Born Phyllis Hannah Bickle in Chelsea, she began her career as a dancer but an injury forced her to concentrate on acting.
Phyllis made her stage debut at the Lyric theatre, in Hammersmith, west London in November 1925, playing alongside the famous Victorian actress, Ellen Terry, who was starring in her last production. She had her first film role at the age of 12, in The Arcadians (1927). She first found success the film
adaptation of H. G. Wells' Kipps (1941).
But it is for her 1940s work with the Gainsborough Pictures company, based in Hoxton, north London, that Calvert is chiefly remembered.
Her Gainsborough successes included Fanny By Gaslight, Kipps, Madonna of the Seven Moons and the Man in Grey.
She acted in over 40 films, along with a successful stage and television career from the 1960s. Though she did go to Hollywood it was without success and she returned to Britain.
Her heyday careerwise came in the 1940s resulted her being second in popularity to Margeret Lockwood to British filmgoers. The two became great friends in later life up until Margaret's death in 1990. In Lockwood's biography, Once a Wicked Lady, Hilton Tims writes:
'Phyllis, since their reunion in the play Suite in Two Keys, had become her closest friend and she would drive over from her home in the same Barnes road as Julia's (Margaret's daughter) ... to Margaret's home in Kingston and persuade her out of the house for a change of scene, shopping or visiting a garden centre. Occasionally one or other of them would be recognised and asked for an autograph. It amused them that the fan seldom seemed to realise that two famous signatures were there for the taking, and when the identified star had obliged, she would say: 'Wouldn't you like Margaret Lockwood's/Phyllis Calvert's as well?' They would both laugh over the supplicant's expression of dawning incredulity.'
She was married to the actor and antiquarian bookseller Peter Murray Hill, with whom she had two children, Ann Auriol (1943) and Piers Auriol (1954), and were inseparable until his sudden death in 1957. She died peacefully in her sleep in a London hospital in 2002, aged 87.
Interestingly, she was cremated in the same cemetery (Putney Vale, South London) as Lockwood, only 12 years later.
She is one of those actresses whose career to most people now has been lost to the midsts of time. Perhaps that is because there is truly no great role to look back on, unlike Lockwood and The Wicked Lady, for example. She was a fine actress however and in my book it is now time for a reappraisal of her career.