Pamela Salem obituary: Actor who brought chemistry and class to role of Miss Moneypenny in James Bond film

In a screen career of 50 years, her credits ranged from Eastenders and Doctor Who to The West Wing

Born: January 22nd, 1944

Died: February 21st, 2024

The actor Pamela Salem, who has died aged 80, brought a touch of class to a number of well-known franchises during a screen career of more than 50 years. She achieved cinematic immortality by playing the loyal secretary Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), an anomalous entry to the canon, made independently of the Eon-produced series that marked the return of Sean Connery.

Salem had worked with Connery on the 1978 film The First Great Train Robbery, and he encouraged the producers to hire her. Many of her scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor, but her playful chemistry with Connery is still apparent in the finished product.

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Salem was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in British India, to Karsa Salem, a Manchester-educated civil engineer from Greece, who had founded a trading company, the Dodsal Group, and his Sri Lankan-born wife, Pearl (nee Russell-Payne). They encouraged Pamela and her younger sister, Gillie, to explore their creative sides from an early age.

Salem broke into television in 1969 and became a regular face on the small screen. Her precise diction made her perfect casting as upper-class English women, and her air of cosmopolitan refinement secured her roles as fashionable eastern Europeans or sophisticated continentals.

After a decade of notable guest roles, Salem starred as the cruel and powerful witch Belor in the children’s series Into the Labyrinth (1981-1982), her venomous performance terrifying a generation of youngsters. More fantastical fare followed when she played a French countess in The Tripods (1984), and she was convincingly Gallic again in three series of the gentle culture-clash sitcom French Fields (1989-1991).

When, in 1988, the BBC soap EastEnders required an actor with enough heft to pose a serious threat to the shady pub landlord Den Watts, played by Leslie Grantham, Salem joined the series as Joanne Francis, the face of the underground crime outfit The Firm. Grantham was already known to Salem: she had conducted drama classes for prisoners when he was in Wormwood Scrubs serving a sentence for murder.

She appeared in two highly regarded stories in the long-running science-fiction series Doctor Who. Her film credits included The Bitch (1979, with Joan Collins) and Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters (1998). In 1982 she married the actor Michael O’Hagan. They moved to the US, where they co-wrote and produced radio and theatre productions. Salem continued to act in shows such as ER (1996), Party of Five (2000) and The West Wing (as the British prime minister, 2005).

O’Hagan died in 2017. Salem is survived by her sister.

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