Virginia McKenna

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Virginia McKenna
Virginiamckenna westminster.jpg
Virginia McKenna at an anti badger cull demonstration, Westminster, London, June 2013
Born(1931-06-07) 7 June 1931 (age 83)
Marylebone, London, England
Years active1952–Present
Spouse(s)Denholm Elliott (1954) (divorced)
Bill Travers (1957-1994) (his death) 4 children
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Virginia McKenna
Virginiamckenna westminster.jpg
Virginia McKenna at an anti badger cull demonstration, Westminster, London, June 2013
Born(1931-06-07) 7 June 1931 (age 83)
Marylebone, London, England
Years active1952–Present
Spouse(s)Denholm Elliott (1954) (divorced)
Bill Travers (1957-1994) (his death) 4 children

Virginia A. McKenna[1] OBE (born 7 June 1931) is a British stage and screen actress, author and wildlife campaigner.


McKenna was educated at Herons Ghyll School, a former boarding independent school near the market town of Horsham in West Sussex, spending six years in South Africa before returning to the School at the age of fourteen, followed by the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Early career[edit]

McKenna worked on stage in London's West End theatres before making her film debut in 1952. She continued to appear in both films and on stage and in 1954–55 was a member of the Old Vic theatre company. She was married for a few months in 1954 to bisexual actor Denholm Elliott, whom she met on the set of The Cruel Sea. Their marriage ended, owing to his affairs with other men.[2] Her second husband was actor Bill Travers, with whom she had four children and to whom she was married until his death in 1994.


In 1956, McKenna won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film, A Town Like Alice and two years later was nominated for Best Actress again for her role as the World War II SOE agent Violette Szabo, in 1958's Carve Her Name with Pride.

However, McKenna is best remembered for her 1966 role as Joy Adamson in the true-life film Born Free for which she received a nomination for a Golden Globe. Bill Travers, her real life husband, co-starred with her, portraying conservationist George Adamson, and the experience led them to become active supporters for wild animal rights and the protection of their natural habitat. McKenna appeared in An Elephant Called Slowly, a travelogue of what it was like years ago in Kenya. The film features her close friend conservationist George Adamson and also elephants Eleanor (brought up by conservationst Daphne Sheldrick) and young Pole Pole. The subsequent premature death of Pole Pole in London Zoo was to lead to McKenna and her husband launching the Zoo Check Campaign in 1984[3] and to their establishing the "Born Free Foundation" in 1991.

On the stage, in 1979 she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a British musical for her performance opposite Yul Brynner in The King and I. Over the years she appeared in more films but also was very active with television roles and on stage where she continues to make occasional appearances.

McKenna has also been responsible for helping create and furnish the Gavin Maxwell museum[4] on Eilean Bàn, the last island home of Maxwell, an author and naturalist, most famous for his book Ring of Bright Water. McKenna starred in the 1969 film adaptation of the book.

Other interests[edit]

For her services to wildlife and to the arts, in 2004 McKenna was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. In March 2009 Virginia McKenna's autobiography, The Life in My Years, was published by Oberon Books.

In 1975 she released an album of twelve songs called Two Faces of Love which included two of her own compositions and a sung version of the poem The Love That I Have from the film Carve Her Name with Pride. The record was released on the Gold Star label with two line drawings of McKenna by her sister-in-law Linden Travers. On its reissue on the Rim label in 1979 the album instead had a photographic picture.

Her audiobook work includes The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett,[5] and narration of The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright.


1952Father's Doing FineCatherine
The Second Mrs. TanquerayEllean Tanqueray
1953The Cruel SeaJulie Hallam
The OracleShelagh
1955SimbaMary Crawford
The Ship That Died of ShameHelen Randall
1956A Town Like AliceJean PagetBAFTA Award for Best British Actress
1957The Barretts of Wimpole StreetHenrietta Barrett
The Smallest Show on EarthJean Spenser
1958Carve Her Name with PrideViolette SzaboNominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actress
Passionate SummerJudy Waringaka Storm Over Jamaica
1959The Wreck of the Mary DeareJanet Taggart
1961Two Living, One DeadHelen Berger
1965A Passage to IndiaAdela Quested(TV)
1966Born FreeJoy AdamsonNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1969Ring of Bright WaterMary MacKenzie
An Elephant Called SlowlyGinny
1970WaterlooDuchess of Richmond
1974Swallows and AmazonsMother
The Gathering StormClemmie Churchill(TV)
1975Beauty and the BeastLucy(TV)
1977Holocaust 2000Eva Caine
The DisappearanceCatherine
1979Julius CaesarPortia(BBC Television Shakespeare)
1982Blood LinkWoman in Ballroom
1992The Camomile LawnOlder Polly(TV miniseries)
1998Sliding DoorsJames's Mother
2005A Murder is AnnouncedBelle Goedler
2010Love/ LossMary
2012Leona CalderonElderly British Lady[6]

Non-fiction films[edit]




  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  2. ^ Thornton, Michael. "Virginia McKenna, her fiery marriage and the husband who cheated with a Moroccan gigolo". Ghana Nation. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Gilchrist, Roderick. "Virginia McKenna: freedom's deadly price". The Telegraph, 13 January 2011. Accessed on 9/5/12 at:
  4. ^ Eilean Bàn Trust and Bright Water Visitor Centre
  5. ^ silksoundbooks: "The Secret Garden" (2007)
  6. ^ Leona Calderon
  7. ^ Books by or about George and Joy Adamson

External links[edit]