Lives remembered: Fenella Fielding, 1927 – 2018

Sealing her fate as Britain’s first lady of double entendre, this appearance would eclipse the accomplished stage actress’s prior achievements and Fielding found it difficult to shake off the comedic reputation it bestowed upon her.

Fenella Marion Feldman was born in the east London borough of Hackney to cinema manager Philip and his wife Tilly.

Despite his occupation, her father detested the idea his daughter would appear on the silver screen and would hit her.

The family moved to Edgware in 1940 where she studied at North London Collegiate School.

Enjoying dance classes as a child, Fielding won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She attended for a year but was forced to drop out by her parents, who enrolled her on a secretarial course.

This was devastating for Fielding who attempted suicide by swallowing a concoction of pills.

Desperate to fly the nest, she moved into a flat in Mayfair which she shared with a high-end prostitute and began making cameo appearances at London’s upscale nightclubs.

Yearning to break into entertainment, Fielding worked as an assistant stage manager and understudy at a theatre.


She was given her first break when she accompanied actor Ron Moody, whom she had met at an amateur production at the London School of Economics, to an audition. By 1958 she was a star in satirical musical Valmouth at the Saville Theatre.

Enthralling audiences with her husky voice and seductive looks, by the end of the decade she had become a regular face on the showbiz circuit, appearing in the comedy revue Pieces Of Eight written by Harold Pinter and Peter Cook, and Hancock’s Half Hour.

By 1960 Fielding had landed a film role in Doctor In Love and two years later was in Doctor In Distress.

While enjoying a distinguished career in theatre, including as Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, in 1966 she gave her most memorable line in the comedy classic Carry On Screaming! But achieving household name status had drawbacks; her public image as the seductive Valeria was cemented and it became increasingly difficult to secure heavyweight stage roles.

By the late 1970s Fielding had drifted into obscurity and was declared bankrupt after an agent conned her.


Penniless and forced to sell her home, she had no option but to sign on the dole. In 1982 a lifeline came when the Italian director Federico Fellini asked her to appear in a film but, already committed to a play at Chichester Festival Theatre, she turned it down.

“I thought it would be dishonourable to let them down,” she later recalled.

“I would say that’s the thing I really regret.”

Aged 79, Fielding toured Ireland with a production of The Vagina Monologues. In 2017 she published her memoirs, Do You Mind If I Smoke? and was awarded an OBE at the beginning of this year. Working until her death, she was in the studio recording for LBC radio the day before she suffered a stroke.

Although unmarried, she revealed that she once had two concurrent partners for 20 years, neither of whom knew about the other’s existence.

Fielding is survived by her brother Basil, a Conservative life peer.

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