Sylvia Syms

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Sylvia Syms Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


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Last update : 15/8/14

Sylvia Syms celebrated her 80th birthday this year (2014). In the mind’s eye she is still the strikingly beautiful young English rose who became one of the brightest stars of our national cinema in the 1950s. My portrait is from Ice Cold In Alex with John Mills, just one of her fondly remembered films in a career that has seen her appear opposite a who’s who of greats from Julie Andrews and Orson Welles to Michael Caine and Helen Mirren.

Youth and beauty pass, (she has suffered from depression and spinal problems that, by her own admission, do not assist in keeping her weight down), but real talent never fades and that’s why Sylvia is still active as a vibrant and versatile character actress.

Ageism is not a subject to invoke ambivalence in an actress who has played the part of a “bad-tempered and rather sad old bitch” forced into an old folks home “by her ghastly family.” Although her character’s predicament couldn’t be further from Syms’s own, it was an apt piece of casting for an actress who can barely speak about Britain’s attitude towards the elderly without breaking out in a vociferous rant.

“It really pisses me off that you don’t see a lot of older people on the television. The news girls all have to be beautiful, and then you get someone like Eamonn Holmes, who is an ugly git. (An appearance on ITV’s “This Morning” programme is therefore rather unlikely!) Anna Ford has gone and Moira Stuart is not reading the news any more. How can that be allowed? The younger generation need to realise that older women are not all senile. I don’t like being treated differently because of my age, and I can’t bear the thought of people talking down to me – I won’t let them get away with it.”

She is gloriously indiscreet – which amuses me no end – and regards nothing – and no one – as being off limits. Indeed, most of her anecdotes begin with “I shouldn’t really be saying this, but…”

In 2008, she had been inclined to reject an OBE as she didn’t think people should be awarded honours for their profession. When it was agreed that the citation would include her charity work, the feisty actress was suitably placated.

Whatever her misgivings, few of Syms’s peers would have begrudged her such an honour. The Rada-trained actress has rarely, if ever, been out of work since she shot to stardom playing Anna Neagle’s wayward daughter in the 1956 box office hit My Teenage Daughter.’

Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women of her generation, she landed a string of starring roles in films such as Ice-Cold in Alex,’ Victim,’ Conspiracy of Hearts and The World of Suzie Wong.’

The actress insists she was never too conscious of her looks at the time – even though she gleefully recalls the night she once brought traffic to a halt in Glasgow during filming. “I didn’t think about how I looked, really. Having said that, I was very aware of just how appalling men could be towards the female of the species. I do think that is one of the reasons I married so early. I wanted a man next to me so I wouldn’t face that alone.”