Heather Sears

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Heather Sears
Actress Heather Sears.jpg
1950s portrait by Vivienne
Born(1935-09-28)28 September 1935
Kensington, London, England [1] [2]
Died3 January 1994(1994-01-03) (aged 58)
Hinchley Wood, Surrey, England
Years active1955–1989

Heather Christine Sears (28 September 1935 – 3 January 1994) was a British stage and screen actress.


Early life

Sears was the daughter of distinguished London doctor William Gordon Sears by his marriage to Eileen Gould. [3]

Although not from an acting family, she was already performing in plays at the age of five, and even writing them at the age of eight. Sears had a long association with France and French culture, which began in her childhood when she spent summers in Brittany with her pen pal Michelle where she learned to speak French fluently. After leaving school, she spent time in Paris performing voiceover and dubbing work and socialising with artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler. [4]

Sears was educated at St Winifred's School, Llanfairfechan [3] until she was 16, when she followed her elder sister Ann Sears (1933–1992) to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. During her last year there, she signed a seven-year contract with Romulus Films, which allowed her six months per year to act on the stage and for television if she wished. This was made possible through film director Jack Clayton, her friend and mentor.

Early career

After graduating from drama school, Sears was active from 1955 onward in the Windsor repertory theatre. She made her film début with a minor role in Michael Truman's Touch and Go (1955) followed by a part in Maurice Elvey's film version of comedy Dry Rot (1956) as the naive Susan.

Sears débuted on the London stage before the age of 22, replacing Mary Ure in the part of Alison in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger , playing alongside Richard Bates and Richard Pasco. Shortly thereafter, she played Claire Bloom's role in the television production of Ring Round the Moon.

Her title role in David Miller's film The Story of Esther Costello (1957) marked her breakthrough in films and brought her international acclaim. In the film, Sears plays a blind, deaf and mute girl of 15 who is adopted by a rich American society lady played by Joan Crawford, who also chose Sears for the part. After completing her work on The Story of Esther Costello, Sears married Tony Masters, one of the two art directors of the film. A year later she was nominated for the Golden Globe award and also received the British Film Academy award for best British actress of the year in recognition for her role as Esther Costello. After this initial success, she alternated between film and theatre roles until the mid-1960s.

In London, Sears appeared at the Royal Court Theatre with Alan Bates and Richard Pearce in Jean Giraudoux's The Apollo of Bellac under the direction of John Dexter, in Michael Hastings' Yes and at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in Julien Green's play South. On screen, she was cast in Room at the Top (1959) as Susan Brown, the naive daughter of an industrial magnate (Donald Wolfit) who falls for social climber Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey). Sears had a lifelong friendship with Simone Signoret, [4] who stars as her married rival for Joe Lampton's affections.

Sears travelled to Australia to appear in the last Ealing Studios film, The Siege of Pinchgut (1959), in which she played a hostage who forms a romantic liaison with an escaped convict. The film later became a classic of Australian cinema.

One year later, in the film adaptation of Lawrence's semi-autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers (1960) directed by Jack Cardiff, she appeared as Miriam, the girlfriend and intellectual companion of Paul Morel (Dean Stockwell).

In Hammer's production of The Phantom of the Opera (1962), Sears played the opera singer Christine Charles. Her singing voice was dubbed by opera performer Pat Clark.

She appeared in The Black Torment (1964) as Lady Elizabeth, her last feature-film role for many years.

Later life and career

Sears reduced her work commitments to raise her three sons, but she continued to appear on television in many BBC and ITV dramas until 1981. She also appeared as Grusha in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1969 and in Alan Ayckbourn's comedy How the Other Half Loves in London's West End.

In the 1970s, Sears returned to provincial repertory theatre. She was based at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, where she played title roles in classical plays by Sophocles ( Antigone and Elektra ), Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Dostoyevsky, Ibsen (Hedda Gabler) and Strindberg (Miss Julie), as well as in the work of more modern playwrights such as Liane Aukin (Little Lamb), [5] Brecht (The Caucasian Chalk Circle), Ayckbourn (How the Other Half Loves), Rattigan and Pinter. She also toured with the One-Woman-Show playing Virginia Woolf. She later appeared in a television film adaptation of Dickens' semi-autobiographical novel Great Expectations (1974) as Biddy. In 1989, she made her final screen appearance in The Last Day of School, in which she played a working mother and entrepreneur.

In the last ten years of her life, Sears travelled extensively, spending many months in Mexico, China, Italy, North Africa and Egypt. Her husband Tony Masters died in May 1990 while on holiday with her in the south of France, where the couple would visit every year during the Cannes Film Festival. She did not remarry.

Sears died at the age of 58 in early 1994 of multiple organ failure caused by cancer at the family home in Hinchley Wood near Esher, Surrey. Her son Adam Masters became a film and television editor while his brothers Giles and Dominic became feature-film art directors. [6]



1955 Touch and Go Student
1956 Dry Rot Susan
1957 The Story of Esther Costello Esther Costello
1959 Room at the Top Susan Brown
1959 The Siege of Pinchgut Ann Fulton
1960 Sons and Lovers Miriam
1962 The Phantom of the Opera Christine Charles
1964 Saturday Night Out Penny
1964 The Black Torment Lady Elizabeth Fordyke
1989The Last Day of School


1956The Death of the HeartPortiaTV film
1957 Sunday Night Theatre Emily Webb"Our Town"
1959 Playhouse 90 Barbara"A Corner of the Garden"
1959ITV Television PlayhouseStella"The Paraguayan Harp"
1961 BBC Sunday-Night Play Sheila Birling / Nicole"An Inspector Calls", "A Reason for Staying"
1963Jezebel ex UKMaxine"Sea of Doubt"
1963BBC Sunday-Night PlayKathie Harland"Trial Run"
1963 ITV Play of the Week Doris Mead"The Gioconda Smile"
1964 Playdate Hilary"The Sponge Room"
1964 The Wednesday Play Zinalda"First Love"
1965 Love Story Geraldine Hopper"A Guide to the Ruins"
1966–67 The Informer Helen LambertMain role
1970W. Somerset MaughamMargaret Bronson"Footprints in the Jungle"
1972 The Main Chance Mary Wingrove"Widow's Mite"
1973Away from It AllRachel"The Safe House"
1974 Great Expectations BiddyTV film
1981 Tales of the Unexpected Margaret Pearson"There's One Born Every Minute"
1984 Weekend Playhouse Kate Hanson"Change Partners"

Awards and nominations

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResult
1958 15th Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture The Story of Esther Costello Nominated
11th British Academy Film Awards Best British Actress Won


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  1. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  2. "BFI biodata". Archived from the original on 3 August 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  3. 1 2 "SEARS, Heather, actress", in Ian Herbert, Christine Baxter, Robert E. Finley, Who's Who in the Theatre: A Biographical Record (1977), p. 1108
  4. 1 2 Anne Sinai Reach for the Top: The Turbulent Life of Laurence Harvey, Lanham, Maryland, USA & Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, 2003 [2007], p. 233
  5. Perry Cree
  6. "BritMovie" . Retrieved 5 December 2020.