Guest Actor Biography
Page 99 of 127


Nyree Dawn Porter

Liz Wells, Death on the Slipway

Nyree Dawn Porter: The Mrs. Gale that Never Was
by James Lincoln Warren

Nyree Dawn Porter was born in Napier, New Zealand, on 22 January 1936, the daughter of a master butcher. (Her first name was originally spelled "Ngaire," a Maori word for a small, white, star-shaped New Zealander flower.) After winning a scholarship to drama school in England, she moved there in 1960. Although she had never seen a television set before moving to Britain, guest appearances on British television were not slow in coming, beginning with Danger Man, a.k.a. Secret Agent ("The Island," 1960); her Avengers appearance followed in 1961.

After turning down the role of Mrs. Catherine Gale, Porter achieved British TV stardom with her portrayal of Emma Bovary in the BBC adaptation of Madam Bovary in 1964, and rose to international prominence with her portrayal of the beautiful Irene Heron Forsyte in the 1967 BBC production of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. As with so many other actors, her success exacted a price, and she found it nearly impossible to be cast in anything but costume dramas thereafter, prompting her return to the legitimate theatre for several years.

She was honored with an O.B.E. for services to television in 1971. In 1972, she co-starred with Robert Vaughn in the thriller/private eye TV series The Protectors, produced by Gerry Anderson of Supermarionation fame. Her last role came in 1998 playing Dame Margot Fonteyn in Hilary and Jackie, a biopic concerning the tragic cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Married twice, she was widowed by her first husband, Bryon O'Leary, and divorced from her second, Robin Halstead, with whom she had a daughter, Tayla (b. 1975). She died unexpectedly from complications to foot surgery on 10 April 2001, in London.

Anybody recalling Porter's superb performance as Irene, a Victorian belle ideal whose delicate and elegant beauty was one of the hallmarks of the production, will probably go into a fugue state trying to picture her wearing Cathy's black leather action suit. Certainly Nyree Dawn Porter would not have had any trouble exhibiting Mrs. Gale's moral integrity and unwillingness to compromise — observe Irene's treatment of Eric Porter's Soames Forsyte — but one simply cannot begin to imagine Porter portraying Mrs. Gale "as a man."

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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