Barbara Shelley, Doctor Who and Dracula: Prince of Darkness Actress, Dies at 88

British horror actress Barbara Shelley has died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The actress, born Barbara Kowin, was 88 years old. Shelley was best known for appearing in Hammer horror movies. Thomas Bovington, Shelley's agent, tells the Press Association, “She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer. On screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness.” She acted opposite Christopher Lee in 1966's Dracula: Prince of Darkness. She also appeared in the films Rasputin: The Mad Monk and Quatermass and the Pit. On television, Shelley appeared in shows including EastEnders, Blake’s 7, and The Avengers. Her final credit was in The Dark Angel.

Shelley also appeared in several episodes of Doctor Who in 1984. She played Sorasta in the Planet of Fire serial, which starred Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. Nicola Bryant, who played companion Peri Brown in that serial, took to Twitter to mark Shelley's passing.

"So very sad to hear of the passing of Barbara Shelley," Bryant tweeted. "A darling person and a talented actress. When we worked together on Planet of Fire she was so kind to me. She gave me a little owl, still in my possession and some good advice. RIP Barbara Shelley Wise and wonderful lady.

Bowington said that Shelley most likely contracted the coronavirus during a routine hospital checkup. The actress spent two weeks in the hospital battling the virus ahead of Christmas. He said, “It’s most likely Covid is going to come up on the death certificate."


Shelley's horror roles earned her the nickname "Queen of Hammer." In a 2009 interview with Express, she reflected on her time working with the cult classic studio.

"Hammer was like a family, a very talented family... with a wonderful atmosphere on the set and a wonderful sense of humour," she said. "When I first started doing Hammer, all the so-called classic actors looked down on the horror film. All the other things I did, nobody remembers those. But the horror films, I'm very grateful to them because they built me a fan base, and I'm very touched that people will come and ask for my autograph. If you went to see a [Hammer] film in the cinema, the gasps were interspersed with giggles because people were giggling at themselves for being frightened, they were frightening themselves; and this is what made Hammer very special."