Yesterday, the world of horror cinema lost an icon – Hammer actress Ingrid Pitt, who has died at the age of 73. Earlier this year, many of my friends saw her at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, where apparently she was still able to wow people and, judging from photographs, had kept her bombshell looks right up until the end. I am sorry now that I missed the event.

Many will consider Ingrid as THE Hammer scream-queen, therefore the quintessential British actress, so it may surprise some to learn that she was born Ingoushka Petrov in 1937, to a German father and a Polish mother. She and her family were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2. After the war, she went to Berlin, where she met and married an American soldier (a marriage which eventually ended in divorce) and moved to California. After the marriage had been annulled she returned to Europe.

It was while she was in Europe that she got her first taste of the movies, when she landed a small role in a film. Subsequently, she returned to America, her ambition plainly being to break into cinema as an actress. In 1968, she made her debut proper in Dr. Zhivago, in a minor role, following it up by starring alongside Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare that same year.

However, it’s as a Hammer actress that she will be best remembered, beloved of the many fans of the studio’s output. Her face became well-known after appearing in The Vampire Lovers (1970), Countess Dracula (1971 – and arguably her most famous film), and the seminal The Wicker Man (1973). She went on to star in numerous films after her Hammer stint, including Who Dares Wins (1982), the Bond film Octopussy (1983) and Underworld (1985), an obscure British film written by Clive Barker and James Caplin (and starring Denholm Elliott, Miranda Richardson and Steven Berkoff). She even became a judge on the long-running 1970s TV talent show New Faces, hosted by Derek Hobson ( a role later taken on by Marti Caine when it returned in the 80s – Caine was herself a winner in the original run) and also had roles in many tv shows both here and in the US, including Ironside, Doctor Who (absolutely essential for any British actor/actress of the time), the Smiley’s People mini-series and Dundee and Calhane, a 1967 series starring John Mills and Sean Garrison.

Pitt also trod the boards for a while, including the successful Dial M for Murder. She returned to film in 2000 in The Asylum, and in 2006 for the Hammer/Mario Bava tribute Sea of Dust. Pitt even managed to get onto a Cradle of Filth album…. (Cruelty and the Beast, if you must know).

Ingrid Pitt was married twice, the first time to an America GI and then to actor Tony Rudlin. She had suffered a series of illnesses within the last two decades, and died in a South London hospital, on November 23rd 2010, just a few short days after collapsing, and sadly just two days after her 73rd birthday. She will be missed by many.

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