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Dame Flora McKenzie Robson DBE (28 March 1902–7 July 1984) was an English actress, renowned as a character actress, who played roles ranging from queens to villainesses.

Early life

She was born in South Shieldsmarker, of Scottish descent. Many of her forebears were engineers, mostly in shipping. Her father was a ship's engineer, prior to retiring and moving from South Shields to Welwyn Garden Citymarker. She had seven siblings.

Her father discovered that Flora had a talent for recitation and from the age of six, she was taken around by horse and carriage to recite, and to compete in recitations. She was educated at the Palmers Green High Schoolmarker.


This established a pattern which remained with her. She acted late into life, latterly for Americanmarker television films, including a lavish production of A Tale of Two Cities (in which she played Miss Pross). She also gave performances for British television, including The Shrimp and the Anemone. She also continued to act in the West End, in such plays as Ring Round the Moon, The Importance of Being Earnest and Three Sisters.

Robson made her stage debut in 1921, aged 19. Standing 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m), but lacking the glamorous looks of a leading lady (with her high forehead, wide mouth and imposing nose), she specialized in character roles, notably that of Queen Elizabeth I in both Fire Over England (1937) and The Sea Hawk (1940). At the age of 32, Robson played the Empress Elizabeth in Alexander Korda's Catherine the Great (1934). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Ingrid Bergman's servant in Saratoga Trunk (1945).

After the war, demonstrating her range, she appeared in Holiday Camp (1947), the first of a series of films which featured the very ordinary Huggett family; as Sister Philippa in Black Narcissus (1947); as a magistrate in Goodtime Girl (1948); as a prospective Labour MP in Frieda (1947); and in costume melodrama, Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948). Her other film roles included the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1972), Livia in the abortively-attempted I, Claudius , Miss Milchrest in Murder at the Gallop (1963) and Ftatateeta in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).


She was created a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1960, an award which was partly for her charity work, largely un-noticed, which she carried on until her death, often for small and rather obscure charities rather than the grand ones which would have given her more publicity. She was also the first famous name to become President of the Brighton Little Theatre.

Last roles

Robson pretty much retired from the theatre in the early 1970s, although she continued to work on television and in films, her last role being as a Stygian Witch in the fantasy adventure Clash of the Titans in 1981.

Personal Life and Death

Both the BBC and ITV made special programmes to celebrate her 80th birthday in 1982 and the BBC ran a short season of her best films. Her private life was largely focused on her large family of sisters, nephews and nieces, who used the home in Wykeham Terrace, Brighton, which she shared with sisters, Margaret and Shela.

She died in Brightonmarker, possibly from cancer, aged 82, although the exact cause was never revealed. She had never married or had children. The two sisters, with whom she shared her life and home, died around the same time: Shela shortly before Flora (in 1984) and Margaret (on 1 February 1985).


There is a plaque on their house in Wykeham Terrace, Dyke Road, Brighton, and also one in the doorway of the church of St. Nicholasmarker, just up the hill from their house and of which Flora Robson was a great supporter.

In 1996, the British Film Institute erected a plaque at number 14 Marine Gardens, location of Flora's other home in Brightonmarker, where she lived from 1961 to 1976.

Partial filmography


  1. GRO Register of Births: JUN 1902 10a 829 S. SHIELDS - Flora McKenzie Robson

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