Actress known for Doctor in the House and Reach for the Sky

Born: June 27, 1921;

Died: January 19, 2019

MURIEL Pavlow, who has died aged 97, was a popular stage and screen actress known for playing sweet, wholesome women notably in such hit British films as Doctor in the House and Doctor at Large and the Douglas Bader biopic Reach for the Sky.

Born in Lewisham, south-east London, Pavlow – whose Russian father and Swiss-French mother changed their name from Pavlov in order to fit in – grew up in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire and showed acting talent from an early age. She made her film debut at the age of 13 in the Gracie Fields musical Sing As We Go (1934).

In 1936, aged 15, she made her stage debut in Glasgow – playing a nine-year-old in a production of The Old Maid starring Hollywood actress Lillian Gish – at the King’s Theatre. She continued to be cast as children right up to her late teens when, thanks to John Gielgud, she finally landed a grown-up role – in the play Old Acquaintance.

Pavlow’s last juvenile role was in Quiet Wedding (1941) – a romantic comedy starring Margaret Lockwood – which was filmed during the run of Old Acquaintance. The war caused her to pause her acting career – she joined the Wrens – which resumed in the theatre with Terence Rattigan’s drawing-room comedy While the Sun Shines (1945), and on the screen in the thriller Night Train to Dublin (1946), with Robert Newton.

For the 1947 blackmail melodrama The Shop at Sly Corner, Pavlow was cast as the sweet, violin-playing daughter of shady antiques dealer Oskar Homolka. Derek Farr, who had been Margaret Lockwood’s leading man in Quiet Wedding, was cast as her love interest – to her great delight. “I nearly fainted because he was my pin-up, believe it or not, I thought he was marvellous, he had such wonderful blue eyes. And the first scene I had with him I had to come flying down the stairs and throw myself into his arms and kiss him. And that did it! I married him three months later.”

The 1950s saw Pavlow, by now under contract to Rank, become increasingly well-known, thanks to her performances in such diverse films as the Technicolor fashion melodrama It Started in Paradise (1952), the war movie The Maltese Story (1953), the Kay Kendall-Peter Finch comedy Simon and Laura (1955) and, especially, the hit comedies Doctor in the House (1954) and Doctor at Large (1956) in which she starred alongside Dirk Bogarde.

Having read Paul Brickhill’s book Reach for the Sky, Pavlow lobbied to be cast as Thelma, the supportive wife of Douglas Bader (Kenneth More), the amputee fighter pilot, in the film adaptation in 1956. Her performance cemented her reputation as the archetypal loyal wife/wholesome girlfriend.

On stage, too, Pavlow enjoyed a good run in her thirties. Her season at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1954, saw her play such roles as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Biancas in The Taming of the Shrew and Othello.

After a handful more films at Rank plus a role in the first of Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple outings – Murder She Said (1961), film offers evaporated, and Pavlow concentrated on the theatre, often appearing with Farr, notably on tours of Australia with the plays Odd Man In and Mary, Mary. She also popped up on TV dramas throughout the following decades, notably Dixon of Dock Green, Emmerdale, The Bill and House of Cards.

Farr died in 1986, and Pavlow was last seen in the all-star Stephen Poliakoff drama Glorious 39 in 2009.