Remembering Haydn Gwynne: A Remarkable Career in Stage and Television

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the beloved actor Haydn Gwynne, who lost her battle with cancer at the age of 66. Gwynne passed away surrounded by her loving sons, close family, and friends. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated staff and teams at the Royal Marsden and Brompton hospitals for their exceptional care over the past few weeks.

Gwynne’s career as an actress was truly remarkable, with outstanding performances both on television and stage. She charmed audiences with her sardonic portrayal of Alex Pates, the assistant editor in Channel 4’s newsroom satire, “Drop the Dead Donkey.” Her talent was recognized with Olivier and Tony award nominations for her role as the dance teacher in “Billy Elliot the Musical” in both London and New York. Gwynne also received three other Olivier nominations for her roles in “City of Angels,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and “The Threepenny Opera.”

Many have come forward to pay tribute to Gwynne, including playwright Jack Thorne, who worked with her in the play “When Winston Went to War With the Wireless” at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Thorne described her as the kindest and loveliest soul, praising her exceptional performances by saying, “She gave everything to everything.” Accomplished writer Jonathan Harvey also recognized Gwynne’s versatility, referring to her as a gifted and versatile all-rounder.

In September 2023, Gwynne had to withdraw from the West End revue “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends” due to her illness. Prior to that, she had starred in a special version of the revue celebrating Sondheim’s illustrious career in musicals. Producer Cameron Mackintosh expressed his admiration for Gwynne, stating, “Haydn gave an unforgettable performance of ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ during the Old Friends gala premiere in May 2022 and has been an integral part of this very close-knit company ever since.”

Gwynne’s stage career in the West End was truly illustrious. She portrayed Margaret Thatcher in Peter Morgan’s play “The Audience,” Lady Wishfort in the Restoration comedy “The Way of the World” at the Donmar, and a no-nonsense judge in “The Great British Bake Off Musical.” She also left her mark on the Shakespearean stage, playing Queen Elizabeth in “Richard III” and Volumnia in “Coriolanus.”

Gwynne’s talent extended beyond regal and noble characters. She delighted audiences by playing Camilla as a “soap-opera villainess” in Channel 4’s comedy “The Windsors” and embodied Lady Susan Hussey, lady-in-waiting to Imelda Staunton’s Queen, in Netflix’s “The Crown.” She also portrayed a scheming gallerist in BBC’s “Sherlock” and had recurring roles in “Peak Practice” and “Merseybeat.”

In 1989, Gwynne received praise for her portrayal of an English lecturer in the TV mini-series “Nice Work,” based on David Lodge’s novel. However, it was her role as Alex Pates in “Drop the Dead Donkey” that truly brought her recognition. Gwynne was nominated for a BAFTA for her outstanding performance as the second-in-command to the sadsack editor at the highly dysfunctional GlobeLink News. She played the role throughout the first two series of the popular show before her character’s departure.

Born in West Sussex, Gwynne’s passion for the arts began with local amateur dramatic productions. She pursued sociology at the University of Nottingham, where she also showcased her talent in student theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Despite not attending drama school, Gwynne’s remarkable talent caught the attention of Alan Ayckbourn, who cast her in Sandy Wilson’s musical play “His Monkey Wife” in Scarborough in 1984. Gwynne had two sons with her partner, Jason Phipps.