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Dilys Watling, deceased at the age of 79, was a complete performer on stage and on screen. From song and dance to Raymond Revuebar in Soho, she brought her lively personality to West End musicals and television appearances in light entertainment programs and dramas.

In 1970, she was even on the Broadway stage in Georgy, starring the goofy, goofy title character, played by Lynn Redgrave in the movie version, Georgy Girl, four years earlier. She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical, despite the fact that the production turned out to be a flop and ended after just four performances at the Winter Garden Theater.

The New York Times described Watling as “adorable” but judged the cast lacked good songs to sing from composers George Fischoff and Carole Bayer.

Dilys Watling Obituary |  To organise
Dilys Watling, right, as Merle Baker with Violet Carson as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street in 1966. Photograph: ITV / Res / Shutterstock

Broadway never waved again, but Watling continued to show off his talents in British theaters. She was also a regular at pantomime, and in the mid-1970s the Stage newspaper considered her “one of the best main boys in the business”.

She appeared regularly on television in entertainment and sketch shows alongside some of the biggest stars of the time – Adam Faith, Dickie Henderson, Tommy Cooper, Joe Brown, Future Pythons and Goodies in Twice a Fortnight (1967 ), Mike Yarwood, Frankie Howerd, Leslie Crowther, Reg Varney, Eric Sykes, Terry Scott, Jimmy Tarbuck, Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill and, from 1972 to 1984, Corbett and Barker in the Two Ronnies.

Dilys was born in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, the daughter of two actors, Patricia Hicks, who went on to perform on Broadway, and Sidney Rhys-Jones, who served as an RAF aviation officer during World War II. She was still just a baby when, in 1943, he died after his Lancaster bomber crashed on take-off during flight training.

Four years later, his mother married actor Jack Watling and gave birth to Deborah, Giles and Nicola, who all became actors. Dilys had another half-brother who died in infancy.

Dilys Watling Obituary |  To organise
Dilys Watling as a flight attendant with Joe Lynch in the TV series Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width, 1969. Photograph: Fremantle Media / Rex / Shutterstock

The family moved to Essex, where Dilys attended school at St Mary’s Convent, Woodford. She trained at the Italia Conti Theater School and joined Frinton’s Summer Theater Repertory Company in 1959.

Watling first got good grades in London at the Revuebar (1961-62), performing between two striptease acts. Frontal nudity was allowed at the time because it was a members-only club, but Paul Raymond was convicted in 1961 of running a messy house.

In his 2013 Raymond biography, The Look of Love, Paul Willetts wrote about another undercover police officer visiting later in the year: by Dilys Watling. No charge was retained this time.

Watling and Brian Lindsay, a tap dancer, went on to perform in double act clubs before his breakthrough in musicals as Mary the Maid alongside Harry Secombe in the original London cast of Pickwick (Saville theater, 1963-64).

Dilys Watling Obituary |  To organise
Dilys Watling and Frankie Howerd on ITV’s The Frankie Howerd. Photograph: ITV / Rex / Shutterstock

She was back in the West End to play Lady Agatha in the satirical comedy Our Man Crichton (Shaftesbury Theater, 1964-65), also as Tweeny when the star, Millicent Martin, fell ill. Then, she takes on the role of Hodel, the milkman’s daughter who fell in love with the revolutionary student of Sandor Elès, in Le violon sur le toit (Le théâtre de Sa Majesté, 1967). Five years later, she was back on Her Majesty to play the part of Amy in Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

In the provinces, Watling played the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Liverpool playhouse, 1975-76), before returning to London to play Anne Boleyn of Henry VIII of Frank Finlay in Kings and Clowns (Phoenix, 1978), then the central character of the female beggar in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Theater Royal, Drury Lane, 1980), another Sondheim show. In the sci-fi musical Time (Dominion Theater, 1986), she was Judge Morgua.

On TV, Watling also showed off his character acting skills. Early in her career, she made short prints in three serials: in the glossy magazine Compact as Gillian Nesbitt in 1962; in the United football saga! as Sue Grainger in 1966; and in Coronation Street the same year as Merle Baker, a cockney arriving to find her “fiancé”, David Barlow, now married and happy. She then went on to play single character roles in episodes of Paul Temple (1971), The Bill (1991) and Minder (1994).

Likewise, she switched from musicals to drama on stage to play Belinda Blair in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (Savoy Theater, 1984-85).

Watling’s two marriages, to Bruce Anderson, an Australian teacher, in 1966, and actor Owen Teale, in 1986, both ended in divorce. She is survived by Ion, her son with Teale, and Giles, now Tory MP for Clacton, and Nicola. Deborah died in 2017.

Dilys Watling (Dilys Rhys-Jones), actress, born May 5, 1942; passed away on August 10, 2021


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