'Queen of Hammer Horror films' Barbara Shelley dead at 88

‘Queen of Hammer’ dead at 88: British screen legend Barbara Shelley who starred in horror classics from Dracula to The Gorgon dies from ‘underlying issues’ after hospital Covid battle

  • Barbara Shelley died after being in hospital and catching coronavirus there
  • She recovered from Covid but succumbed to other underlying health issues
  • The actress was best-known for the Hammer Horror films as well as Doctor Who 

Barbara Shelley has been hailed as the ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’ after her death at the age of 88.

The actress was the star of 1950s and 1960s Hammer Horror films including The Gorgon, opposite Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Rasputin, The Mad Monk, both also starring Lee; and Quatermass And The Pit, as well as Blood Of The Vampire, and Village Of The Damned.

She also appeared in the Doctor Who episode Planet Of Fire, starring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor.

Her agent, Thomas Bowington, said: ‘She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer. 

Barbara Shelley and Christopher Lee in the classic Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Barbara Shelley was one of horror’s best-known faces and starred in 104 films and TV series

‘On screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness.

‘She was a regular favourite of Hammer events and autograph shows but also performed on stage with the RSC.’ 

He added: ‘She adored Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and loved working with them, that was very dear to her.’

Mr Bowington said Shelley had recently been in hospital, where she had caught Covid-19, but had since recovered.  

Barbara Shelley, seen here in 2009, was dubbed the ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’

Barbara Shelley and Martin Stephens in the 1960 classic Village of the Damned

He said: ‘It wasn’t the Covid that took her, she had underlying issues.’ 

Born Barbra Kowin in 1932, Shelley was also known for TV roles in series including The Saint, The Avengers, The Borgias, Blake’s 7 and Crown Court, and later played Hester Samuels in EastEnders.

In 2010, writer and actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Shelley about her career at Hammer Films for his BBC documentary series A History Of Horror.

The London-based production company, founded in 1934, made a string of hit Gothic horror films from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

Many of these involved classic horror characters such as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Mummy.

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