Frances de la Tour

Frances de la Tour
Born Frances J. de Lautour
(1944-07-30) 30 July 1944
Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, England, UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1965–present
Spouse(s) Tom Kempinski (divorced)
Children 2
Relatives Andy de la Tour

Frances de la Tour (also Frances J. de Lautour,[1] 30 July 1944) is an English actress, known for her role as Miss Ruth Jones in the television sitcom Rising Damp from 1974 until 1978. She is a Tony Award winner and three-time Olivier Award winner.

She performed as Mrs. Lintott in the play The History Boys in London and on Broadway, winning the 2006 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. She reprised the role in the 2006 film. Her other film roles include Madame Olympe Maxime in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010). Other television roles include Emma Porlock in the Dennis Potter serial Cold Lazarus (1996) and Violet Crosby in the sitcom Vicious.

Early life and family

De la Tour was born in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, to Moyra (née Fessas) and Charles de la Tour.[2] The name was also spelt De Lautour, and it was in this form that her birth was registered in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, in the third quarter of 1944.[3] She has French, Greek, and Irish ancestry.[4] She was educated at London's Lycée Français and the Drama Centre London.

She is the sister of actor and screenwriter Andy de la Tour, and was briefly married to playwright Tom Kempinski. She has a son and a daughter.[2]

An episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, first broadcast on 22 October 2015, revealed De La Tour to be a descendant of the aristocratic Delaval family.[5]


Royal Shakespeare Company and national companies

After leaving drama school, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1965. Over the next six years, she played many small roles with the RSC in a variety of plays, gradually building up to larger parts such as Hoyden in The Relapse and culminating in Peter Brook's acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which she played Helena as a comic "tour de force".[2]

In the 1970s, she worked steadily both on the stage and on television. Some of her notable appearances were Rosalind in As You Like It at the Playhouse, Oxford in 1975 and Isabella in The White Devil at the Old Vic in 1976. She enjoyed a collaboration with Stepney's Half Moon Theatre, appearing in the London première of Dario Fo's We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay (1978), Eleanor Marx's Landscape of Exile (1979), and in the title role of Hamlet (1980).[2]

In 1980, she played Stephanie, the violinist with MS in Duet for One, a play written for her by Kempinski, for which she won the Olivier for Best Actress. She played Sonya in Uncle Vanya opposite Donald Sinden at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1982. Her performance as Josie in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten won her another Olivier for Best Actress in 1983. She joined the Royal National Theatre for the title role in Saint Joan in 1984 and appeared there in Brighton Beach Memoirs in 1986. She again won the Olivier, this time for Best Supporting Actress for Martin Sherman's play about Isadora Duncan, When She Danced, with Vanessa Redgrave at the Globe Theatre in 1991 and played Leo in Les Parents terribles at the Royal National Theatre in 1994, earning another Olivier nomination.

In 1994, de la Tour co-starred with Maggie Smith in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women at the Wyndham's and with Alan Howard in Albee's The Play About the Baby at the Almeida in 1998. In 1999, she returned to the RSC to play Cleopatra opposite Alan Bates in Antony and Cleopatra, in which she did a nude walk across the stage. In 2004, she played Mrs. Lintott in Alan Bennett's The History Boys at the National and later on Broadway, winning both a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. She would also later appear in the film version. In December 2005, she appeared in the London production of the highly acclaimed anti-Iraq war one-woman play Peace Mom by Dario Fo, based on the writings of Cindy Sheehan. In 2007, she appeared in a West End revival of the farce Boeing-Boeing. In 2009, she appeared in Alan Bennett's new play The Habit of Art at the National. In 2012, she returned to the National in her third Bennett premiere, People.

Film and television

Her many television appearances during the 1980s and 1990s include the 1980 miniseries Flickers opposite Bob Hoskins, the TV version of Duet for One, for which she received a BAFTA nomination, the series A Kind of Living (1988–89), Dennis Potter's Cold Lazarus (1996), and Tom Jones (1997). Of all her TV roles, however, she is best known for playing spinster Ruth Jones in the successful Yorkshire television comedy Rising Damp, from 1974 to 1978. De la Tour told Richard Webber, who penned a 2001 book about the series, that Ruth Jones "was an interesting character to play. We laughed a lot on set, but comedy is a serious business, and Leonard took it particularly seriously, and rightly so. Comedy, which is so much down to timing, is exhausting work. But it was a happy time." Upon reprising her Rising Damp role in the 1980 film version, she won Best Actress at the Evening Standard Film Awards.

In the mid-1980s, de la Tour was considered, along with Joanna Lumley and Dawn French, as a replacement for Colin Baker on Doctor Who.[6] The idea was scrapped and the job was given to Sylvester McCoy.

In 2003, de la Tour played a terminally ill gay woman in the film Love Actually with the actress Anne Reid, although her scenes were cut from the film's theatrical release and appear only on the DVD.[7]

In 2005, she portrayed Olympe Maxime, headmistress of Beauxbatons Academy, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a role she reprised in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.[8] Notable television roles during this time include Agatha Christie's Poirot: Death on the Nile (2004), Waking the Dead (2004), the black comedy Sensitive Skin (2005), with Joanna Lumley and Denis Lawson, Agatha Christie's Marple: The Moving Finger (2006) and New Tricks as a rather morbid Egyptologist, also in 2006.

She was nominated for the 2006 BAFTA Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for her work on the film version of The History Boys.

She later appeared in several well-received films, including Tim Burton's 2010 Alice in Wonderland as Aunt Imogene, a delusional aunt of Alice's, opposite Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska and a supporting role in the film The Book of Eli, directed by the Hughes brothers. In 2012, she appeared in the film Hugo.

Until 2012, she was also a patron for the performing arts group Theatretrain.

From 2013 to 2016, de la Tour played the role of Violet Crosby in ITV sitcom Vicious with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.

From 2013 to 2014, she portrayed headmistress Ms Baron in the BBC One sitcom Big School.

In April 2016, she joined the second series of Outlander as Mother Hildegarde.

Personal life

Politically, de la Tour is a socialist and was a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party in the 1970s.[9]

De la Tour has two brothers, the elder Simon and the younger Andy.[5]

TV and filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1970 Country Dance District Nurse
1970 Every Home Should Have One Maud Crape
1972 Our Miss Fred Miss Lockhart
1974–1978 Rising Damp Miss Ruth Jones 24 episodes
1976 To the Devil a Daughter Salvation Army Major
1977 Wombling Free Julia Frogmorton
1977 Maggie: It's Me Maggie
1980 Rising Damp Miss Ruth Jones Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress
1980 Flickers Maud Cole
1990 Strike It Rich Mrs. De Vere
1996 Cold Lazarus Emma Porlock
1997 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling Aunt Western
1999 The Cherry Orchard Charlotte Ivanova
2004 Agatha Christie's Poirot Salome Otterbourne Episode "Death on the Nile"
2004 Waking the Dead Alice Taylor-Garrett Episode "False Flag"
2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Madame Olympe Maxime
2005 Sensitive Skin Sarah Thorne 1 episode
2006 Agatha Christie's Marple Mrs. Maud Dane Calthrop Episode The Moving Finger
2006 The History Boys Dorothy Lintott Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated – British Independent Film Awards
2006 New Tricks Professor Styles 1 episode (Old Dogs)
2010 The Book of Eli Martha
2010 Alice in Wonderland Aunt Imogene
2010 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Madame Olympe Maxime
2010 The Nutcracker in 3D The Rat Queen
2011 Hugo Madame Emile
2012 Private Peaceful Grandma Wolf
2013–16 Vicious Violet Crosby
2013–14 Big School Ms Baron
2014 Into the Woods The Giantess
2015 Mr. Holmes Madame Schirmer
2015 Survivor Sally
2015 The Lady in the Van Ursula Vaughan Williams
2015 Miss You Already Jill
2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass Aunt Imogene
2016 Outlander Mother Hildegarde Series 2
2016 The Collection Yvette

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1980 Olivier Award Best Actress in a New Play Duet for One Won
1980 Evening Standard Film Award Best Actress Rising Damp Won
1983 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Revival A Moon for the Misbegotten Won
1986 BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Duet for One Nominated
1992 Olivier Award Best Supporting Actress When She Danced Won
1995 Olivier Award Best Actress Les Parents Terribles Nominated
2006 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play The History Boys Won
2006 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play The History Boys Won
2006 British Independent Film Award Best Actress The History Boys Nominated
2007 BAFTA Film Award Best Supporting Actress The History Boys Nominated
2014 BAFTA TV Award Best Female Comedy Performance Vicious Nominated


  1. GRO Births – SEP 1944 3a 2018 Hemel Hempstead – Frances J. de Lautour, mmn = Fessas
  2. 1 2 3 4 Frances de la Tour Biography accessed 23 May 2007
  3. "Frances de la Tour featured article on TheGenealogist".
  4. Walsh, John (22 May 2015). "Frances de la Tour interview: From Shakespeare to Rising Damp, the actress has lit up stage and TV for 50 years – and found new fans in Vicious". The Independent. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  5. 1 2 "BBC One – Who Do You Think You Are?, Series 12, Frances de la Tour". BBC. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  6. "Joanna Lumley was set to be the first female Doctor Who". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  7. Hogan, Heather (2011-11-29). ""Love Actually" has a lesbian relationship you probably never knew existed". Retrieved 2012-03-25.
  8. "Scoop on Filming the 'Deathly Hallows' Wedding Scene". Harry Potter Movie Buzz. 28 October 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  9. "Leonard Rossiter, Character Driven: review". 8 December 2010. Retrieved 31 January 2016.

External links

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