DoctorDoctor Who Guide

Penelope Wilton

Last updated 03 June 2015

Penelope Wilton
(this image appears for illustrative purposes only and no attempt is made to supersede any copyright attributed to it)

Penelope Alice Wilton

Born: Mon 3rd June 1946 (age: 69)


Penelope Wilton, OBE is an English actress of stage, film, and TV. She starred opposite Richard Briers in the BBC situation comedy Ever Decreasing Circles. She has also appeared in Doctor Who, and in the period drama Downton Abbey. She has twice won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award.

Early life and career

Penelope Alice Wilton was born in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, the daughter of Alice Travers, a tap dancer and former actress, and Clifford William Wilton, a businessman. She is a niece of actors Bill Travers and Linden Travers and a cousin of the actor Richard Morant. Her maternal grandparents owned theatres. She and her sisters, Rosemary and Linda, attended the convent school in Newcastle upon Tyne, at which their mother had previously taught. She attended the Drama Centre London.

Wilton had a successful stage career before transitioning into television acting, and her West End debut was opposite Sir Ralph Richardson. She played Ruth in the original 1974 London stage production of Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy.Her television acting career began in 1972, playing Vivie Warren in Mrs. Warren's Profession opposite Robert Powell. She then had several major TV roles, including two of the BBC Television Shakespeare productions (as Desdemona in Othello and Regan in King Lear ).

Wilton's film career includes roles in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Cry Freedom (1987), Iris (2001), Calendar Girls (2003) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (2005), in Woody Allen's film Match Point (2005) and in The History Boys (2006).

However she did not become a household name until she appeared with Richard Briers in the 1984 BBC situation comedy, Ever Decreasing Circles, which ran for five years. She played Ann, long suffering wife of Martin (Briers), an obsessive pedant 'do-gooder'. Throughout the run, Ann seeks a more adventurous lifestyle than that offered as a pillar of the community, and mildly flirts with their considerably more charismatic neighbour Paul (Peter Egan) but ultimately she remains faithful to Martin.

In 2005, Wilton guest starred as Harriet Jones for two episodes in the BBC's revival of the popular TV science-fiction series Doctor Who. This guest role was written especially for her by the programme's chief writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies, with whom she had previously worked on Bob and Rose (ITV, 2001). The character of Jones returned as Prime Minister in the Doctor Who 2005 Christmas special "The Christmas Invasion". In the first part of the 2008 series finale, "The Stolen Earth", she made a final appearance, now as the former Prime Minister who sacrifices herself for extermination by the Daleks so that the Doctor's companions can contact him. She appeared in four episodes overall.

Wilton has also appeared on television as Barbara Poole, the mother of a missing woman, in the BBC television drama series Five Days in 2005; and in ITV's drama Half Broken Things (October 2007) and the BBC production of The Passion (Easter 2008). Since 2010, she has appeared as Isobel Crawley in the hit period drama Downton Abbey. She was the castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in April 2008. In December 2012 and February 2013, she was the narrator in Lin Coghlan's dramatisation of "The Cazalets" (Elizabeth Jane Howard) broadcast on BBC Radio.


Penelope Wilton commenced her professional career at the Nottingham Playhouse, and appeared alongside Nicholas Clay in The Dandy Lion. She was Regan to Michael Hordern's King Lear at Nottingham Playhouse in 1970; Anna Calder-Marshall played Cordelia, and Thelma Ruby was the elder sister, Goneril.

Personal life

Between 1975 and 1984, Wilton was married to the actor Daniel Massey. They had a daughter, Alice, born in 1977. Before this, she had a stillborn son born very premature. She has remarked that this was one of the saddest things in her life. In 1991 Wilton married Sir Ian Holm (in 1998, after he was knighted, she became Lady Holm) and they appeared together as Pod and Homily in the BBC's 1993 adaptation of The Borrowers. They were divorced in 2001.

Biography from the wikipedia article, licensed under CC-BY-SA