Judy Campbell

Last updated

Judy Campbell
Judy Campbell.jpg
Judy Campbell in 1940
Judith Mary Gamble

(1916-05-31)31 May 1916
Died6 June 2004(2004-06-06) (aged 88)
London, England
Years active1935–2003
David Birkin
(m. 1943;died 1991)
Children3, including Andrew and Jane Birkin
Relatives David Birkin (grandson)
Anno Birkin (grandson)
Kate Barry (granddaughter)
Charlotte Gainsbourg (granddaughter)
Lou Doillon (granddaughter)

Judy Campbell (born Judith Mary Gamble; 31 May 1916 – 6 June 2004) [1] was an English actress and playwright, widely known to be Noël Coward's muse. Her daughter is the actress and singer Jane Birkin, her son the screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin, and among her grandchildren are the actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, the late poet Anno Birkin, the artist David Birkin and the late photographer Kate Barry.


Early life

Campbell was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire on 31 May 1916, daughter of John Arthur Gamble and his wife Mary (née Fulton), and educated at St Michael's Convent, East Grinstead, Sussex. [2] Both her parents were on the stage; her father was also the author of several plays under his professional name of J.A. Campbell.

In Grantham, her family was acquainted with the family of Margaret Roberts, later to become Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. (Thatcher, Margaret (1995). The Path to Power . HarperCollins. p.  14. ISBN   0-06-017270-3.)


Campbell made her stage debut in 1935 as a "Guest" in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney at the Theatre Royal, Grantham, and entered films in 1940 in the London-based thriller Saloon Bar . [1] [3]

Judy Campbell in 1942, photographed by her husband Lt Cdr David Birkin at Dartmouth Judy Campbell in 1942.jpg
Judy Campbell in 1942, photographed by her husband Lt Cdr David Birkin at Dartmouth

In 1941 she had a role in the stage musical Lady Behave . While touring with Coward from September 1942 to March 1943, she created the roles of Joanna in Present Laughter and Ethel in the stage production of This Happy Breed , and played Elvira in Blithe Spirit .

She also appeared with him in twice-weekly troop concerts. In 1943 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, she performed in Present Laughter and This Happy Breed on alternate nights under the umbrella title of Play Parade, before playing Elvira in the West End presentation of Blithe Spirit at the Duchess Theatre in 1943. During one performance on tour, she was surprised to feel Coward stroking her shoulder in an affectionate way that was not called-for in the script, and she began to wonder "Have I succeeded where so many women have failed?" In fact, he was just trying to keep his hands warm in an unheated theatre during fuel rationing. [1]

In 1981 she appeared in Andrew Birkin's BAFTA-winning and Academy Award-nominated short film, Sredni Vashtar , playing the fearsome Aunt Augusta. [4] [5] It was her last major film role, although she appeared regularly on British television throughout the remainder of her career. [3] In 2002 she lent her patrician presence to a television remake of The Forsyte Saga . [6]

In December 2002, at the end of a 67-year career as a boulevard actress and chanteuse, she gave her farewell London performances at the King's Head Theatre with Where Are the Songs We Sung?, a nostalgic garland of songs, memories and scenes from plays, accompanied by Stefan Bednarczyk at the piano, a programme they finally reprised at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

The evening recalled her Grantham childhood, the 1950s with Sandy Wilson, by way of the Liverpool rep with Robert Helpmann, wintry tours and troop concerts with Noël Coward and cheering up West End punters during the Blitz on London, including her unique renderings of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", the Eric Maschwitz standard that made her a star in the New Faces revue at the Comedy Theatre in 1940.

Judy finally recorded "Nightingale" (and Coward's "If Love Were All") in September 2003, as part of a cabaret performance with Sheridan Morley and Michael Law at Pizza on the Park. [7]

Campbell had previously appeared as guest star with Morley and Law for several Jermyn Street cabaret performances as well as with Law's Piccadilly Dance Orchestra, most memorably for a Coward centenary concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1999, where she regaled the audience with often hilarious anecdotes about her work with Coward during the 1940s (and sang "her" Nightingale song).


After her death in 2004 her name was commemorated on the actresses' dressing-room door at the Jermyn Street Theatre.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

She was married to Lieutenant-Commander David Birkin, DSC RNVR , until his death in 1991. The couple had three children.

They bought the oldest house in Old Church Street, Chelsea, which was once a pub, "a few steps from the Chelsea Arts Club", in 1974, and Campbell lived there until her death in 2004. [8]


Judy Campbell died in London on 6 June 2004, aged 88.


Plays by Judy Campbell:

Judy Campbell in 1945 Judy Campbell in 1945.jpg
Judy Campbell in 1945

Selected filmography


Television and TV films

Related Research Articles

Margaret Rutherford British character actress

Dame Margaret Taylor Rutherford, was an English actress of stage, television and film.

Kate OMara English actress

Kate O'Mara was an English film, stage and television actress, and writer. O'Mara made her stage debut in a 1963 production of The Merchant of Venice. Her other stage roles included Elvira in Blithe Spirit (1974), Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (1982), Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra (1982), Goneril in King Lear (1987) and Marlene Dietrich in Lunch with Marlene (2008).

Hay Fever (play)

Hay Fever is a comic play written by Noël Coward in 1924 and first produced in 1925 with Marie Tempest as the first Judith Bliss. A cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, the play is set in an English country house in the 1920s, and deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and their outlandish behaviour when they each invite a guest to spend the weekend. The self-centred behaviour of the hosts finally drives their guests to flee while the Blisses are so engaged in a family row that they do not notice their guests' furtive departure.

<i>Blithe Spirit</i> (play) Play written by Noël Coward

Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.

Fay Compton Actress

Virginia Lilian Emmeline Compton-Mackenzie, CBE, known professionally as Fay Compton, was an English actress. She appeared in several films, and made many broadcasts, but was best known for her stage performances. She was known for her versatility, and appeared in Shakespeare, drawing room comedy, pantomime, modern drama, and classics such as Ibsen and Chekhov. In addition to performing in Britain, Compton appeared several times in the US, and toured Australia and New Zealand in a variety of stage plays.

"Sredni Vashtar" is a short story written by Saki between 1900 and 1911 and first published in his 1912 book The Chronicles of Clovis. It has been adapted for opera, film, radio and television.

<i>Present Laughter</i> Play written by Noël Coward

Present Laughter is a comic play written by Noël Coward in 1939 but not produced until 1942 because the Second World War began while it was in rehearsal, and the British theatres closed. The title is drawn from a song in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that urges carpe diem. The play has been frequently revived in Britain, the US and beyond.

<i>High Spirits</i> (musical)

High Spirits is a musical with a book, lyrics, and music by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward, about a man's problems caused by the spirit of his dead wife.

Joyce Carey

Joyce Carey, OBE was an English actress, best known for her long professional and personal relationship with Noël Coward. Her stage career lasted from 1916 until 1987, and she was performing on television in her nineties. Though never a star, she was a familiar face both on stage and screen. In addition to light comedy, she had a large repertory of Shakespearean roles.

Lysette Anthony British actress

Lysette Anne Chodzko, known professionally as Lysette Anthony, is an English actress and model. She is known for her roles in the film Husbands and Wives (1992), the first season of the ITV comedy-drama series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983), the BBC One sitcom Three Up, Two Down, and her role as Marnie Nightingale in the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks (2016–present).

<i>This Happy Breed</i>

This Happy Breed is a play by Noël Coward. It was written in 1939 but, because of the outbreak of World War II, it was not staged until 1942, when it was performed on alternating nights with another Coward play, Present Laughter. The two plays later alternated with Coward's Blithe Spirit. The title, a reference to the English people, is a phrase from John of Gaunt's monologue in Act II, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Richard II.

Rosalind Marie Knight was an English actress. Her career spanned 70 years on stage, screen, and television. Her film appearances include Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957), Carry On Nurse (1959), Carry On Teacher (1959), Tom Jones (1963), and About a Boy (2002). She played Beryl in the BBC sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme (1999–2001). She played Horrible Grandma in Friday Night Dinner.

Gwen Watford

Gwen Watford was an English actress. She twice won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress and the 1981 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress for Noël Coward's play Present Laughter. Her film appearances included Cleopatra (1963), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) and Cry Freedom (1987). She was married to actor Richard Bebb from 1952 until her death in 1994.

Zena Dare English actress, singer

Zena Dare was an English singer and actress who was famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre and comedic plays in the first half of the 20th century.

Noël Coward English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer

Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".

Margaret Rawlings English actress

Margaret Rawlings, Lady Barlow was an English stage actress, born in Osaka, Japan, daughter of the Rev. George William Rawlings and his wife Lilian Rawlings.

Cultural impact of Noël Coward

A prolific playwright and successful actor and director, Noël Coward has had a significant impact on culture in the English-speaking world. Time magazine said that he had a unique "sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".

Nora Nicholson

Nora Nicholson was an English actress. Known for her portrayal of character roles, she achieved her greatest success in the later years of her career. She played in classics by Shakespeare and Chekhov and in new plays by authors including Noël Coward and Alan Bennett. Many of her best-regarded performances were as eccentric or even unhinged characters.

Stephen Carlile British actor

Stephen Carlile is a British actor well known for starring as the villain Scar in the Broadway musical adaptation of the Disney film The Lion King.

Beryl Measor, was an English actress. She was born in Shanghai, and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She was a star pupil, winning the RADA Silver Medal in 1931.


  1. 1 2 3 "Obituary: Judy Campbell". The Independent . 10 June 2004. Archived from the original on 8 February 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  2. Shorter, Eric (9 June 2004). "Judy Campbell". The Guardian . Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  3. 1 2 "Judy Campbell". BFI.
  4. "1981 Film Short Film | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org.
  5. "Sredni Vashtar (1981)". BFI.
  6. "The Forsyte Saga[07/04/2002] (2002)". BFI.
  7. "Store". Piccadilly Dance Orchestra. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  8. Tyzack, Anna (11 July 2008). "Judy Campbell: The £4m house where a nightingale sang". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 September 2018.