Stalwart of Hammer films who livened up a series of movies
SUZAN Farmer, who died last month aged 75, was a film and television actress best known for a brief stint as Albert Tatlock’s chiropodist Sally Robson in Coronation Street, and for her roles in several blood-curdling Hammer horror films.
Fair-haired with soft features and a distinctive wispy voice, in 1965 she was Boris Karloff’s daughter in Die, Monster, Die! “Mr Karloff was grumpy,” she later reminisced. “He kept himself to himself and wasn’t the charming personality people perceived him to be.” The next year she played the virgin bride who falls victim to Christopher Lee in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, and again with Lee in the bodice-ripping Rasputin, the Mad Monk.
Elsewhere, she looked seductive in the swashbuckling adventures The Crimson Blade (1963) and The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), but neither tested her acting prowess to any degree. She also performed her Hammer co-star Barbara Shelley’s “screamy” voice-overs in Dracula, Prince of Darkness.
Suzan Maxine Farmer was born on June 16, 1942 in Kent to two alcoholic parents, and she and her brother Michael grew up in a violent and unstable household.
Her father died when she was four and she later moved in with relatives. Her brother was sent to boarding school and went on to become treasurer of the Conservative party and a life peer as Lord Farmer.
Suzan left school at 15 to pursue a career in showbusiness and after several small theatrical roles made her film debut as Tess in The Supreme Court (1958), co-starring Hugh David and Harry Fowler.
Having decided to enrol at the Central School of Speech and Drama in order to hone her acting skills, she was still studying when she was cast in the countryside saga The Dawn Killer (1959).
She was soon flitting between film and television roles, joining Judy Geeson in Gilbert Gunn’s Wings of Mystery (1963). She also featured in Val Guest’s 80,000 Suspects (1963), in which a doctor (Richard Johnson) in a shaky marriage to Claire Bloom has to handle a smallpox outbreak.
She had a role in Hammer Studios’ The Scarlet Blade (1963) with Oliver Reed, and in 1964 she worked with Christopher Lee on The Devil-Ship Pirates. That same year she played Sally Carstairs in the BBC adaptation of Edmund Crispin’s detective novel The Moving Toyshop, and was cast as Mary Blake in the war film 633 Squadron. In 1966 she joined Leslie Phillips in the medical romp Doctor in Clover, and played Caron in the second of the Charles Vine spy spoofs, Where the Bullets Fly, co-starring Tim Barrett.
In 1962 she had met the actor Ian McShane on the set of The Wild and the Willing, and they were married in 1965. But McShane was still drinking heavily and the marriage foundered, with the couple divorcing after two years.
Among her other roles through the 1960s and beyond, Suzan Farmer appeared in The Saint, played Eliza Millward in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and was in Danger Man with Patrick McGoohan. She also featured in Death in Deep Water (1976), the final episode of the ITV series Thriller, in which she played the scheming temptress Gilly.
Suzan Farmer toured in productions of Shakespeare all over Africa. During one stint, she was caught up in dusk-to-dawn curfews after an attempted coup in Nigeria; she went down with malaria in Sierra Leone; and was bitten by a monkey as she hung her washing out to dry in Cameroon. She died on September 17 and is survived by her brother.
STREET ROLE: Away from Hammer films, Suzan Farmer played Sally Robson in ‘Coronation Street’. Here she is seen with William Roache (Ken Barlow) in 1978. Photo: ITV/Rex
SCREAM QUEEN: Horror actress Suzan Farmer. Photo: ITV/Rex