and the Pussycat"
2012 Playhouse Presents Mary Whitehouse Episode: "Psychobitches"
2012–2014 Psychobitches Various 11 episodes
2012 Little Crackers Sheila Front Episode: "Rainy Days and Mondays"
2012 Panto! Di Jenkins TV film
2013 Bad Education Professor Celia Green 3 episodes
2014 The Wrong Mans Maria Episode: "X-Mans"
2015 London Spy Detective Taylor 4 episodes
2016–2018 Tracey Ullman's Show Various 13 episodes
2016,2019 Plebs Sylvia 2 episodes
2016 Game of Thrones Melessa Tarly Episode: "Blood of My Blood"
2017 Babs Barbara Windsor TV film
2017–2018 Tracey Breaks the News Various TV pilot
2017 Doctor Who Hazran Episode: "The Doctor Falls"
Doc Martin Tina Collins Episode: "Accidental Hero"
2018 Grandpa's Great Escape Patricia Bunting TV film
2018 Oi Leonardo Various 3 episodes
2018 Agatha and the Truth of Murder Pamela TV film
2019 Island of Dreams J. K. Rowling TV film
2019–2020 Semi-Detached Kate 6 episodes
2019–2021 Sex Education Maureen Groff 17 episodes
2020 Call the Midwife Grace Calthorpe Episode: #9.5
2021 Midsomer Murders Phyllis Cuttle Episode: "For Death Prepare"
2021 Ridley Road Liza Epstein All 4 episodes
2021 The Larkins Bertha Episode: "In Which Ma's Sister Bertha Comes to Visit"
2021 Ragdoll Joy 3 episodes
2022 Dodger Marie Tussaud Episode: "Waxworks"
2022 Not Going Out Bigoted Woman Episode: "Jury"
2022 The Pentaverate Darleen Windelchuck 2 episodes
2023 Inside No. 9[16] Sue Episode



  1. ^ a b c Paddock, Terri (8 April 2002). "20 Questions With...Samantha Spiro". What's On Stage. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Why Samantha Spiro loves Regent's Park". Times Series. 5 June 2009. Archived from the original on 14 June 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  3. ^ a b Nathan, John (4 December 2008). "Interview: Samantha Spiro". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  4. ^ Logan, Brian (11 March 2013). "Samantha Spiro: 'I was never an ingenue'". The Guardian. London.
  5. ^ a b c d e Smurthwaite, Nick (26 June 2009). "Spiro's inspired roles". The Stage. Retrieved 8 July 2007.
  6. ^ "Game of Thrones Actor Attends Arts Celebration at Former School". Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  7. ^ Marlow, Will (7 December 2002). "Go directly to jail". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  8. ^ a b Bosanquet, Theo (19 May 2008). "Samantha Spiro On...Playing Funny Girls". What's on Stage. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 June 2016. Retrieved 21 August 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Lockyer, Daphne (2 April 2000). "I became Babs so completely even now I can't stop doing her wiggle". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  11. ^ a b "Interviews with the team from M.I.T with On The Box". 21 September 2009. Archived from the original on 21 September 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Meet the Tarlys: Game of Thrones adds three more actors to season 6!". Watchers On The Wall. 16 September 2015.
  13. ^ Chichester Festival Theatre: What's On: Samantha Spiro Archived 8 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 8 July 2009.
  14. ^ Samantha Spiro – Biography IMDB. Retrieved on 8 July 2009.
  15. ^ "In Full: British Comedy Awards – Winners". Digital Spy. 22 January 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Inside No.9 season 8: Guest stars, release date and trailer". BT Group. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  17. ^ Marlowe, Sam (24 July 2017). "Fixer-upper worth buying". The Times. No. 72283. T2. p. 11. ISSN 0140-0460.((cite news)): CS1 maint: location (link)