Actress best known as the child-hating queen in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Born: October 6 1932;

Died: August 16, 2019

ANNA Quayle, who has died aged 86, was one of the screen’s great scene stealers during the 1960s, and a genuine, Tony award-winning leading lady in the theatre. First establishing a reputation during the dying days of West End “intimate revues”, she is recalled as the child-loathing, prone to fainting Baroness Bomburst in the expansive perennial Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), before playing an imaginative teacher called Mrs Monroe on Grange Hill (BBC, 1990-94).

“I happen to live in a little world all of my own,” she declared in The Flowers, one self-written revue sketch. With her commanding height, large, round eyes, and mouth often agape in surprise or delight, she often appeared otherworldly in a comically eccentric manner, taking audiences with her. Described by Kenneth Tynan as “a Junoesque redhead”, even when a show was generally disliked by critics, she herself was nearly always singled out for praise.

She was born in Birmingham, into a theatrical family. Her father Douglas Quayle had an acting career dating back to 1926, and produced for regional repertory companies. Under her real name of Anne, she appeared for her father in Girls, You’ve Had It at the Royal, Lincoln in 1951, before she entered RADA, where Glenda Jackson was a fellow student.

While at RADA, she appeared in the Oxford Revue, despite not being an undergraduate (so had Maggie Smith). As Better Late, the show played the Edinburgh Festival of 1956. Quayle would return to the city three years later in another revue, Do You Mind?, and received the only good notices in Pal Joey, at the Royal Lyceum as part of the 1976 Festival.

Her next revue opened in Leatherhead in 1959 as Let’s Go Mad, before resurfacing in the West End as Look Who’s Here! (Fortune Theatre, 1960), and included The Flowers. Although intimate revue was about to become extinct, three of Quayle’s collaborators in the next Fortune revue, And Another Thing (1960), Bernard Cribbins, Lionel Blair (who also served as choreographer) and Barry Cryer, credited with ‘additional material’, remain active.

Theatrical lore dictates that these revues were rendered obsolete by Beyond The Fringe - in And Another Thing’s case this is true, as the new show replaced it at the Fortune. Nonetheless, Quayle worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Not Only But Also (BBC, 1965), and played an overly cheerful therapist to the elderly in Rolling Home (BBC, 1981), by Alan Bennett.

Anthony Newley personally chose Quayle to co-star in his and Leslie Bricusse’s Stop the World – I Want To Get Off. Opening at the Queen’s in 1961, it transferred the following year to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway, resulting in Quayle winning the Tony award for best supporting actress in a musical.

Playing the women in the life of Newley’s autobiographical everyman Littlechap, she demonstrated her versatility: as upper-class: German, in a preview of the Baroness Bomburst accent; American, imitating Marilyn Monroe; and Russian. She told Newley’s biographer Garth Bardsley she considered him “a man of the theatre…bursting with talent”. A typically self-reflexive TV special of his, The Johnny Darling Show (BBC, 1961), included her as a disappointed fan.

The film critic Pauline Kael once wrote, “Miss Quayle is becoming something of a picture-saver.” Most of her films reflected Swinging London: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), having a nonsensical conversation with John Lennon; The Sandwich Man (1966), debating TV doctors with Diana Dors; disposed of by Tony Curtis in Arrivederci Baby (1966) and faux-German in Casino Royale (1967), both for Ken Hughes who reused her in Chitty and Smashing Time (1967).

Full Circle (Apollo, 1970) was her “musical entertainment” showcase, based around the seasons of the year, which she also wrote. Her musicals continued: Out Of Bounds (Theatre Royal, Bristol, 1974) as a headmistress: as Anne of Cleves in Bricusse’s unsuccessful Kings and Clowns (Phoenix, 1978), about Henry VIII; and donning an outrageous French accent for the 13th anniversary production of The Boy Friend (Old Vic, 1984).

She was Russian again in The Avengers (1967) as a once-only partner to Steed, partied during the General Strike in Brideshead Revisited (Granada, 1981), and once informed her Grange Hill pupils, “Mrs Monroe, like God, will not be mocked.”

Twice she supported Dorothy Tutin, in Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version and Harlequinade (Royalty, 1988), also with Paul Eddington, and in After October (Minerva, Chichester, 1997) by the neglected Rodney Ackland, in both as theatrical types.

Her brother John, also an actor, and her daughter survive her.