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Mary Tamm obituary

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Obituary: Mary Tamm: Actor best known as the glamorous Time Lady Romana in Doctor Who

The actor Mary Tamm, who has died of cancer aged 62, enjoyed two stints on popular television, first as the glamorous Time Lady Romana in Doctor Who (1978-79), and then in the more down-to-earth environs of Brookside Close in Channel 4's soap opera, where she was Penny Crosbie, the upper-class resident who enjoyed a dalliance with the neighbourhood "bad boy" Barry Grant (1993-95).

Tamm was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Her Russian mother was a former opera singer and her father an Estonian landowner who worked in a woollen mill upon arriving in Britain in 1945. Tamm started acting at primary school and then at Bradford girls' grammar school, before being accepted by Rada in London in 1969, where her classmates included her immediate predecessor as a Doctor Who companion, Louise Jameson.

Upon graduation, Tamm spent 1971 at the Birmingham repertory theatre, appearing alongside Ronnie Barker in Good Time Johnny and Derek Jacobi in Harold Pinter's The Lover. The following year, she appeared at the Roundhouse in London in the rock musical Mother Earth, but, aside from The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant at the New End theatre in 1976, after a breakthrough role in the BBC's The Donati Conspiracy in 1973, it was on screen that she made the most impact.

Notably she had a starring role alongside Jon Voight in the film The Odessa File (1974) and played James Bolam's girlfriend in The Likely Lads (1976 - a big screen spin-off of the popular sitcom). She also had a stint as Hilda Ogden's daughter-in-law in Coronation Street in 1973 and leading roles on television in A Raging Calm (1974) and The Girls of Slender Means (1975) under her belt when the call came to audition for Doctor Who.

Tamm had not been especially interested but was assured that the intelligent and capable character of Romana would more than hold her own against Tom Baker's Doctor. Baker was at the height of his powers and influence, and famously preferred to work without a companion, but he was soon won over by Tamm's professionalism and good humour. The DVD commentaries they recorded 20 years later captured their joyful dynamic, with Baker clearly in awe of his co-star, who gamely spars with him throughout.

Tamm appeared in six stories during her year on the show, and helped design the stunning white dress she wore for her debut, The Ribos Operation (1978). During her time on board the Tardis, she encountered an early script from Douglas Adams (The Pirate Planet), bloodsucking alien stones (The Stones of Blood, the 100th Doctor Who story), and a deadly android double of herself in The Androids of Tara (a delightful Prisoner of Zenda homage in which she played four different characters, two of them robotic).

Despite enjoying the series, she found that the format constrained her character, the fast turnaround was draining, and the challenging role she had envisaged never quite materialised. She left after The Armageddon Factor(1979) in which she and Baker completed their year-long mission to assemble the Key to Time (a space-age McGuffin that, uniquely at the time, spanned a whole series). The character remained in the series however, her Gallifreyan DNA enabling her to regenerate off-screen into Lalla Ward (whom Tamm had suggested should succeed her).

Tamm quickly returned to the BBC for two thriller series, The Assassination Run (1980) and its sequel, The Treachery Game (1981). Steady employment in shows such as Poirot, Casualty (both 1989) and Perfect Scoundrels (1991) was interspersed with regular roles in sitcom (The Hello Goodbye Man with Ian Lavender, 1984), soap opera (Brookside) and the drama Paradise Heights (2002). Later appearances included Rose and Maloney (2005), Wire in the Blood (2008) and four episodes of EastEnders (2009, as Orlenda, a Russian temptress).

She enjoyed variety, always hankering for a stint in the theatre after a run on television. She appeared opposite Gordon Jackson in the West End in Cards on the Table (1981) and particularly enjoyed playing four literary characters, including Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler, in Why Is Here There Everywhere Now? at the Riverside Studios in 1992. She performed in a number of national tours: in Abigail's Party for Chichester Festival theatre (1999), as a memorable Beverly; in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (2000), as Mari Hoff; an impressive turn in Terry Johnson's Dead Funny (2001); in Eric Chappell's Mixed Feelings (2004); and, with a part she had always coveted, Amanda, in Private Lives (2006).

Tamm married Marcus Ringrose in 1978 after meeting him at a wrap party. Then a law student, he became a stockbroker, but as a Lloyd's "name", endured hard times during the 1990s. She was supportive of others, mentoring Rada students through training and beyond, and raising money for their hardship fund. A volume of her autobiography, First Generation, was published in 2009, and Tamm was working on a second volume at the time of her death.

She is survived by Marcus, their daughter, Lauren, and a grandson, Max.

Mary Tamm, actor, born 22 March 1950; died 26 July 2012

Captions: Tamm with Tom Baker as the Doctor in a 1978 episode of Doctor Who Photograph: Fred Mott/Getty

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hadoke, Toby (2012-07-27). Mary Tamm obituary. The Guardian p. 38.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Mary Tamm obituary." The Guardian [add city] 2012-07-27, 38. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Mary Tamm obituary." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2012-07-27
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Mary Tamm obituary | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=38 | date=2012-07-27 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Mary Tamm obituary | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024}}</ref>