Haydn Gwynne, an actor, has passed away at the age of 66 due to cancer. Her representative released a statement on Friday saying that Gwynne had passed away in hospital “surrounded by her beloved sons, close family and friends.” We’d like to express our gratitude to everyone who has helped care for our loved one at the Royal Marsden and Brompton hospitals over the past few weeks.
Drop the Dead Donkey, a Channel 4 newsroom parody, made a star out of Gwynne, who played the cynical assistant editor Alex Pates. She was nominated for three Olivier Awards for the musicals City of Angels, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (based on the film by Pedro Almodóvar), and The Threepenny Opera, as well as the Olivier and Tony Awards for her role as the dance teacher in Billy Elliot the Musical (in London and New York).
Jack Thorne, whose play When Winston Went to War With the Wireless starred Gwynne at London’s Donmar Warehouse this year, was among those paying tribute to Gwynne. According to Thorne, “Haydn was the nicest, loveliest spirit and a superb performer. She was completely selfless and generous. She is “a skilled and versatile all-rounder,” as author Jonathan Harvey put it.
Gwynne left the cast of the upcoming West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends in September 2023. Her previous experience with this revue honoring Sondheim’s musical theater career was limited to a single performance. Producer Cameron Mackintosh noted at the time of Gwynne’s withdrawal, “Haydn performed a stunning performance of Ladies Who Lunch during the Old Friends gala premiere in May 2022 and has been a vital part of this very close-knit group ever then.”
At the Donmar in 2018 as Lady Wishfort in the Restoration comedy The Way of the World, and in 2023 as a no-nonsense judge in The Great British Bake Off Musical, Gwynne has played a number of prominent parts on the West End stage, including the role of Margaret Thatcher opposite Helen Mirren’s Queen. Playing opposite Kevin Spacey at London’s Old Vic in 2011 as Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, she also played Volumnia in 2017’s RSC production of Coriolanus.
In the Channel 4 comedy The Windsors, Gwynne played Camilla as a “soap-opera villainess,” and in Netflix’s The Crown, she played Lady Susan Hussey, a lady-in-waiting to Imelda Staunton’s Queen. She has had recurrent appearances on Peak Practice and Merseybeat, and she played a scheming gallerist on the BBC’s Sherlock.
Although Gwynne had already become somewhat of a household name thanks to the 1989 TV miniseries Good Job (based on David Lodge’s novel), her stardom would not be assured until the release of Drop the Dead Donkey. As Alex Pates, the second-in-command to sadsack editor George Dent at the very dysfunctional GlobeLink News, she was nominated for a Bafta for best light entertainment performance. She portrayed the part for the show’s first two seasons before her character left GlobeLink.
Gwynne, a native of West Sussex, got her start in student theater at the Edinburgh Fringe while studying sociology at the University of Nottingham. She taught English at the University of Rome when she finished her degree. She did not go to theater school but received her big break when Alan Ayckbourn directed the musical adaptation of John Collier’s The Monkey’s Wife written by Sandy Wilson in Scarborough in 1984. Gwyneth and her ex-partner Jason Phipps have two sons.