MARY TAMM 22 March 1950 - 26 July 2012
Much has been said about Mary Tamm in the national press obituaries. Her impressive career is well documented: from her first theatre work at the Birmingham Rep (alongside Ronnie Barker & Derek Jacobi), via the early film stardom in The Odessa File (with Jon Voight) and The Likely Lads movie (with James Bolam), the early tv appearances (Corrie, A Raging Calm, Girls of Slender Means), the seminal Dr Who episodes in the late 70s (where I first worked with her after our training) and the Brookside years, through to the 90s when she made guest appearances in several high quality dramas. She eventually returned to the stage, starring in many national tours; but the woman behind the famous public face was so much more than the mere sum of her professional roles.
We both entered the doors of Gower Street in January '69, along with fellow students Louise Jameson, Sharon Maughan, Sherrie Hewson, Brian Stirner, Robin Sachs, Nigel Williams, George Sweeney to name but a few. Mary was from Bradford, and in our minds an exotic creature: the product of Russian & Estonian parents. We thought (and she did little to dispel the myth) that she must be of noble heritage; a princess at least. What she turned out to be was a down-to-earth northern lass, daughter of a mill worker (although yes, he was Estonian), glamorous but quite lacking in vanity, and with the most disarming character and infectious laugh ... something she never lost.
We didn't meet a great deal in the early years following graduation: she pursued her career, and I mine. It was Dr Who which brought us together again, in 1978: 7 years after leaving RADA. In that same year she married Marcus Ringrose, after the proverbial whirlwind romance (they had met briefly the previous year at a BBC wrap party). They had a daughter, Lauren, and then continued to lead their life in wedded bliss. That could be a fatuous statement in any other case, but in theirs it was true. Marcus & Mary were inseparable, true soul mates, with the same sense of the ridiculous, an ability to deal with pomposity in others (one was wise never to get on your high horse in Mary's presence) and a shared sense of humour. That's one thing she & I had too. If I miss any one thing about Mary (and there'll be many) it'll be her gutsy, salacious, Yorkshire laugh. If I could bottle that and sell it, I'd make a fortune.
I directed her in 2006 in Private Lives, for a Far Eastern tour. She was a wonderful Amanda, a perfect company member, and magical to be with: witty: always interested in others, funny, flirtatious & charming ... a consummate professional. The play toured Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand, and she won hearts & minds wherever she went. At the end of the job, her beloved Marcus flew out and they had a romantic holiday together. He was a lucky man; he knew it, and cherished her accordingly. They were wonderful to watch together ... independent spirits in many ways, but indivisible as a unit. In our business, which is not known for the longevity of relationships, they were a role model of how to do it right. 34 years ain't a bad record.
She had, as Colin Baker says in the foreword to her autobiography: "intelligence, self-awareness, and good old Bradford common sense". Mary had completed one volume of her life story, entitled First Generation, published in 2009 (and which has pride of place on my bookshelves) and was working on the second volume at the time of her death. Colin knew her well, since Dr Who had brought them both the sort of fame & huge fan base which others only dream of. I spent a memorable weekend with her (and Louise Jameson) in Los Angeles about 6 years ago at a Dr Who convention. Mary disarmed everyone with her approachable, friendly quality. You got what you saw with Mary, and what you saw was all good.
For RADA, Mary was a terrific ambassador: a member of the Associates (she insisted that I be one too, and who could turn her down), a member of the Buddy scheme (ditto) and an enthusiast for everything that RADA stood for. She never forgot the chance in life, both personal & professional, which the Academy had given to her, and with immense gratitude was happy to repay some of that debt however she could.
She could be, in spite of her gregarious character, a very private woman too. So when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 she decided to strictly manage that information, and keep it very much to herself. Those few who were informed, including our agent Barry Langford (she insisted I join him too ... you couldn't say no to Mary) were sworn to secrecy. She didn't want, and disliked the idea of, her being identified as a victim of the disease: she was living with it, not dying from it. And so, when she eventually & inevitably succumbed to its ravages, there were many of us who were halted in our tracks, stunned, appalled: you can find the words more easily than I.
She died on Thursday 26th July., at the age of 62: tragically too early, with so much more to give. We, her friends & colleagues, have been in a state of shock ever since. We shall mourn her of course, But we shall also remember the light & life she brought into ours. Mary was special, and her passing leaves a huge gap in many lives.
She is survived by Marcus, their daughter Lauren, and a grandson Max, to whom Mary was utterly devoted, and for whom she somewhat forsook her career in the latter years to take him into her care.
David Warwick - RADA graduate 1971
The dreadful news of Mary Tamm's death amazed me. I had no idea she was ill. We got on terribly well and I admired her wit and style and warmth. We used to meet at different Who conventions and sometimes had time for a little chat. I remember meeting her at Heathrow in the 1st class section: her section, of course. She was flicking through a magazine and sipping a beer: the epitome of cool style.
When we first worked together her tales of her background (she's from Estonia) kept me very amused. I think they spoke Estonian at home. She used to do an impression of her aunt, I think, who had been an opera singer. She had a marvellous trick of rapid asides which often had nothing to do with the main story but which convulsed us. I tried to copy this trick behind her back but it eluded me as most tricks have eluded me all my life. And that she is dead seems incredible.
Fate is capricious and quite indifferent to our fears. Lovely girls: Elisabeth Sladen, Caroline John and now Mary Tamm: all dead. And here am I closing in on eighty and all I've had was whooping cough! It's not fair, is it? Actually, I also have a creaky knee. And probably a creaky brain.
I never met Mary's daughter and hardly ever met Marcus, her husband. But I send them from the bottom of my old heart sincere condolences. To have known her consoles me a little: poor darling Mary, poor us.
Tom Baker - Mary's co-star in Doctor Who