Damaris Hayman was the epitome of breezy good humour and jolly hockey sticks in dozens of films and television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. She appeared mainly in supporting or even walk-on roles, but is revered by Doctor Who fans as the White Witch of Devil’s End in one of the most popular stories from the early years.
In the 1971 storyline The Daemons she and the Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, join forces against the Master, who is masquerading as the new vicar of a sleepy little English village and is intent on summoning an ancient demon, really an alien, that is buried beneath his church. Hayman’s character was so popular that she was revived in a belated video spin-off almost half a century later.
Hayman’s toothy, upper-class and eccentric characters became a very familiar feature of British dramas and comedy, and one of her most memorably surreal appearances was in an episode of the punk-era sitcom The Young Ones in 1984 when she meets dopey hippy Neil in another churchyard.
She is seen pushing a dead body around in a wheelbarrow. “Do you dig graves?” she asks Neil.
Neil: "Yeah, they're alright."
"I'm so glad, I think they're wonderful," she replies and off she goes.
A barrister’s daughter and only child, Damaris Ann Kennedy Hayman was born in the upmarket Kensington district of London in 1929. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the Royal Academy of Music, before pursuing a career in theatre in Scotland.
She learned the ropes as an actress, director and producer with the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, over several seasons in the first half of the 1950s. She made her debut in a series of “rather bad plays by new authors” before graduating to the role of Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium in Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit.
In the mid-1950s Hayman began getting small film and television parts, making her big-screen debut in an uncredited role in The Belles of St Trinian’s. She was still appearing in small, uncredited roles in the early 1960s when sharp-eyed viewers might spot her in Disney’s live-action Scottish doggie movie Greyfriars Bobby.
Although the roles were small, Hayman was honing a distinct screen persona and she began to turn up with increasing regularity on television in the 1960s, appearing in such diverse offerings as Citizen James, with Sid James, the Somerset Maugham Hour, Crossroads, Steptoe and Son, No Hiding Place, Z Cars and Spike Milligan’s sketch show The World of Beachcomber. Often she appeared in two or more different roles across a series.
After appearing on Tony Hancock’s show, she became close friends with the troubled comic genius. He would sometimes phone in the middle of the night and ask her to come round. They would chat through the night and she recalled reading to him, everything from Plato to Winnie the Pooh.
“He was the Everest among the peaks of the comedians, very intelligent but a very sad man,” she said. Hancock took his own life in 1968 while working in Australia.
The Daemons raised her profile further in 1971. It was a classic tale of dirty deeds in a seemingly idyllic, old English village – athough it does have the ominous name of Devil’s End.
Her character Olive Hawthorne protests against an archaeological dig at the churchyard, warning that it will end in tears and the awakening of a terrible horned beast. She is dismissed as crazy, but the Doctor sees her on television, realises she is right and rushes to the scene.
The Doctor is captured by the villagers and is about to be burnt at the stake (in this case a maypole) when Miss Hawthorne comes to the rescue, knocking a Morris dancer unconscious with her handbag, which contains her crystal ball.
The series filmed on location in the village of Aldbourne in Wiltshire and Hayman returned on several occasions to open the village fete. She said that the atmosphere of the village was a great help in shaping her performance in Doctor Who.
During the 1970s Hayman was a regular on Les Dawson and Freddie “Parrot-Face” Davies’s shows and she appeared in the films Mutiny on the Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Man About the House – all big-screen versions of hit TV sitcoms, Confessions of a Driving Instructor and The Pink Panther Strikes Again, with Peter Sellers as the hapless Inspector Clouseau.
Hayman made well over 100 films and TV shows and retired in the mid-1990s, though she continued to appear at Doctor Who conventions. The character of Miss Hawthorne was to provide her with her swansong in 2017 when she reprised the role in The White Witch of Devil’s End.
A DVD drama made by Reeltime Pictures, it told Miss Hawthorne’s life story largely in the form of a dramatic monologue, with dramatic visualisations and soundtrack.
Hayman was a great animal lover and in her spare time did a lot of work for animal charities. She never married and did not have children.
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