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Prunella Scales

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Prunella Scales

Prunella Scales in 2010
Born Prunella Margaret Rumney Illingworth
Occupation Actress
Years active Since 1952
Spouse(s) Timothy West
Children Samuel West
Joe West

Prunella Scales (born Prunella Margaret Rumney Illingworth) CBE (born 22 June 1932) is an English actress, known for her role as Basil Fawlty's long-suffering wife in the British comedy Fawlty Towers and her award-nominated role as Elizabeth II in the British film A Question of Attribution.


Throughout her long career, Scales has usually been cast in comic roles. Her early work included the second UK adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1952) and Hobson's Choice (1954).

Her career break came with the early 1960s sitcom Marriage Lines starring opposite Richard Briers. In addition to Fawlty Towers, she has had roles in BBC Radio 4 sitcoms, notably After Henry, Smelling of Roses and Ladies of Letters; on television she starred in the London Weekend Television/Channel 4 series Mapp & Lucia based on the novels by E. F. Benson. She played Queen Elizabeth II in Alan Bennett's A Question of Attribution. In 1973, Scales teamed with Ronnie Barker in the (original) one-off Meat, which aired as One Man's Meat as part of a series called Seven of One, also for the BBC. Her film appearances also include The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987), Stiff Upper Lips (1997) and Howards End (1992).

In 1997, Scales starred in Chris Barfoot's science-fiction movie short Phoenix which was first aired in 1999 by NBC Universal's Sci Fi Channel. Scales played 'The Client', an evil government minister funding inter-genetic time travel experiments.

In 2003, she appeared as Hilda, "she who must be obeyed", wife of Horace Rumpole in four BBC Radio 4 plays, with her real-life husband playing her fictional husband. Prunella Scales and Timothy West toured Australia at the same time in different productions. Scales appeared in a one-woman show called "An Evening with Queen Victoria".

On 16 November 2007, Prunella Scales appeared in Children in Need, reprising her role as Sybil Fawlty, the new manager who wants to take over Hotel Babylon. She appeared in the audio play The Youth of Old Age, produced in 2008 by the Wireless Theatre Company. She appeared in a production of Carrie's War, the Nina Bawden novel, at the Apollo Theatre in 2009.

John Cleese said in an 8 May 2009 interview that the role of Sybil Fawlty was originally offered to Bridget Turner, who "in the worst move of her life", turned down the part, claiming, "it wasn't right for her".

Other activities

Scales appeared on a Labour party political broadcast during the 2005 and 2010 UK general election campaign. She also supports the SOS Children's Villages charity.

Her biography, Prunella, written by Teresa Ransom, was published by John Murray in 2005. She is also a patron of the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham, United Kingdom. In 2005 she named the P&O cruise ship, Artemis.

Scales is an ambassador of SOS Children's Villages, an international orphan charity providing homes and mothers for orphaned and abandoned children. She supports the charity's annual World Orphan Week campaign which takes place each February.

As a young girl, her acting talent was viewed first on a local stage in school performance. She attended Moira House Girls, Eastbourne.

Personal life

She is married to Timothy West, and has two sons; the elder is actor and director Samuel West. She also has a stepdaughter, Juliet.

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