Kathleen Byron

Kathleen Elizabeth Fell (11 January 1921 – 18 January 2009),[2] known professionally as Kathleen Byron, was a British actress of stage, screen and television.

Kathleen Byron
Kathleen Elizabeth Fell[1]

(1921-01-11)11 January 1921
West Ham, Essex (now West Ham, London), England, UK
Died18 January 2009(2009-01-18) (aged 88)
Northwood, London, England, UK
Other namesKathleen Jacob
Years active1938–2001
Daniel Bowen
(m. 1943; div. 1950)

Alaric Jacob
(m. 1953; died 1995)

Early life

Byron was born in West Ham (then part of Essex)[3] 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.[2]


In 1943, she 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.[2] 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) 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.[2] 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, she 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", and a brief stint on the soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1979. 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) and Stephen Poliakoff's series, Perfect Strangers (2001).

Personal life and death

In 1953, she 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.[4]

She died on 18 January 2009 at Denville Hall in Northwood, London, one week after her 88th birthday.[5] She was reportedly suffering from Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer at the time of her death. Her son, daughter, and stepdaughter survived her, along with five grandchildren.


Year Title Role Note
1938Climbing HighModel on SofaUncredited
1942The Young Mr PittMillicent GreyUncredited
1943The Silver FleetSchoolmistress
1946A Matter of Life and DeathAn Angel
1947Black NarcissusSister Ruth
1949The Small Back RoomSusan
Madness of the HeartVerite Faimont
1950The Reluctant WidowMme. Annette de Chevreaux
Prelude to FameSignora Anne Bondini
1951Scarlet ThreadJosephine
Life in Her HandsAnn Peters
Hell Is Sold OutArlette de Balzamann
I'll Never Forget YouDuchess of Devonshire
Four DaysLucienne Templar
Tom Brown's SchooldaysMrs. Brown
1952My Death Is a MockeryHelen Bradley
The Gambler and the LadyPat
1953Young BessAnn Seymour
1954Star of My NightEve Malone
Night of the Silvery MoonJane
1955Secret VentureRenne L'Epine
Handcuffs, London Janet Tedford
1961Hand in HandMrs. O'Malley
Design for MurderElizabeth CarrTV movie
1962Night of the EagleEvelyn Sawtelle
1968HammerheadLady Calvet
1969The Confessions of Marian Evans TV movie
Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin HoodKatherine of Locksley
1971Private RoadMrs. Halpern
Twins of EvilKaty Weil
1973Nothing But the NightDr. Rose
1974CrazeMuriel Sharp
The AbdicationQueen Mother
The Little MermaidQueenTV movie
1975One of Our Dinosaurs is MissingColonel's Wife
1980The Elephant ManLady Waddington
1981Hedda GablerJuliana TesmanTV movie
From a Far CountryTadek's Mother
1996EmmaMrs. Goddard
1998Les MisérablesMother Superior
Saving Private RyanOld Mrs. Ryan
2010Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack CardiffHerselfDocumentary


  1. "Kathleen Byron". bfi.org.uk. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  2. Kathleen Byron obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2009.
  3. 1921 Birth records index
  4. Brian Baxter Kathleen Byron obituary, The Guardian,19 January 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2009
  5. "Kathleen Byron: Actress who played Sister Ruth in "Black Narcissus"". The Independent. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2018.


  • McFarlane, Brian. An Autobiography of British Cinema. London: Methuen. 1997; ISBN 0-413-70520-X
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