Horror film icon Barbara Shelley dies aged 88

Barbara Shelley, known as an icon of early horror films and has been hailed as the ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’ has died at the age of 88.

Her agent, Thomas Bowington, confirmed the news on Monday, saying that while she had recently caught Covid-19 in hospital, she had recovered.

He told the PA news agency: ‘She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer.

‘On screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness.

‘She was a regular favourite of Hammer events and autograph shows but also performed on stage with the RSC.’

Bowington said: ‘It wasn’t the Covid that took her, she had underlying issues.’


According to Bowington, Shelley went into hospital for a muscle check up and in that process she contracted Covid-19.

He explained: ‘But after that she had an infection and was in hospital by herself for two weeks before Christmas.

‘It’s most likely Covid is going to come up on the death certificate.’

The London-born actress was the star of 1950s and 1960s Hammer Horror films including The Gorgon, opposite Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Rasputin, The Mad Monk, both also starring Lee; and Quatermass And The Pit, as well as Blood Of The Vampire, and Village Of The Damned.

Shelley also appeared in the Doctor Who episode Planet Of Fire, starring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor.


The star – who was born Barbra Kowin in 1932 – was also known for TV roles in series including The Saint, The Avengers, The Borgias, Blake’s 7 and Crown Court, and later played Hester Samuels in EastEnders.

In 2010, writer and actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Shelley about her career at Hammer Films for his BBC documentary series A History Of Horror.

The London-based production company, founded in 1934, made a string of hit Gothic horror films from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

Many of these involved classic horror characters such as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Mummy.

Tributes came in for the star, with Hammer Horror Films tweeting: I’ am sad to relay that one of the greatest Hammer stars Barabara Shelley has passed away after a Covid battle. She would have been 89 next month.’

Another fan wrote: ‘Sorry to hear the great Barbara Shelley has died. Absolutely terrific in Quatermass and the Pit (& everything else, in truth).’

Many were heartbroken another legendary star of the screen had died, after the earlier news of James Bond star Tanya Roberts’ death.

One wrote: ‘Another two influences from my youth have passed on. Barbara Shelley was a mainstay of Hammer films with Dracula – Prince of Darkness, Quatermass etc and Tanya Roberts was a B-Movie queen in Beastmaster, Sheena, Hearts & Armour and countless other low budget gems. #rip.’

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