Colin Baker pays tribute to Kate O'Mara

In the latest issue of CT, our Honorary President paid tribute to the recently departed actress. It's a beautiful piece, and we're pleased to reproduce it here.

I first met Kate O’Mara on stage. Literally. Barely out of drama school, I was working in theatre-in-education for the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. Four of us were touring Surrey performing ‘Shakespeare – Cabbages and Kings’ – you get the picture, I’m sure. To earn a few extra pennies, we all understudied whatever play was on that week at the main theatre. We were given the scripts and in between our performanceswe rehearsed amongst ourselves. We rarely got to see the shows that we were understudying. Ah those were the days! One Saturday lunchtime, when the members of a local youth club had been rendered insensible by our enthusiastic but rather random delivery of the works of the bard, I was seized by the stage manager and propelled into his car as he told me - ‘You’re on!’ The actor I was covering had sliced his hand open and was in A & E.

We had not seen the play, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, nor had we met the cast. But I had learned the lines, thank goodness, and was fairly proficient at delivering them in the right order.On arriving at the theatre with little time to spare I was thrust into an itchy Army costume and introduced to a couple of anxious looking cast members and, like the worst cliché from the movies, I was propelled into the wings. I wish I could go on to say that a star was born. Onstage, as I recall, were two elderly ladies and Kate O’Mara. I entered not knowing which aunt was which and addressing my first line to the wrong one. Later I was offered a cup of coffee and took it prompting the dowager actress to mutter ‘The other one doesn’t take the coffee. I promptly handed it back saying something vaguely apologetic. I may have known the lines but my moves were to say the least arbitrary. For them it was a long afternoon.

But Kate clearly remembered the incident a year or so later, when I played a small part in a ITV sci-fi series called Don Quick, starring Ian Hendry and Ronald Lacey.Kate was guest star in the episode and must have experienced a shiver of horror to see that I had advanced from understudy to supporting artiste. If so she displayed no evidence of that but was, as always, friendly, supportive and a consummate professional. It was a very odd series loosely based on Don Quixote. Kate and I were basically ‘money’ on an alien planet where the dominant species were used us as currency. We were in the bank, which was in effect a prison. I had the immortal line ‘We are revolting’, which was intended to imply rebellion rather than be a reference to our Bacofoil suits or acting ability. Sadly the episode is now AWOL or possibly sitting in some shed in Central Africa unloved and waiting to be rediscovered along with all those episodes of Doctor Who that the Beeb lost or wiped back in the day.

I next encountered Kate a couple of years later when she came into ‘The Brothers’ (that 70’s Sunday night must-see series) to lock horns with my character, the hated Paul Merroney. I played a merchant banker who must have taught J R Ewing all he knew. She was an airline owner who tried to combat my ruthless empire building, with limited and invariably only temporary success. We had great fun for a year or so exploring all the possible implications of our characters’ mutual loathing.

So it was great fun to we met again in Doctor Who when she played, superbly, a renegade Time Lady – The Rani, when our previous roles were reversed; I was the Doctor and she was the evil genius trying to destroy the universe.As always the job was made much,much easier because Kate was that ideal fellow artist – on top of the job, creative and imaginative and a kind and generous colleague. Everyone loved Kate.

She was a consummate professional and even bravely (some would say foolhardily) set her up her own company to tour Shakespeare – Anthony and Cleopatra, risking her own money to do what she did best – perform. She was one of the last of a dying breed of actors who justify being referred to as ‘troupers’. Acting and theatre were not for her just a way of earning money – but a way of expressing who she was. The last time I saw her was just a few weeks ago at a Doctor Who convention when, though frail, she was as warmly theatrical and flamboyant as ever, delighted to see her fellow actors and generous and warm with the fans. Her life had been intermittently plagued with incidents that would have destroyed many of us, but Kate never allowed that to affect the way she dealt with others or did her job. She was remarkable. Unless you knew her well, you would not have known that was dealing with ‘stuff’ that would defeat most people. But Kate was always, fabulous, starry yet humble, gifted, glamorous and greatly loved.

The theatre and the film and television industry are much the poorer for her loss.