Mary Wimbush was born in Kenton, Middlesex, on 19th March 1924. Her father was a schoolmaster; her mother had been to RADA but had never pursued a professional career on the stage, but enjoyed taking part in amateur dramatics when they came to live in Berkhamsted, when Mary was four. Both her father, Nelson Norman Wimbush,
and her mother, Ida Margaret Hughes, came from the West Midlands and were married in Bromsgrove in 1921. They remained in their adopted town, Berkhamsted, for the rest of their lives.
Mary was the younger of two daughters, the elder Joanna, was two years her senior. Her father had served on the Western Front in the London Regiment during World War I where he had received severe facial injuries.
Both girls attended Berkhamsted School for Girls. Afterwards, Mary was sent with her older sister to board at St Agnes’ and St Michael’s, an Anglican convent at East Grinstead, Sussex. Although she had set her heart on becoming an actress, her father sent her to Edinburgh to take a course in domestic science – a decision that did not go down well with his daughter, who later managed to secure a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
In 1946 Mary married the actor Howard Marion-Crawford and they had a son Charles F Marion-Crawford in 1948. The marriage did not last and the couple were divorced in 1949.
Mary began her acting career at Amersham rep, a career which was to span sixty years, in theatre, film and radio, the last medium, being her favourite. Mary first acted in radio for the BBC in 1945. She played in hundreds of series, serials and plays, Mrs Dale’s Diary, The Governor’s Consort, The Horse’s Mouth, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. For these latter two she was awarded Best Actress in the 1991 Sony Awards. She was not particularly active in TV, film and theatre until later in her career. Prominent roles there included Miss MacKay in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible and Mrs Smith in the Attenborough film of ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’.
In more recent years she was perhaps best known among the general public for the last role she played in The Archers, that of Julia Pargeter, and it was after she had finished recording an episode in that series that she collapsed and died in the Birmingham studio on 31st October 2005, acting until the end.
She had a happy relationship with the poet and BBC producer Louis Macneice in the last years of his life, and they lived together in Aldbury, Hertfordshire. McNeice’s last collection of poetry was dedicated to her.
Mary is buried in the Rectory Lane Cemetery, together with her mother Ida Margaret Wimbush, who died on 14th October 1963 and her father Nelson Norman Wimbush, of Edgehill, Kingsdale Road, who had died in Mainz, Germany on 3rd October 1965. Mary’s elder sister, Joanna, lived for almost another eight years, dying on 25th September 2013, and is also laid to rest in the family grave. (361)