By Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA
One of the highlights of The Young Ones episode Nasty was Neil’s encounter with a lady who enquires whether he digs graves. On hearing the response ‘yeah’, she beamingly responds, ‘I’m so glad – I think they’re wonderful!’. The hippie’s questioner blithely continues her journey through the cemetery – while pushing a corpse in a wheelbarrow.
Naturally, this memorable lady was played by Damaris Hayman. Throughout her 64-year screen career, she provided indispensable support to the nation’s comedians and comedy actors, from Morecambe and Wise and Les Dawson, to Freddie Davies to Ronnie Barker and Tommy Cooper. The actress also appeared in Tony Hancock’s 1967 ABC TV series, becoming the comic’s close friend. Her insights into Hancock’s demons are crucial to John Fisher’s masterful biography.
Perhaps it was a 1978 edition of the Terry Scott/June Whitfield sitcom Happy Ever After, entitled The Hut Sut Song, that encapsulated Hayman’s charm. Her middle-aged bobby soxer and 1940s dance band music devotee is not a studied and self-conscious eccentric, but a genuine individual. One thinks of Vivian Stanshall’s observation ‘ I’m not different for the sake of being different, only for the desperate sake of being myself.’ Hayman was an actress in the great tradition of Margaret Rutherford, whom she understudied early in her career and became a surrogate daughter.
Damaris Ann Kennedy Hayman was born in Kensington (of course) on the 16th of June 1929 and educated at Cheltenham Ladies College. The 4th of February 1949 edition of The Gloucester Echo contains the wonderful headline ‘Brownies Help for NSPCC and Holidays’, with Hayman billed as a producer of the church hall charity show.
In the early 1950s, Hayman was an actor, director, producer and costume designer at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews. The year 1953 saw her television debut in The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and in 1954 she made her first film appearance as a sixth-former in The Belles of St Trinian’s. The 1960s saw the actress become a fixture of British cinema and television, regarding the leading man or leading lady with bemusement, interest or even disdain.
And in 1971, Hayman appeared in perhaps her most famous role – Olive Hawthorne in the Doctor Who story The Dæmons. A lesser talent would have made the village’s resident white witch a self-conscious “character” in the manner of a second-tier Madam Arcati, but Damaris Hayman, clad in one of Dame Margaret’s capes, created a figure of genuine authority – utterly sincere, resolute and possessing an innocence that confounds even The Master.
Hayman sadly passed away on the 3rd of June this year, leaving a myriad of screen appearances that always left the audience wishing for more. It is a faint surprise, that she did not appear in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, beatifically smiling at Trevor Howard’s exploits. To quote Mr. Stanshall once more, her characters, such as Olive Hawthorne, were indeed ‘“English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere’. If Mrs. Wilberforce of The Ladykillers had a niece, she would have almost certainly resembled Damaris Hayman.