Flora Robson

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Dame Flora McKenzie Robson DBE (28 March 1902 – 7 July 1984) was an English actress, renowned as a character actress, who played roles ranging from queens to villainesses.


Early life

She was born in South Shields,[1] of Scottish descent. Many of her forebears were engineers, mostly in shipping. Her father was a ship's engineer who moved from Wallsend to Palmers Green in 1907 and Southgate in 1910 and later Welwyn Garden City. She had six siblings.

She was educated at the Palmers Green High School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[citation needed]


Her father discovered that Flora had a talent for recitation and, from the age of five, she was taken around by horse and carriage to recite, and to compete in recitations. This established a pattern that remained with her.

Robson made her stage debut in 1921, at aged 19. Standing 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m), but lacking the glamorous looks of a leading lady (with her high forehead, wide mouth and imposing nose), she specialized in character roles, notably that of Queen Elizabeth I in both Fire Over England (1937) and The Sea Hawk (1940). At the age of 32, Robson played the Empress Elizabeth in Alexander Korda's Catherine the Great (1934). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Ingrid Bergman's servant in Saratoga Trunk (1945). That same year audiences in the U.K. and the U.S. watched her hypnotic performance as nursemaid and royal confidante Ftatateeta, to Vivien Leigh's Queen Cleopatra, in the screen adaptation of George Bernhard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

After the war, demonstrating her range, she appeared in Holiday Camp (1947), the first of a series of films which featured the very ordinary Huggett family; as Sister Philippa in Black Narcissus (1947); as a magistrate in Goodtime Girl (1948); as a prospective Labour MP in Frieda (1947); and in costume melodrama, Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948). Her other film roles included the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1972), Livia in the abortively-attempted I, Claudius (1937), Miss Milchrest in Murder at the Gallop (1963).

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