English actress Sheila Mercier has died at the age of 100.
The Emmerdale legend, known to millions as Annie Sugden, died peacefully in her sleep, according to former Yorkshire Television co-star Frederick Pyne, who played Matt Skilbeck in Emmerdale Farm from its launch in 1972 until 1989.
Speaking on social media Frederick said: “Sad to tell all you Emmerdale fans that Sheila Mercier, Annie Sugden, died peacefully in her sleep… She would have been 101 years old on New Years Day. She was a great character and wonderful to work with.”
She was last seen in Emmerdale in 2009, where she attended the funeral of Jack Sugden.
Mercier had a long career on stage before her television career. According to Metro.co.uk, Donald Wolfit had talent-spotted her and she toured with Wolfit’s own Shakespeare company in 1939. During the Second World War she joined the WAAF division of the Royal Air Force, serving in fighter command, eventually becoming adjutant. After the war, she worked in repertory theatre until 1951.
In 1972, she was cast in the role she is best known for, the matriarch Annie Sugden, one of the principal characters in the new British soap opera Emmerdale Farm (later simply Emmerdale). She appeared as a main cast member until 1994 with rare occasional appearances since, notably for on-screen son Joe’s funeral in June 1995.
Mercier was widowed when her husband, actor Peter Mercier, died in 1993, after 42 years of marriage. Their son, Nigel Mercier (6 December 1954 – 6 January 2017) also worked in the TV industry, initially with BBC Television News at Television Centre as a videotape editor and then at LWT.
In 1994 Mercier’s autobiography, Annie’s Song: My Life & Emmerdale was published. In it, she disclosed that she had been raped by an officer early in the war, had become pregnant and given her baby daughter up for adoption, and had been contacted by her daughter 30 years later.