Talented character actress Spriggs dies, aged 78

Published July 7, 2008

Elizabeth Spriggs, the skilled character actress who forged a long and successful career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, died last week at the age of 78.

A performer who always had her heart set on the stage, Spriggs studied at the Royal School of Music and taught speech and drama at Coventry Technical College before embarking on a career in regional repertory theatre, leaving a husband and two-year-old child to pursue her dream.

Spriggs was into her 30s before she received her big theatrical break. In 1962 she joined Peter Hall’s Royal Shakespeare Company. So strong was the bond she found with the ensemble company that she continued to appear in RSC productions in both Stratford and London over the next 14 years.

Among her RSC performances were Gertrude opposite David Warner’s Hamlet, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and the Nurse in Romeo And Juliet. She also appeared with Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Hordern and Sheila Hancock in A Delicate Balance, and with Judi Dench in both London Assurance and Major Barbara.

In 1976, Spriggs rejoined Hall as he took charge of the National Theatre, where she appeared in plays including Blithe Spirit (as Madame Arcati), Volpone and Macbeth. It was for another National Theatre production, Love Letters On Blue Paper, that Spriggs won a Laurence Olivier Award (then Society of West End Theatre Award) for Actress Of The Year In A Supporting Role, in 1978.

Her connection with Hall continued into film, where she was directed by him in early offerings Work Is A Four Letter Word and Three Into Two Won’t Go in 1968 and 1969. More recently she appeared as Mrs Jennings in the Emma Thompson Sense And Sensibility and played the Fat Lady in the first Harry Potter film.

Spriggs also created a number of memorable television performances which included Nan in Shine On Harvey Moon, three Alan Bennett television plays (Afternoon Off, Intensive Care and Our Winnie), cameo appearances in Dr Who and much-loved 80s children’s show Simon And The Witch.

Spriggs died on 2 July 2008. She is survived by her third husband, Murray Manson, and daughter Wendy.

MA