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Dinah Sheridan

Actress;

Born: September 17, 1920; Died: November 25, 2012.

Dinah Sheridan, who has died aged 92, looked set for international film stardom after the success of the veteran car comedy Genevieve (1953). But her career came to a grinding halt when John Davis, her then husband, forced her to give up acting.

Sheridan missed most of the 1950s and 1960s, before returning to the big screen at the end of the decade.

Cinema and society had moved on dramatically in that time. Sheridan was part of an earlier era, with an understated beauty and wit, and an accent that most readily prompted the description "posh".

She might have found it difficult to restart her career when working-class voices and naked bodies were the order of the day. But she found the perfect role in another classic British movie, one which once again celebrated the national fascination with transport.

She was the mother of The Railway Children (1970), bringing them up as best she could in rural Edwardian England, after her husband was falsely imprisoned as an enemy agent.

In her 60s Sheridan became one of the stars of the sitcom Don't Wait Up, with Tony Britton as her estranged husband and Nigel Havers as their son. It was a fairly forgettable show, but it ran for six series between 1983 and 1990.

Sheridan was the mother of the actress and television presenter Jenny Hanley and the Conservative politician Sir Jeremy Hanley.

She was born Dinah Nadyejda Ginsburg in Hampstead, London. Her father was Russian, her mother German. They emigrated to England to escape political unrest on the continent and made successful careers for themselves as photographers, even taking on royal commissions.

As a child she had tuberculosis but recovered fully and attended the famous Italia Conti theatre school in London and made her stage debut at 12 in the children's fantasy play Where the Rainbow Ends at the Holborn Empire. She always kept her first payslip, which was for 30 shillings – £1.50.

Her family name of Mec was pronounced Mess, which did not sit well with her acting ambitions, so she looked for alternatives in the phone book and chose Sheridan. Her parents also changed their names to Jimmy and Lisa Sheridan.

In her mid-teens she began getting work in films and appeared in a low-budget 1937 crime film called Landslide with Jimmy Hanley.

During the Second World War she worked as an ambulance driver, but took time out to make Salute John Citizen (1942), a little wartime drama that served also as propaganda. It reunited her with Hanley and they married that same year.

After the war she played detective Paul Temple's wife Steve in two films and she was Jane Huggett in The Huggetts Abroad (1949), an instalment in a popular series of family comedies with Jack Warner.

More prestigious films followed: The Sound Barrier (1952), The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), Appointment in London (1953), with Dirk Bogarde, and of course Genevieve, although Sheridan got the role only because the film-makers could not get Claire Bloom.

Kenneth More and John Gregson play rivals in the London to Brighton car rally, with Kay Kendall and Dinah Sheridan as their partners. Sheridan's character becomes increasingly disenchanted as the rivalry becomes more serious.

It was one of the biggest hits of the year and should have launched Sheridan to even bigger movies, but it turned out to be her last film for 17 years.

Her marriage to Hanley collapsed in 1949 and in 1954 she married John Davis, head of the Rank Organisation.

"When Genevieve was released, it could have changed my life," she said later. "Suddenly everyone wanted to employ me, but I discovered that my new husband wouldn't allow me even to think about acting.

"Douglas Bader, the World War Two legless pilot hero, rang me personally and begged me to play his wife in the film about his life, Reach For The Sky, with Kenneth Moore.

"But I had promised my husband never to accept another engagement. It was hard."

It was a bitterly unhappy marriage, Sheridan had a nervous breakdown and the couple divorced in 1965.

She resumed her acting career, initially on stage, appearing in the comedy Let's All Go Down the Strand, in London's West End and on a tour that included the King's Theatre in Glasgow in 1967.

After The Railway Children she went on to appear in the film The Mirror Crack'd (1980), though she worked more often in television, playing a Time Lord in Doctor Who (1983).

She was married twice more; to the actor Jack Merivale, who died in 1990, and to Aubrey Ison, an old friend, who died five years ago. She is survived by her two children from her first marriage.

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