Monday 30 November 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Wanda Ventham?

The actress Wanda Ventham, a glamorous presence in a whole host of film and television roles for decades, is now rather over shadowed by her highly successful actor son, Benedict Cumberbatch. However I think Wanda's considerable talents need to be highlighted, hence this blog.

Wanda can be featured here on Carry On Blogging thanks to her small roles in three Peter Rogers productions during the 1960s. She first played the role of Pretty Bidder in 1964's Carry On Cleo. She appears briefly in the slave auction sequence, losing out to Peggy Ann Clifford in the battle to secure Jim Dale's services. The following year Wanda again adds some glamorous support to the classic comedy crime caper The Big Job, playing a young woman who is desperate to spend some alone time with her boyfriend. In 1968 Wanda was back at Pinewood to play the Khasi's first wife, who turns up at Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond's residency to help right some dubious wrongs! 

Sadly Wanda failed to make any further Carry On appearances but her career would span countless theatre, film and television productions in the decades that followed. 

Wanda Ventham was born in Brighton on 5 August 1935. She trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama alongside the likes of Judi Dench, graduating in 1956. Her first major role came in the film My Teenage Daughter, co-starring with Anna Neagle and Sylvia Syms. Other films over the years have included The Navy Lark (1959); The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966); Mister Ten Per Cent (1967) and Mrs Caldicot's Cabbage War (2002). 

On stage, an early role was as Daphne Pink in Watch It Sailor! at the Apollo Theatre in 1960. This was followed by a variety of different roles including Portia in a 1979 staging of Julius Caesar at Chichester; the Ray Cooney farce Out of Order at the Shaftesbury Theatre and most recently two plays in Cape Town, South Africa - Quartet in 2012 and Entertaining Angels in 2014.

Wanda Ventham was always most prolific on television. Her major success on the small screen came in the 1970s when she played Colonel Virginia Lake in the science fiction series UFO. She also had recurring roles in a number of other popular series such as The Rag Trade as Shirley; Only Fools and Horses (as Cassandra's mother) and in Heartbeat, playing Fiona Weston. Between 1972 and 1973 she played the lead role in an adaptation of The Lotus Eaters. 

Wanda's television career is a veritable list of classic treasures. It includes guest spots in the likes of The Saint, The Likely Lads, The Avengers, The Prisoner, The Sweeney, Z Cars, A Family At War, Crown Court, All Creatures Great and Small and Minder. More recently she has also appeared in the Penelope Keith sitcom Next of Kin as well as one off episodes of Lewis and Midsomer Murders. Wanda has also appeared three times, in three different roles in the classic series Doctor Who - in 1967, 1977 and finally in 1987. 

Having apparently retired from acting recently, Wanda made a triumphant return to the small screen in 2014 to play Mrs Holmes, mother to Sherlock in the new BBC version of the classic  series. Playing Mr Holmes was her real life husband, actor Tim Carlton. And of course the titular character was their famous son, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has spoken of the complete joy of acting in the series alongside his parents. He clearly rates them both as actors, however bemoans the fact that his mother will probably never get her "Cranford moment" as she'd need a vast body of Shakespearean roles to secure such a part. Apparently Ventham decided early on in her career to accept more commercial roles as the better pay would help fund her son's education.

Wanda Ventham first married in 1957. Together with first husband James Tabernacle she had a daughter, Tracy. The marriage ended in divorce. She met her second husband Tim Carlton whilst working together on the television series A Family At War. They married in 1976 and have been together ever since. Carlton came through the acting ranks in the 1960s, his main friends and contemporaries being the likes of Dennis Waterman and Robert Powell.

I think it's fantastic that Wanda is so obviously proud of her son's acting success. Benedict's parents are often seen at awards ceremonies with their son these days but I still think their own careers deserve recognition too. Wanda was always top of the list for a certain kind of role throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. She is still fondly remembered by many fans.

If you would like to meet Wanda Ventham, you have a chance early next year. She will be appearing at a special fans convention in Chiswick, London on 30 January. Further details can be found here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 


  1. Whatever Happend to Liz Fraser?

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  4. Wanda is a wonderful actress & a very beautiful woman