Nyree Dawn Porter (1940-2001)

Born in New Zealand on 22nd January 1940, Nyree Dawn Porter was perhaps best-known for her role as Irene Forsyte in the BBC’s 1967 drama serial The Forsyte Saga based on the novels of John Galsworthy. She began her acting career with the New Zealand Players’ Trust and was acclaimed for performances as Jessica in The Merchant Of Venice and Juliet in Peter Ustinov’s Romanoff And Juliet. Moving to London, she made her West End debut in 1959 in the revue Look Who’s Here at the Fortune Theatre and went on to appear as Connie in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

She made her film debut in Sentenced For Life (1960) and made her first television appearance the same year, guesting in an episode of the first season of the ITC series Danger ManThe Island. The following year, she guested in the first season of The Avengers as Liz Wells in Death On The Slipway and went on to appear in the feature films Part-Time Wife(1961), Live Now – Pay Later (1962), Two Left Feet (1963) and The Cracksman (1963).

After guest-starring as Patsy Butler in The Scorpion, an episode of The Saint, Ms Porter’s big break came in the title role of the 1964 BBC drama serial Madame Bovary. Considered briefly as a replacement for Honor Blackman in The Avengers, Ms Porter starred as Hermione in the 1966 television series The Liars before taking the part of Irene in The Forsyte Saga. She followed this with another television starring role as Deidre Baldock in the LWT comedy Never A Cross Word and returned briefly to the big screen in The House That Dripped Blood (1970) before being cast by Lew Grade alongside Robert Vaughn and Tony Anholt in Gerry Anderson’s 1972 live-action thriller series The Protectors.

As the wealthy widow with her own detective agency in Rome, Nyree Dawn Porter made the part of the Contessa Caroline di Contini her own. She appeared in 48 of the popular series’ 52 half-hour episodes, occasionally carrying the show in Vaughn’s absence in episodes such as Goodbye George and The Tiger And The Goat. When the series finished, she appeared as Susan Warren in From Beyond The Grave (1973) and guested in an episode of the ITV series Thriller, Ring Once For Death. She was also seen in Doctor In Charge, Anne Of Green Gables, Softly, Softly and a BBC adaptation of David Copperfield.

Throughout this time, she made regular stage appearances, in Jack Holton Dell’s The Duel (Duke of York’s, 1968), St Joan (Oxford Playhouse, 1969), Twelfth Night (Shaw Theatre, 1972), Francis Durbridge’s Deadly Nightcap (Westminster, 1986), Sunday In The Park With George (National Theatre, 1990), Hedda Gabler (Richmond Theatre, 1991) and The Winslow Boy (Globe, 1994). She also toured Australia in Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt and appeared as Miss Haversham in a UK tour of Great Expectations.

Although she appeared alongside Barry Morse in The Martians, the final episode of the American mini-series The Martian Chronicles based on the book by Ray Bradbury, Ms Porter’s last major television role was opposite lan Hendry in the 1980 drama series For Maddie With Love. Her final screen appearance was as Dame Margot Fonteyn in Hilary And Jackie (1998). Her last stage appearances were as Carlotta in Noel Coward’s Song At Twilight at the Arts Theatre and as Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez opposite Eric Sykes in Charley’s Aunt at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.

She was forced to pull out of the latter production on Wednesday, 4th April, when she was taken ill. She died at her home the following Tuesday, 10th April. A spokesman for her agent said that her death had come as a great shock to her friends and family.

Awarded an OBE in 1971 for services to television, Nyree Dawn Porter was first married to New Zealand actor Bryon O’Leary (who died of an accidental drugs overdose in 1970) and then to actor Robin Halstead, but they divorced in 1987. She leaves a daughter, Talya, from her second marriage.

Originally published in FAB 42.