Rachel Gurney, the British actress who appeared in Broadway's Breaking the Code and The Dresser, but is more widely known as the Edwardian matriarch, Lady Marjorie, of TV's "Upstairs, Downstairs," has died at age 81, The Daily Telegraph reported.
In addition to playing the regal Lady Marjorie on the British soap (the character was killed off when she sailed on the Titanic), Ms. Gurney appeared in New York in Circle in the Square's Major Barbara (as Lady Britomart) and in Roundabout Theatre Company productions of You Never Can Tell and Heartbreak House. In London, her roles included Freda in Dangerous Corner, Hilary in The Grass is Greener, Lady Chiltern in An Ideal Husband, Olivia in The Chalk Garden, Alice in The Voysey Inheritance, and many more. She toured India and Ceylon with an all-Shakespeare program in 1958.
She leaves behind many television roles, as well, including Portia in a TV version of "The Merchant of Venice."
Ms. Gurney was previously married to Denys Rhodes, and is survived by a daughter. She was born Rachel Gurney Lubbock in Eton. Her father was a housemaster at the school, her mother was a pianist, according to The Daily Telegraph. She studied theatre at the Webber-Douglas Drama School, and made her stage debut in 1945 with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Her London debut was in The Guinea Pig, in 1946. The play ran a year. In 1965, she played Hermione to John Gielgud's Leontes in The Winter's Tale in London.
She reportedly received fan mail many years after her "Upstairs, Downstairs" character was killed off. The series told of the lives of a rich British family 1900-1930, showing the world of the ladies and gents (upstairs) and the servants (downstairs). "I would have much rather played one of the servants," she reportedly said. "They are much nicer people."
— By Kenneth Jones