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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 00:24 GMT
Anna Massey: Queen of the bonnet
Anna Massey in He Knew He Was Right
Massey played Mrs Stanbury in BBC drama He Knew He Was Right

Actress Anna Massey, 67, has said she was "absolutely thrilled" after she became a CBE for services to drama.

The veteran actress has cornered the market in strong, silent supporting roles, often playing the spurned or disappointed maiden aunt.

The child of Canadian actor Raymond Massey, best known for his role as Dr Gillespie in the TV series Dr Kildare and West End actress Adrienne Allen, Massey was brought up in London but saw little of her father after the age of one when her parents divorced.

"It was a strain made more difficult by the fact that my stepfather had been married to my stepmother. So it was Private Lives... ," Massey recently told the Observer.

She left school at the aged of 15 with the assumption that she would make a career on the stage, making her debut in William Douglas Home's drawing room comedy The Reluctant Debutante in 1955.

Her film debut followed in 1958, with Gideon's Day, directed by her godfather John Ford.

Anna Massey in Rebecca, 1979
Massey gave a memorable turn in the 1979 adaptation of Rebecca

At 20, Massey had a brief - and by her own admission miserable - marriage to Jeremy Brett, who later went on to play TV's Sherlock Holmes. "Actors marrying each other is not a good idea," she later said.

Four years on the marriage broke down and she turned to her nanny for help in bringing up her young son David. When her beloved nanny died in 1956, the shock turned the actress' russet locks white overnight.

Around the same period, stage fright overcame the actress and she was forced to resort to therapy for the next 12 years."I was frightened of everything, not just forgetting the words."

Nonetheless her career continued to flourish with roles in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), Mansfield Park and a notable turn as Mrs Danvers in a TV adaptation of Rebecca.

Anna Massey in Mansfield Park
Massey as Aunt Norris in Roger Michell's Mansfield Park (1983)

However, her most memorable performance was in the 1986 adaptation of Anita Brookner's Hotel Du Lac that she was to earn her first Bafta, as the lonely spinster Edith Hope.

Her life changed dramatically in 1990, when, after 27 years on her own, she met and married Russian scientist Uri Andres.

Recent work has included roles in the 2002 film adaptation of the best-selling novel Possession and the BBC adaptation of Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right.

"I find acting incredibly difficult - it demands much more of my time than it does for some people. I'm not instinctive. It takes enormous discipline and bravery to get me there," she told the Independent in 1996.


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