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Judy Campbell

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Judy Campbell

Judy Campbell
File:Judy Campbell.jpg
Judy Campbell in 1940
Born (1916-05-31)31 May 1916
Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Died 6 June 2004(2004-06-06) (aged 88)
London, England, UK
Spouse(s) Lieutenant-Commander David Birkin RN (1943–1991)

Judy Campbell (31 May 1916 – 6 June 2004) was an English actress, playwright and 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 poet Anno Birkin, the artist David Birkin and the photographer Kate Barry.

Private life

Judy Campbell was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire on 31 May 1916, daughter of John Arthur Campbell and his wife Mary (Fulton), and was educated at St Michael's Convent in East Grinstead, Sussex.[1] Both her parents were on the stage; her father was also the author of several plays under his professional name of J.A. Campbell.

She was married to Lieutenant-Commander David Birkin, DSC, RNVR, until his death in 1991. She died in London on 6 June 2004, aged 88.

Professional career

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. She insisted that she could neither sing nor dance, but she had a rare ability to invest a song with theatrical grace and charm. In 2002 she lent her patrician presence to a television remake of The Forsyte Saga.

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.

In 1981 she appeared in Andrew Birkin's BAFTA winning and Academy Award nominated short film, Sredni Vashtar, playing the fearsome Aunt Augusta. It was her last major film role, although she appeared regularly on British television throughout the remainder of her career.

In December 2002, at the end of a 67-year career as a boulevard actress and chanteuse of distinction, 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.[2] Judy 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 [3] 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 of course sang "her" Nightingale song).

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


Plays by Judy Campbell:

  • Sing Cuckoo, Whitehall Theatre (10 December 1950)
  • The Bright One, Winter Garden Theatre (10 December 1958)


Television and TV films:


  • obituary
  • Judy Campbell's own CV in Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th Edition (Vol 1), ed Ian Herbert, Gale Research (1981) ISBN 0-8103-0235-7
  • Noël Coward's second volume of autobiography, Future Indefinite, William Heinemann (1954)
  • John Thaxter's review of Where Are The Songs We Sung?, What's On In London, published 18 December 2002 (this and other reviews archived in Theatre Record 2002)
  • Halliwell's Film Guide and Who's Who in the Movies, ed John Walker

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Performances listed in Theatre Archive University of Bristol
  • Recording: "An Evening with Sheridan Morley and Michael Law with special guest star Judy Campbell"

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