Haydn Gwynne: “Drop the Dead Donkey” and “Peak Practice” actress dies at 66

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
4 Min Read

Tributes have poured in for actress, Haydn Gwynne, who succumbed to cancer at 66.

Gwynne played Alex Pates in “Drop the Dead Donkey” on Channel 4 and excelled in TV and stage careers. She earned nominations for Olivier and Tony awards for her role as the dance teacher in “Billy Elliot the Musical” (in both London and New York), as well as three other Olivier nominations for the musicals “City of Angels,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and “The Threepenny Opera.”

Haydn Gwynne in British Sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey
Haydn Gwynne in Drop the Dead Donkey

Her agent announced on Friday that Gwynne passed away in the hospital, surrounded by her loving sons, close family, and friends, and expressed gratitude to the staff at the Royal Marsden and Brompton hospitals for their exceptional care.

Jack Thorne, who wrote the play “When Winston Went to War With the Wireless” that starred Gwynne at the Donmar Warehouse in London this year, commented, “Haydn was the kindest, loveliest soul and an incredible performer. She gave her all in every endeavour.” Jonathan Harvey described her as “a talented and versatile performer,” while Helen King, a former police officer and now the principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, recalled Gwynne’s job-shadowing her for her role in the TV series “Merseybeat.” King remembered her as “insightful, diligent, and humorous.”

Hadyn Gwynne in Peak Practice
The actress starred in 38 episodes of Peak Practice as Dr. Joanna Graham

In September 2023, Gwynne stepped back from the West End revue “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends” just before its scheduled debut. She had earlier taken part in a one-time version of the revue, celebrating Sondheim’s musical journey. On Friday, producer Cameron Mackintosh dedicated the “Old Friends” performance to Gwynne’s memory and distinguished career.

Gwynne’s standout roles in West End theatre included playing Margaret Thatcher in Peter Morgan’s 2013 “The Audience,” Lady Wishfort in “The Way of the World” (2018 at the Donmar), and a straightforward judge in “The Great British Bake Off Musical” in 2023. She also showcased her Shakespearean prowess with roles such as Queen Elizabeth in “Richard III” (alongside Kevin Spacey in 2011 at London’s Old Vic) and Volumnia in “Coriolanus” for the RSC in 2017.

Rufus Norris, the National Theatre’s director, expressed, “I felt heartbroken to hear about Haydn’s death today. I admired her work for many years before we finally collaborated on ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the National Theatre. Her unique blend of humour, grace, and talent always lit up the room. She later dazzled us in ‘The Welkin’ and will be sorely missed by all of us here.”

Gwynne was highly regarded in the acting world

Gwynne also gained recognition for her roles in Channel 4’s comedy “The Windsors,” Netflix’s “The Crown,” BBC’s “Sherlock,” “Peak Practice,” and “Merseybeat.” However, her role in “Drop the Dead Donkey” solidified her fame, leading to a Bafta nomination.

Gwynne, born in West Sussex, participated in local theatre productions and studied sociology at the University of Nottingham. She later taught English at the University of Rome. Without drama school, Gwynne got a breakthrough in 1984, cast by Alan Ayckbourn in “His Monkey Wife.” Gwynne shared her life with two sons and her partner, Jason Phipps.

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