Actress Haydn Gwynne passes away at 66

In a statement released on Friday, her agent conveyed that Gwynne passed away in the comforting presence of her adoring sons, close family, and friends. The agent also expressed gratitude towards 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 marked by numerous outstanding performances on television and stage. One of her well-known roles was that of the sardonic assistant editor Alex Pates in Channel 4’s newsroom satire, “Drop the Dead Donkey.” She also received Olivier and Tony award nominations for her role as the dance teacher in “Billy Elliot the Musical” in both London and New York. Her talent shone through with three other Olivier nominations for the musical productions of “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 this year. Thorne described her as the kindest and loveliest soul and praised her exceptional performances, 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.

The beloved actor Haydn Gwynne has unfortunately passed away at the age of 66 after a battle with cancer.

A Distinguished Stage Career

In September 2023, Gwynne had to withdraw from the West End revue “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends” shortly before its scheduled opening. Prior to that, she had starred in a special version of the revue that celebrated 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 illustrious career in the West End encompassed remarkable roles, including portraying Margaret Thatcher in Peter Morgan’s 2013 play “The Audience” (starring Helen Mirren as the Queen), the gilded matriarch Lady Wishfort in the Restoration comedy “The Way of the World” at the Donmar in 2018, and a no-nonsense judge in “The Great British Bake Off Musical” in 2023. She also graced the Shakespearean stage, playing Queen Elizabeth in “Richard III” opposite Kevin Spacey at London’s Old Vic in 2011 and Volumnia in “Coriolanus” for the RSC in 2017.

Versatile and Memorable Performances

Gwynne’s talent extended beyond regal and noble characters. She delighted audiences by portraying 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 the BBC’s “Sherlock” and had recurring roles on “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 in the comedy as the second-in-command to the sadsack editor George Dent at the highly dysfunctional GlobeLink News. She played the role throughout the first two series of the popular show before her character’s departure from GlobeLink.

Born in West Sussex, Gwynne’s passion for the arts started with local amateur dramatic productions. She went on to study sociology at the University of Nottingham, where she also participated in student theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Despite not attending drama school, Gwynne’s talent caught the attention of Alan Ayckbourn, who cast her in Sandy Wilson’s musical play “His Monkey Wife” in Scarborough in 1984, directed by Ayckbourn himself. The play was based on John Collier’s novel. Gwynne had two sons with her partner, Jason Phipps.