Nyree Dawn Porter; TV, Theater Actress

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Nyree Dawn Porter, who became prominent on the 1960s British television drama series "The Forsyte Saga," the BBC's first major export around the world, has died at the age of 61.

Porter died Wednesday at a London hospital, but the cause of death was not immediately known. She told a British publication last week that she had been suffering from complications from recent foot surgery but expected to appear soon in a Newcastle production of "Charley's Aunt."

The New Zealand-born actress was most famous as the cucumber-cool temptress Irene in "The Forsyte Saga," based on the novels of John Galsworthy and one of the most celebrated British period dramas ever made. First shown in Britain in 1967, it was a hit in the United States and earned the distinction of being the first BBC series to be sold to the Soviet Union. The worldwide audience was estimated at about 160 million.

"Nyree Dawn Porter was one of the earliest stars of television drama," said Alan Yentob, the BBC's director of drama, entertainment and children's programming.

"Although she had a considerable career in the theater, she was among the first generation of actors to make their name on television. Her performances, most famously in 'The Forsyte Saga' and 'Madame Bovary,' gripped a generation of viewers."

She re-created the Irene role for a 1991 stage production of "The Forsyte Saga."

"I loved the role and I'm very proud of it," she said last week. "Until then (the television version), I was an unknown theater actress and Irene gave me international fame and opened doors for me."

Porter also was memorable in the 1970s series "The Protectors" starring Robert Vaughn in a role similar to his earlier "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Shot in Europe, the stylish adventure series drew comparisons of Porter's character, the aristocratic Contessa Caroline di Contini, with the fashionable Diana Rigg in "The Avengers."

Porter was born on the north island of New Zealand, and given the Maori name of Ngaire.

"Oh, Lord, everybody knows that story," she said in the interview last week. "It's the Maori name of a shrub which has star-shaped flowers. People in the theater wanted me to alter my name and I refused but agreed to change it to a phonetic spelling, which produced 'Nyree.' "

A stage actress in New Zealand before moving to London, Porter was married twice--widowed by actor Bryon O'Leary and divorced from actor Robin Halstead.

She is survived by a daughter, Tassy.

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