Obituary: Briony McRoberts, actress in Take the High Road, Taggart

Born: 10 February, 1957, in Welwyn Garden City. Died:17 July, 2013, in London, aged 56

Briony McRoberts. Picture: TSPL

THE much-loved actress 
Briony McRoberts, who died after she was hit by a train at Fulham Broadway underground station in London, was an actress of much talent, charm and strength who starred in a wide variety of television shows – notably Take the High Road, EastEnders and Taggart, bringing to all her roles much grace and commitment. McRoberts had enjoyed many years in the profession, having gained early prominence as a child star.

Briony McRoberts was particularly well known in Scotland as, apart from her professional connections, she was married to the renowned Edinburgh-born actor David Robb. He has been seen in many television dramas set in Scotland and has recently been central to the events in the hugely successful Downtown Abbey as the very correct doctor. They made a most handsome couple at many award ceremonies, with Robb resplendent in full Highland Dress and his wife with tartan and heather broach.

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McRoberts began her career as a child actress in 1970, when she played one of the youths fostered by the wealthy Ian Carmichael in Bachelor Father. The programme met with some acclaim and a second series was commissioned. It certainly established McRoberts as an actress of real ability.

McRoberts then landed the role of Margo Fassbender in The Pink Panther Strikes Again in 1976, which starred Peter Sellers and Christopher Plummer. It was a challenging part as in one scene McRoberts’ character was tied to a chair and tortured by the sound of her captor running his clawed gloved-hand down a blackboard.

That same year McRoberts joined a prestigious production in a television film of Peter Pan for NBC. The musical version of the JM Barrie play had attracted a cast led by Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye and McRoberts played Wendy Darling to critical acclaim.

McRoberts was to repeat the role of Wendy in playing in Peter Pan at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1980 in London’s West End. Other appearances in London included the musical Maggie in 1978 and Charley’s Aunt at the Aldwych Theatre in 1983. The last starred Efrem Zimbalist jnr.

Appearances in the BBC’s Butterflies, The Professionals and The Crezz followed and from 1984-86 she joined Alec McCowen in Mr Palfrey at Westminster. She played McCowen’s secretary, who was involved in much clandestine activities in the corridors of Whitehall.

It was in 1995 that McRoberts landed the role of Sam Hagen in STV’s popular Take The High Road. For a decade, she brought to the super-bitch role a relish and sinister gusto that much enlivened events in Glendarroch. She was the young laird of the area and got herself into a commercial mess when she found the estate was facing financial ruin. Hagen had invested heavily in a time-share business that had gone bust and, to save money, Hagen had had to evict a family with young children.

In a poignant scene with Lesley Fitz-Simons McRoberts admitted her financial plight and how fragile her financial affairs had become. McRoberts invested in the role, and that scene in particular, a vibrant honesty and dramatic balance that reflected her sure understanding of the character. Colleagues on the soap have been quick to remember McRoberts with much affection. Andy Cameron, who played Chic Cherry said: “I shared a thousand laughs with Briony on the High Road.” Gary Hollywood, now the star of Mrs Brown’s Boys, who played Dominic Dunbar in the soap, simply wrote: “Numb. RIP to my ‘lady Laird’ Briony McRoberts.”

In 2000, McRoberts appeared in Skin Deep an episode of Taggart that was set in a Glasgow health club where a body was found and Taggart discovered that two girls – one of whom was McRoberts – had been having an affair with him.

Other notable television appearances included The Professionals, Heartbeat, The Bill EastEnders and Diamonds.

One of her final theatrical roles was last month in a production of Sir Walter Scott’s poem Lay of the Last Minstrel in Scotland alongside husband David and her long-time friend Joanna Lumley.

Outside her professional life, McRoberts did much work for charity and resolutely supported her husband in his work for the Samaritans. McRoberts was a most active supporter of the Scottish Friends of the Earth’s Fight the Fumes campaign. Since 2004, she and her husband have run every year in the Edinburgh Marathon to raise money for leukaemia research.

McRoberts is survived by her husband.