Born: June 15, 1945;

Died: March 3, 2021.

NICOLA Pagett, who has died of a brain tumour aged 75, was an actress whose refined presence lent itself to numerous aristocratic roles over a distinguished, high-profile stage and television career spanning 30 years.

She came to prominence in Upstairs Downstairs, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins’ s cross-class, early 20th century-set TV drama (1971-1975). She played Elizabeth Bellamy, the rebellious daughter of Lady Marjorie Bellamy and her Conservative MP husband Richard. During her time in the show, Elizabeth flirted with socialism, became a suffragette, and married a sexless poet before being dispatched to America following Pagett’s departure after two series.

She went on to play the title role of Anna Karenina in a 10-part BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel that saw her make Tolstoy’s free-spirited heroine her own. “There’s nothing remotely ethereal or delicate about me,” she told the New York Times in 1978. “I’m sort of peasant stock. Words won’t blow me off my feet. I’m not fragile – not that sort of lady.”

Pagett was latterly known for playing the upper-crust and erotically charged Liz Roddenhurst in David Nobbs’ comedy drama, A Bit of a Do (1989). Inbetween came a stream of TV and film roles that ran alongside an impressive theatre career. This saw her play major roles at the National Theatre and on the West End. In the mid-1990s, however, a breakdown saw her write about her mental illness with a frankness rare for its time.

Nicola Mary Pagett Scott was born in Cairo, Egypt, the elder of two sisters, to Herbert and Barbara Scott. Her father was an oil company executive, and her peripatetic early life saw her grow up in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Japan.

It was while at Saint Maur International School in Yokohama, Japan that the determined seven-year-old stood up on a desk and declared her intention of becoming an actress.

At 12, she was dispatched to boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea, and by the time she was seventeen had been accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She made her stage debut in 1964 with the Worthing Repertory Company before touring with Vivien Leigh in Paul Osborn’s play, La Contessa, the following year.

In Pagett’s own words, it wasn’t until she joined the Citizens Theatre Company in Glasgow that she began to find her feet as an actress. With the Citz then under the artistic direction of Michael Blakemore and Michael Meacham, she performed there in productions of Twelfth Night, Phedre and five more shows. These included The Seven Year Itch (1967), acting alongside Blakemore, who had previously directed her in Nightmare Abbey (1966).

She also performed at the Citz’s experimental Close Theatre, in Doris Lessing’s Play With a Tiger (1966).

“If I hadn’t gone to Glasgow,” Pagett told the Independent in 1992, “I wouldn’t have known I could do it. It gave me the confidence to go on and do other stuff by good writers.”

By this time she had made her TV debut in Robert Bolt’s play, The Flowering Cherry, (1965), and went on to play guest roles in the likes of Danger Man (1965), Gideon’s Way (1965), and later in Man in a Suitcase (1968) and The Avengers (1968). There was an early role, too, opposite Maurice Roeves in Cock, Hen and Courting Pit (1966), a contribution to the BBC’s Wednesday Play strand by David Halliwell.

Pagett made her London stage debut in The Boston Story (1968), and played Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There were seasons at the Royal Court and Nottingham Playhouse, while on the West End she appeared in John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father (1971). At Greenwich Theatre in 1974, she played Ophelia in Hamlet and Masha in The Seagull.

Later, she appeared with Michael Gambon and Liv Ullmann in a revival of Old Times (1985) by Harold Pinter. Her mix of glacial seriousness and cut-glass vulnerability was perfect for Pinter’s work, and at the Almeida she appeared in a double bill of his short plays, Party Time and Mountain Language (1991).

There were films too, including Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) and There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970), with later turns in Love Story sequel, Oliver’s Story (1978) and Privates on Parade (1983).

In 1975, she married actor/writer Graham Swannell, whom she met while appearing in Julian Mitchell’s adaptation of Ivy Compton-Bennett’s A Family and a Fortune (1974). They were together until 1997.

On TV, Pagett played hairdresser Sonia Drysdale in Roy Clarke’s 12-part comedy, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1994-1995). As Sonia, she teamed up with Peter Davison’s mild-mannered stationary shop owner in an attempt to thwart their respective spouses affair.

Her illness manifested itself while she was appearing in a 1995 National Theatre revival of Joe Orton’s farce, What the Butler Saw. As recounted in her lyrical and moving memoir, Diamonds Behind My Eyes (1997), she became obsessed with someone she called ‘The Stranger’, later revealed to be Tony Blair’s spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell. Pagett was eventually diagnosed as bipolar.

She was last seen on screen as the sensible Sally Kegworthy in Nick Vivian’s English village-set comedy drama, Up Rising (2000) in what was a last glimpse of her rare and luminescent talent, She is survived by her daughter Eve and her sister Angela.