Margaret Ann Nolan obituary: Appeared in Goldfinger and Carry On films
Film and television actor was also a committed agitprop performer on stage
Margaret Nolan as Dink, with Sean Connery as James Bond, in Goldfinger, 1964. Photograph: Eon/Ua/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock
Margaret Ann Nolan, actor and artist, born October 29th, 1943, died October 5th, 2020.
It would be wrong to dismiss the actor Margaret Nolan, who has died aged 76, as a passive decorative accompaniment to some of the cultural icons of the 1960s. Although she did indeed bat her eyelids seductively and took roles that showed off her striking figure, opposite Sean Connery, Sid James and the Beatles, she also engaged in political theatre, her deeply held passion.
She was a popular member of the Carry On team – and she admired the skills of the comedy performers she worked alongside, learning much from them. Nolan played a secretary in Carry on Cowboy (1965), then a “buxom lass” in Carry on Henry (1971), with the roles getting better, and benefiting from her knowing performances, through Carry on at Your Convenience (1971), Carry on Matron (1972), Carry on Girls (which included a memorable fight scene with Barbara Windsor, 1973) and Carry on Dick (1974).
For the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964) she was sprayed gold and costumed in a matching bikini to adorn the striking opening title sequence (pre-empting the on-screen fate of Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson): the images were used on posters and merchandise and Nolan also played Bond’s masseuse, Dink, in the film.
But if she lit up the cinema screen by night, by day Nolan was a committed agitprop performer, often for no money, the screen work enabling her to do this. She passionately embraced the work of the Ambiance lunchtime theatre club, founded in the basement of a restaurant in Queensway, London, in 1968, which supported emerging and minority talent and staged polemical, forward-thinking plays.
Margaret was born in South Hampstead, north London, the younger of twin daughters of Irish parents, Jack Nolan, a clerk in the army, and Molly (née O’Sullivan). The twins and their elder brother, Bernard, moved with their mother to Waterford until the second World War finished and in 1946 the family reunited in Hampstead (and added a younger sibling, Michael).
She was educated at La Sainte Union Catholic school in Highgate and began training as a teacher. While working as a waitress at the Witch’s Cauldron in Belsize Park, she met the actor Tom Kempinski – they fell in love and later married, and he encouraged her to exploit her gifts as a performer. She did a brief stint as a glamour model, which led to an appearance in the TV series The Saint (1963).
The following year, the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night (in which she was Wilfrid Brambell’s companion at the casino) and Goldfinger launched a film career that took in Ferry Cross the Mersey (1964), Marcel Carné’s Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965), The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966) and No Sex Please, We’re British (1973).
Nolan capitalised on the opportunities television provided her – she had a regular run in the soap opera The Newcomers (1966) and proved herself a fine stooge to some of the country’s leading comedy talents in Steptoe and Son (1972), Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973), Last of the Summer Wine (1973) and Q6 (1975, as part of a long-standing professional relationship with Spike Milligan). She acquitted herself well in straight parts in The Wednesday Play (1967), Budgie (1972), The Sweeney (1975), Fox (1980) and Brideshead Revisited (1981), and even did a TV commercial for Doncella cigars with Groucho Marx.
She was cast in the West End production of Ann Jellicoe’s The Giveaway (directed by Richard Eyre, 1969) and then played the lead in She’s Done it Again (Garrick theatre, 1969-1970), which began a fruitful association with Brian Rix on stage and television. She became an active member of the Socialist Labour League and helped to produce a hugely ambitious pageant of working-class history staged at the Empire Pool (which later became Wembley Arena) in 1973.
Seeking a change and sometimes disenchanted with the kinds of roles on offer, she retired from acting in 1983 and devoted herself to motherhood, ultimately decamping with her sons to an off-grid, solar-powered farmhouse in Andalucía, Spain, and becoming fascinated by permaculture – design principles based on natural ecosystems.
Out of the limelight for some time, she decided to deconstruct her past image artistically by cutting up various black-and-white stills of herself and mounting them in striking montages. The resulting abstractions encapsulated the dissonance between her as “this passive woman, being looked at” and the one who “behind it all, behind my eyes, knew what was going on”. They were successfully exhibited in Spain (2007), at the Brick Lane gallery in London (2009) and, as part of the feminist exhibition Equals, at the Blankspace gallery in Manchester (2013).
For the film director Edgar Wright “she was in the middle of the Venn diagram of everything that was cool in the 1960s” and her cameo role in his forthcoming film Last Night in Soho (2021) is an apposite bookend to a career that embraced the extremes of the decade’s glamorous popular culture and its subversive, politically charged underbelly.
Her marriages to Kempinski and the musician Michael O’Sullivan both ended in divorce. She is survived by her twin, Geraldine, by two sons – Luke, from her marriage to O’Sullivan, and Oscar, from a relationship with the artist Colin Deeks – and by two grandchildren, Esmé and Kobi.