About Angharad Mary Rees, CBE
Angharad Rees, the actress, was best-known as the headstrong Demelza in Poldark, the BBC’s hugely popular saga of impoverished gentry, smugglers and derelict tin mines in 18th-century Cornwall.
Noted for her flouncy dresses, wild auburn tresses and overripe West Country accent, Angharad Rees starred as the former servant-girl who “drops her knickers for a shilling”. Despite her humble birth she eventually marries Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis), a dashing young army captain in snug breeches who returns from the American Revolution to find his family estate in ruins, his mines for sale and the love of his life, Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) betrothed to his cousin.
The 29-episode drama featured a host of twists and sub-plots, with Demelza becoming pregnant by Capt Poldark, who also finds himself embroiled in a feud with his neighbour, the rapacious George Warleggan, played by Ralph Bates.
Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, the series, which was broadcast between 1975 and 1977, examined the relationship between the oppressed poor and wealthy landowners. Coming at a time of contemporary social upheaval, it attracted 15 million viewers in Britain and was shown in a further 21 countries. In Cornwall, the series was so popular that churches had to reschedule their services on Sunday nights.
Angharad Mary Rees was born in Cardiff on July 16 1949. Her father, Professor Linford Rees CBE, was an eminent psychiatrist and academic who later led the first professorial department of psychological medicine at Bart’s Hospital in London.
Educated at the private Commonweal Lodge in Surrey, where she struggled with dyslexia, Angharad at 16 went on to study for two terms at the Sorbonne in Paris before winning a scholarship to the Rose Bruford drama college in Surrey. She also studied at the University of Madrid, and for a time taught English at a psychiatric clinic in the Spanish capital.
Returning to Britain, she sought acting work in repertory and on television, finally landing her first professional job as a maid in Man and Superman with Maggie Smith and Eric Porter. She first came to public notice in 1969 as Marie Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, a television adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel. In the same year she appeared as Desdemona opposite the American singer PJ Proby as Cassio in Jack Good’s rock musical Catch My Soul, loosely based on the story of Othello.
Having appeared in Nescafé coffee commercials with her first husband, the Old Etonian actor Christopher Casenove, and their two sons, she gave up full-time acting in 1981 when the couple separated — the first of two splits — in order to spend more time with the children.
She coached business people to speak in public and on radio and television before, in 1995, the television company HTV announced plans to adapt the final novels in the Poldark saga. It asked Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis to recreate their parts, 18 years after they had co-starred in the BBC series.
Both accepted, and though they had agreed a fee of £60,000 each to appear, only to be told that they would actually only be paid £30,000 — exactly, and (they thought) insultingly, half the original sum. Angharad Rees sued the company, and in the event both parts were recast using different actors. Her stage appearances included roles in The Millionairess (Haymarket); It’s a Foot, Six Inches Above The Ground World (Wyndhams); The Picture of Dorian Gray and A Handful of Dust (Lyric) and as Perdita in A Winter’s Tale (Young Vic). Her other Shakespearean roles included Ophelia, Juliet, Hermione, and Queen Isabel in Richard II.
Angharad Rees toured in Peter Hall’s production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband and appeared regularly with John Mortimer in Mortimer’s Miscellany, an anthology of poetry and prose presented at theatres around Britain.
On television she played Celia in As You Like It, and performed in many American co-productions and series including Tutenkamun’s Tomb; Windmill of the Gods; Forgotten Story; and The Gathering Storm, in which she co-starred with Richard Burton. She also starred in Close to Home (1989-1990) and Trainer (1992) for the BBC.
In 1971 she co-starred with Eric Porter as the murderous daughter of Jack the Ripper in the Hammer feature film Hands Of The Ripper. The climax in St Paul’s Cathedral remains one of the most affecting in all Hammer films. Her other films included Under Milk Wood (1972) by Dylan Thomas, and The Little Girl In Blue Velvet (1978), directed by Alan Bridges.
In 2005 she founded a jewellery design company, Angharad, based in Belgravia. She was commissioned to design necklaces and earrings for the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), starring Cate Blanchett. Her tribal, bohemian and psychedelic pieces, meanwhile, were inspired by her enthusiasm for antique and historical beads.
She married the actor Christopher Cazenove in 1973. The couple divorced in 1994 and in 2005, following a well-publicised relationship with the actor Alan Bates, she married David McAlpine of the McAlpine construction company family (and brother of the Conservative Party treasurer). He survives her with Rhys, the younger son of her first marriage.
Her elder son, Linford, was killed in a car crash in 1999, aged 25. Christopher Cazenove died in 2010.