Actress and Carry On star

Born: November 17, 1927;

Died: September 11, 2018

FENELLA Fielding, who has died aged 90, was an actress and comedian who became most famous – much to her frustration – for one particular role: the evil Morticia Addams-style vamp Valeria Watt in one of the best Carry On films, the horror spoof Carry On Screaming.

One particular scene lingered in fans’ minds, partly because Fielding looked so serene in her tight scarlet dress (she had to be sewed into it), partly because of her seductive posh voice, but mostly because of the comedy timing. Valeria leans back on a chaise longue and asks "do you mind if I smoke?". Wisps of smoke then rise up from her writhing body.

That scene is remembered as one of the best moments in one of the funniest Carry On films, but for Fielding it also pretty much stopped her film career stone dead. Before she made the film in 1966, she had been one of the leading stars of theatre comedy, appearing at Peter Cook's Establishment Club. She also starred in hit revues, including Pieces of Eight with Kenneth Williams, who played her brother in Carry On Screaming.

Later, the actor Patrick McGoohan used Fielding as the voice of the village in his 1960s show The Prisoner, which was set in a kind of Guantanamo Bay for secret agents. She was also wooed by Federico Fellini, who saw her as the possible subject for one of his films. However, Carry On Screaming, she believed, killed off any chance she had of getting good parts in better films.

She hadn’t always wanted to be an actress. In fact, growing up in Edgware, the daughter of a Romanian mother, she remembers dreaming of setting up a detective agency; she also took dancing lessons and even worked as a journalist for a while when she was still at school.

Speaking to The Herald in 2014, she recalled those early experiences. "I wrote for the local paper in Edgware," she said. "I was still at school but the newspaper came out and I thought I could do that. I had the nerve to walk into their office and they said 'what can you do?' They couldn't take me on the staff because I couldn't do shorthand, so I said how about features? I said I could write about people I know in Edgware and they said, ok, write something and if we like it, we'll print it. So that's what I did for about six issues."

Fielding then decided she wanted to act, but her parents thought it meant certain ruin and forced her to do a secretarial course instead. Their daughter persisted though and continued to act in amateur productions, eventually picking up professional work and from the early 1950s small roles in television.

Among her early notable roles were episodes of The Avengers and Patrick McGoohan's show Danger Man, which later led to her gig on The Prisoner. She attracted the attention of Fellini when she was appearing in the farce Let's Get a Divorce. The film-maker said he wanted to do a movie about the different aspects of one woman but in the end Fielding had other work and the project never happened.

Instead, Fielding became most famous as the seductive baddie in Carry on Screaming, but was convinced it was bad for her career. "I did a film with Tony Curtis but I got that in spite of Carry On Screaming. I think I would have had better parts in straighter films if I hadn't done Carry On Screaming.”

Fielding had worked with one of the Carry On co-stars, Kenneth Williams, before, but they had had a difficult relationship. In his diaries, Williams refers to Fielding as "madam" because of the tempestuous time they had on Pieces of Eight. Fielding said they didn't get on because she was a challenge to his ego.

"Kenneth and I clashed because he didn't want anyone to be equal to him," she said. "He wanted to be the only one and a few little creatures creeping round him. When he wasn't being difficult, he was lovely, but when he was, he was horrible. I got wonderful reviews for Pieces of Eight and Kenneth couldn't bear that – he actually got me in a corner and read out my good review and sneered at it."

One other slightly bizarre episode in her career was a public information film she made in the 1970s to encourage people to live in the new town of Cumbernauld. Called Cumbernauld Hit, the film was sponsored by the town's development corporation and was made in 1977. Fielding played a Bond-style villainess and she was filmed against the new, giant concrete flyovers of the new town. "Cumbernauld," she announces at the start of the film, "is tomorrow already here! A town festooned with awards for community architecture! A veritable jewel in the navel of Scotland!" It was one of the stranger films on her CV.

Later in her career, Fielding made occasional appearances in film and television, often sending up her vampy, eccentric reputation. She was in the 1999 film Guest House Paradiso with Bottom stars Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall and appeared in the Channel 4 series Skins in 2012. She also presented an internet radio show in which she played her favourite music and published her memoirs, Do You Mind If I Smoke?, in 2017.