January 14, 2014
Alexandra Bastedo, actress and animal sanctuary founder, was born on March 9, 1946. She died of cancer on January 12, 2014, aged 67
Sultry actress and star of The Champions who later set up an animal sanctuary at her home in Sussex
As Sharron Macready, the platinum blonde super-agent in the television series The Champions, Alexandra Bastedo will be fondly remembered for her chic European beauty.
With her hair up in a beehive, she resembled Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren; with her hair down she looked more like Brigitte Bardot. As a small-screen sex symbol of the late 1960s, she was adopted as the official pin-up of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and used by Shell on its posters.
Pursued by Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen, the woman who had once dreamt of being a vet found her status at times a heavy one. “A Native American wrote to me saying he’d leave me his teepee in his will and a sailor asked if I would post a pair of my high-heeled shoes," she once said. “I found it distinctly unnerving."
Bastedo later swapped acting for animals — she had always kept Dobermans, which, she said, were useful in warding off stalkers — and set up a sanctuary in the rambling West Sussex home she shared with her husband, the theatre director Patrick Garland. Garland (obituary, April 22, 2013) remained indoors surrounded by his collection of 12,000 books (the door firmly closed against the animals), while Bastedo would trudge around their 10-acre plot in her wellies, tending to the needs of 150 abandoned or vulnerable dogs, cats, horses, ponies, donkeys, goats, ducks and geese. She warned visiting photographers to give her plenty of notice as she rarely visited the hairdresser.
A vegetarian, she poured the proceeds of later roles, including a stint in Absolutely Fabulous, into providing fodder and medicine for her ever-growing band of creatures, including most recently some rare-breed pigs that had been found by the police on the loose in Southampton. On one occasion she was alarmed to discover her pygmy goats stumbling around after they had accidentally eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms growing in a nearby field.
Alexandra Bastedo was born in Hove, Sussex, in 1946, the eldest child of a Canadian-born father, Lendon, who claimed Spanish, Dutch, Scottish and Native American extraction, and a mother, Riana, of Swiss-French and Italian descent, who had been brought up in Czechoslovakia. Alexandra’s father came over to Britain as a soldier and her mother worked in the Met Office during the war. Lendon went into business with Riana’s Jewish stepfather, specialising in the sale of Roman Catholic artefacts.
Bastedo was educated at Brighton and Hove School and Brighton School of Drama, although her love of animals long preceded any interest in showbusiness. At 3 she dreamt of becoming a circus elephant trainer and as a slightly older child she helped to look after the animals at her local vet. Promised a pony by her parents if she were to pass her 11-plus exam at the age of nine, she was later told that the back garden at home was not big enough and had to be content with a poodle instead.
Her ambition as a teenager was to become a vet, but her mother enrolled her at drama school to cure her ungrammatical use of “could of" instead of “could have". At 16 she beat 14,000 applicants in a London Evening News competition to find a teenage ambassador for Great Britain. The prize was a trip to Columbia Studios in Hollywood to act in a comedy spy thriller called The Candy Web (or 13 Frightened Girls) (1963) about girls in a Swiss boarding school near where a Russian spy has been murdered.
In spite of offers from the makers of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Donna Reed Show, her parents insisted that she go back to school to sit O and A levels.
The day she left school she signed up with a Hollywood agent and quickly landed a small part — as a girl at roulette table — in the spoof James Bond film Casino Royale (1967). She acted in a BBC production of The Count of Monte Cristo and became the Shell Girl for Europe — on the condition that the posters would not appear in Britain.
It was while holidaying in Austria that the television director Cyril Frankel noticed one of the Shell posters and invited Bastedo to audition for a new science fiction thriller series called The Champions.
The premise of the series was pure hokum. Three intelligence operatives on a mission to China have acquired superhuman attributes — heightened senses, enhanced physical strength, and telepathic powers — in the care of a Tibetan monk after their plane was shot down in the Himalayas. Subsequently recruited by Nemesis, a mysterious UN-sponsored agency based in Geneva, the “Champions of Law, Order and Justice" are sent on missions to foil international criminal and espionage plots.
From the same stable as The Saint, and created by Brian Clemens, the man behind The Avengers, The Champions showed its actors grappling with dastardly villains in exotic foreign locales, all of which were re-created, with a little help from back-projected footage, at Elstree Studios. Bastedo’s favourites among the 30 episodes saw her acting alongside Donald Sutherland and Jeremy Brett. Although it was a huge success in Britain, the American networks refused to buy more than ten episodes of the first series and so it was cancelled.
However, The Champions made Bastedo a household name in several countries. In Spain and South America she became known as “La Bastedo". She acted in a dozen films in those countries, at one time keeping apartments in Madrid, Toronto and London, and by her own reckoning finding herself on board an aeroplane every ten days. As a fluent speaker of Italian, French and Spanish, she served on the judging panel of the Miss World competition, and on one occasion was invited to Downing Street to speak to the visiting Italian president and members of a trade mission.
She soon caught the eye of Steve McQueen, who took her on a date and propositioned her after she auditioned for his movie Le Mans. “He came out with terrible lines like, ‘Babe, you should be with a winner’," she later said. Warren Beatty pursued her by telephone — his preferred wooing method — and she enjoyed a two-week affair with Omar Sharif.
“I couldn’t bear his endless bridge evenings or the string of beautiful women who stuffed their phone number into his pocket wherever he went," she recalled. “It was just too much, particularly as he took them! He was enormously attractive, but not exclusive."
Having tired of her nomadic lifestyle she settled again in England and married the writer and theatre director Patrick Garland, an old boyfriend, whom she had first met when he had four West End shows running at the same time — a record that remains unbroken.
They lived in Chichester, where Garland was twice artistic director of the Chichester Festival, directing more than 20 productions. Bastedo was cast in three Chichester Festival productions: Cavell (1982), Venus Observed (1992) and Pickwick the Musical (1993). Otherwise, she kept her acting career alive with roles in touring productions and bit-parts in Absolutely Fabulous (1997), Batman Begins (2005), and EastEnders (two episodes in 2008).
However, her overriding passion was her animal sanctuary, which she founded in the early 1980s and which became a fully-fledged charity as the ABC (Alexandra Bastedo Champions) Animal Sanctuary. Based at her home in West Chiltington, it not only cared for and re-housed animals, but also offered tuition for students intending to become vets. She wrote a memoir, Beware Dobermanns, Donkeys and Ducks (1998) as well as a couple of manuals about canine and feline health.
Bastedo died from cancer. She believed the disease had been triggered by fertility drugs she took soon after she married. She had a full mastectomy in 2009, but refused reconstructive surgery. In 1996 her younger brother Lindsay had died from cancer of the salivary gland at the age of 46.
During the recuperation from her lumpectomy, she and her husband were invited on an Aegean cruise by their good friends the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charles was so concerned for her welfare that he even insisted on preparing afternoon tea for her himself.
Patrick Garland predeceased her in 2013 after a long illness. Since she had no children, she was happy to sell off all her showbusiness memorabilia for the benefit of her animals. She is survived by her younger sister Penelope, her sister-in-law, Jill, and by her nieces and nephews.
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