It is with deep sadness that I must report that my friend Lyn James has died in Sydney, Australia at the age of 87. Lyn became a household name all over the world playing Helen Gordon throughout the entire run of the hugely popular television serial The Young Doctors.
Lyn James will be greatly missed, whilst on a visit home to the UK she was mobbed by Young Doctors fans in a branch of Marks & Spencer. Photo courtesy of Sally Tayler.
Born Margaret James in the Rhondda Valley region of Wales, she was the daughter of the theatre actor and producer Jack James, and the granddaughter of the photographer Levi Ladd. Lyn caught the acting bug very early on and her parents were thrilled when she was given a place at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London at the age of only 16. Whilst at RADA she won the prestigious Judges Special Gold Medal for her portrayal of Susie in J.M. Barrie’s play Half-an-Hour, the judges on the panel included Dame Flora Robson and Michael Benthall.
This highly coveted award wasn’t the only thing that Lyn won whilst at RADA; she also won the heart of a fellow student, New Zealand born Eric Tayler. The pair graduated in 1949 and would forge highly successful careers in the entertainment industry. The talent agent Bill Watts, who represented movie stars such as Joan Collins, Susan Shaw and Carole Lesley spotted Lyn at a RADA graduation showcase and swiftly signed her up, he told one reporter that she would be a star within two years.
Lyn James as Helen Gordon in The Young Doctors. Copyright Grundy Organization/FremantleMedia.
Lyn (who went under the stage name of Marilyn James in the UK) made her professional debut in 1949 playing Delith Gwyn opposite her lifelong friend Glyn Houston in a regional theatre tour of the Welsh comedy Wishing Well by E. Eynon Evans.
Lyn and Eric (now happily married) then signed up with the West of England Theatre Company and found themselves performing together in a diverse range of productions and receiving rave reviews. In 1950 they were appearing together in Noel Langley’s comedy Little Lambs Eat Ivy, and a critic for the Western Morning News wrote, “Eric Tayler and Marilyn James gave fine characterisations.” Amongst the other plays which they performed in together were The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street, Murder without Crime, and Twelfth Night. When Lyn was cast as Joanna Lyppiatt in Present Laughter the theatre critic for The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser commented, “Marilyn James gave a charming and vivacious performance.”
In 1952 Lyn signed on for a revival of the play Wishing Well with Lupino Lane topping the bill, after a regional tour the production transferred to The Comedy Theatre in the West End of London. Following this success, Lyn would be reunited with Eric when they joined The Rapier Players in Bristol. They appeared in a wide array of plays for the company including Dial M for Murder, The Happiest Days of Your Life, and Blithe Spirit. In 1954 Lyn was given a very challenging role in Johnny Belinda by Elmer Blaney Harris, she was to play Belinda McDonald, a deaf and dumb girl who was the victim of a horrific crime. A critic for The Stage newspaper wrote, “Much of the success was due to Marilyn James who played the leading role with a sincerity and sureness of detailed touch that was profoundly moving.”
Inset: Lyn James, then known as Marilyn James, starred with Lupino Lane in the West End run of Wishing Well.
Main Photo: Lyn James in a publicity shot during the 1950s. Courtesy of Sally Tayler.
Lyn did a great deal of television work for the BBC in both London and Wales during this period, these productions were a mixture of both one off plays and series. Her credits included roles in Misery Me, the Welsh comedy Without Vision, Poison Pen, The Druid Circle, she played Aggie Hughes in Jinny Morgan, Moll in Precious Bane, Nurse Dawson in The Stolen Miniatures, Prudence in To Love and to Cherish, and Madeline Bray in Nicholas Nickleby. Particular highlights included working with Fay Compton in Fantastic Summer, playing Alice Potter in First Night: The Youngest Profession, and sharing the bill with John Le Mesurier and Annette Crosbie in Story Parade: The Bachelors.
Her work for commercial television included three productions for ATV, she played Meg Barker in Once Aboard the Lugger, was cast as Beryl Denbigh in Emergency – Ward 10, and also appeared in Call Oxbridge 2000.
During this period Eric had moved behind the scenes and had established himself as a highly successful producer and director with BBC Television. He directed episodes of hit series such as Maigret, Z Cars, and Sherlock Holmes, but found his real forte was producing and directing high end television drama including productions of September Tide by Daphne Du Maurier, Oliver Twist, Bleak House, The Bender, Day of the Drongo, The Harp in the South, and The Little White God featuring a cast of twenty headed by Denis Quilley.
Lyn James on the cover of TV Times magazine in 1978 with fellow Young Doctors cast members Michael Beecher and Alfred Sandor (at the front). Copyright TV Times.
Eric’s success at the BBC saw him being head-hunted by Sir Charles Moses, the general manager of the ABC in Australia. Eric was offered an initial two year contract as a producer and director of television drama, and so in 1965 the family upped sticks and moved Down Under. This was only intended to be a temporary move but they ended up staying, and Eric became a leading light at the ABC. His first Australian production was Ronald Millar’s adaptation of the play The Affair by C P Snow. A critic for the Australian Women’s Weekly wrote, “A milestone in local drama. It was good, world class TV, not a production that can be tarnished by the tag, ‘good for an Australian one.’”
Eric would go on to bring plenty of glory to the ABC through his award winning work which included The Far Country, Rush, Certain Women, Dead Men Running, Contrabandits, the Australian Playhouse series, and the science fiction drama Timelapse. His credits are too numerous to list here but by the end of his career his productions had received five Logie Awards, three Penguin’s (including the 1968 Best Producer gong for Contrabandits), three Henry Lawson Festival Awards, and a Sammy.
Lyn James and her Young Doctors co-star Alfred Sandor enjoy lunch away from the pressures of filming. Photo courtesy of Sally Tayler.
On arriving in Australia Lyn had changed her stage name from Marilyn James to Lyn James, and soon found herself landing plenty of work on television. Her credits included episodes of Hunter, Homicide, Division 4, Matlock Police, Dynasty, Catwalk, The Emigrants, Certain Women, Contrabandits, Eden House, Silent Number, Ryan, The Evil Touch, the Armchair Cinema telemovie Tully, and Case for the Defence.
A highlight was Colin Free’s acclaimed ABC telemovie The Rock Pool. This was a three hander featuring Lyn, Ed Devereaux and Bunney Brooke, and was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as being, “a magnificently filmed production.”
In 1976 Lyn was cast as Helen Gordon in the medical drama serial The Young Doctors, a role which would make her a household name all over the world. Helen was the personal assistant to the medical superintendent of the hospital and became a firm favourite with viewers. Helen was always on hand to give advice to the young doctors and nurses but was a little less successful at running her own life. She was engaged nine times, survived the attentions of a crazed handyman, contracted several near fatal diseases, and killed her lover’s son when she crashed the seaplane that she had been learning to fly. Lyn remained with the serial for its entire run, and was an inspiration to the younger members of the cast.
Lyn James with her daughter Sally Tayler (left). Lyn and Eric were very proud of Sally’s success as an actress. Sally even found herself working with her mum’s old friend George Cole in an episode of Minder.
After the programme ended she continued to act appearing in movies such as Olive, and on television in a range of productions including The Coral Island, Bony, A Country Practice, Possession and Young Lions.
She had also continued her stage career in Australia; most notably performing the epic monologue Soldiering On in Talking Heads by Alan Bennett at The Ensemble Theatre. At the time she described the experience as “scary but thrilling.” Lyn appeared in the comedy Move Over Mrs Markham at the St. George’s Leagues Club with Vincent Ball, Dawn Lake and Susie Walker, this well received production was directed by Michael Craig. She also received critical acclaim for her work on J B Priestley’s comedy When We Are Married at the Northside Theatre in Killara (later known as the Marian Street Theatre).
Away from the limelight Lyn and Eric were noted for their marvellous parties attended by friends such as Vincent Ball and John Meillon. Lyn was a wonderful hostess, a great cook, and Eric always had fascinating stories to tell from his remarkable career. Lyn loved nothing more than spending time with her family, she was an avid reader and cherished her early morning walks along Balmoral Beach with her dog and her friend Bunny Gibson.
Lyn James and her husband Eric Tayler at an ABC producers party during the 1960s. Copyright ABC.
Lyn was a very special lady with a heart of gold and it was my absolute privilege to have known her. She enriched my life, and the lives of many others through her kindness and generosity.
Sadly we lost Eric in 1997, and Lyn is survived by their son Nicholas, their daughter Sally (who has also enjoyed a successful acting career in programmes such as The Young Doctors, Waterloo Station and Sons & Daughters), and their grandchildren.