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‘Queen of Hammer Horror films’ Barbara Shelley dead at 88

‘Queen of Hammer’ dead at 88: British screen legend Barbara Shelley who starred in horror classics from Dracula to The Gorgon dies from ‘underlying issues’ after hospital Covid battle

  • Barbara Shelley died after being in hospital for treatment and catching coronavirus there on a ward
  • She recovered from Covid but succumbed to other underlying health issues, her agent revealed today
  • The actress was best-known for the Hammer Horror films as well as Doctor Who among her 104 screen roles
  • She said in 2003 female fans said they liked how she ‘played the strong woman’ and still sent her letters

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Hammer Horror screen legend Barbara Shelley was mourned today after dying aged 88 – after a lifetime thrilling viewers who still sent her fan mail.  

The actress – who starred in 1950s and 1960s Hammer Horror films – acted with other icons including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

And her credits included some of horror’s best-known films in The Gorgon, Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Rasputin, Quatermass And The Pit, as well as Blood Of The Vampire, and Village Of The Damned.

Shelley was one of the movie stables’ most glamorous leading ladies but insisted ‘no one said I was beautiful’.

She also appeared in the Doctor Who episode Planet Of Fire, starring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor.

Her agent, Thomas Bowington, said: ‘She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer. 

Barbara Shelley and Christopher Lee in the classic Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the film for which she was best known

Shelley shared the bill with Christopher Lee in the horror hit regarded as an all-time classic by Hammer Horror studios

Shelley shared the bill with Christopher Lee in the horror hit regarded as an all-time classic by Hammer Horror studios

Barbara Shelley in Quatermass and The Pit

Barbara Shelley as the monster in The Gorgon

Barbara Shelley was one of horror’s best-known faces and starred in 104 films and TV series up until 2000

‘On screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness.

‘She was a regular favourite of Hammer events and autograph shows but also performed on stage with the RSC.’

He added: ‘She adored Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and loved working with them, that was very dear to her.’

Mr Bowington said Shelley had recently been in hospital, where she had caught Covid-19, but had since recovered. 

Barbara Shelley, seen here in 2009, was dubbed the 'technicolour queen of Hammer' and one of the series' famous names

Barbara Shelley, seen here in 2009, was dubbed the ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’ and one of the series’ famous names

Barbara Shelley and Martin Stephens in the 1960 classic Village of the Damned from Anglo-German director Wolf Rilla

Barbara Shelley and Martin Stephens in the 1960 classic Village of the Damned from Anglo-German director Wolf Rilla

He said: ‘It wasn’t the Covid that took her, she had underlying issues.’ 

Nicola Bryant, who played Doctor Who’s assistant Peri Brown alongside her, revealed she still treasured a present she gave her on set.

She said today: ‘So very sad to hear of the passing of Barbara Shelley.

‘A darling person and a talented actress. When we worked together on Planet of Fire she was so kind to me.

‘She gave me a little owl, still in my possession and some good advice. RIP Barbara Shelley. Wise and wonderful lady.’      

Born Barbra Kowin in 1932, Shelley was also known for TV roles in series including The Saint, The Avengers, The Borgias, Blake’s 7 and Crown Court, and later played Hester Samuels in EastEnders.

In 2010, writer and actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Shelley about her career at Hammer Films for his BBC documentary series A History Of Horror.

The London-based production company, founded in 1934, made a string of hit Gothic horror films from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

Many of these involved classic horror characters such as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Mummy.

In an interview with the Express in 2009 she said she was told at a sci-fi convention by female fans they loved her for her strong roles.

She said: ‘Which I thought was a brilliant thing to have said about one. I never thought of it in that way. The fact that I’m still getting mail from my horror fan base really touches me.

‘No one told me I was beautiful. They said I was photogenic but no one said I was beautiful. If they had I would have had a lot more fun!’

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