Iris Russell: A movie, TV and theatre actress who married an Oxford academic

Iris Russell in 2005

Iris Russell in 2005

First published in News
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A West End actress who married an Oxford don has died aged 91.

Iris Chapman, known by her stage name Iris Russell, took a variety of stage and television roles in a career that spanned more than 60 years.

She later married William Gordon Chapman, a Fellow of The Queen’s College.

Iris Constance Russell was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on February 22, 1922.

She was the daughter of a rubber planter and moved with family to Scotland as a small child.

In her childhood she expressed a desire to act and, after leaving drama school, she got her first job with the Donald Wolfit Theatre Group.

In 1941 she joined the forces touring group ENSA – the Entertainment National Service Association.

She performed in Italy and presented a radio records request show called Reveille.

After playing in several small theatres around London after the war, her big break came in 1947 with a leading role in the play Caste in the West End.

In 1951 she returned to Scotland, where she spent three years at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre.

In 1957 she was chosen for the television role of Sister Stevenson in Emergency – Ward 10.

The show was one of Britain’s first soap operas and was set in a fictional hospital called Oxbridge General.

She played the part, on and off, for 10 years.

During that time she also played Judith Strangeways in the 1958 film of The Moonraker alongside George Baker and Sylvia Syms.


Oxford Mail:

  • Iris as an actress

She also played Lady Dedlock in the BBC’s 16-episode TV adaptation of Bleak House in 1959.

She married William Gordon Chapman, a fellow of The Queen’s College in 1956, the couple then having a daughter, Sarah.

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She went on to play roles in The Avengers, working with Patrick McNee, Honor Blackman and later Linda Thorson.

Between 1970 and 1971 she also starred in Timeslip, a children’s science fiction series.

She would also appear in Taggart, Grange Hill and the Ruth Rendell Mysteries.

In 1992 she played The Queen in an American TV film about Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

She said her favourite role in recent years was in Stephen Poliakoff’s Perfect Strangers, in which she played Old Henrietta, which was broadcast by the BBC in 2001.

Mrs Chapman, who lived in Summertown, died in Sobell House Hospice, Oxford, on February 13, 2014.

She is survived by her daughter, Sarah, 57, and her three grandchildren, Rory, Georgina and Miranda.

A funeral was held on Friday, February 28.

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