During her career, she won a British Academy Award for best newcomer for her role in Hell is a City. There were also Baftas for her performance opposite Albert Finney in Charlie Bubbles and for her role as the mother of Hayley Mills in the psychological thriller, Twisted Nerve in 1969.
Whitelaw won much acclaim, and an international audience, for her portrayal of Mrs Baylock, the guardian of the demon child Damien in The Omen. Many critics felt she gave the best performance in the film and it won her an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress.
She also won praise for her role as the domineering mother of the Kray twins in the 1990 film, The Krays and more recently appeared in comedy Hot Fuzz.
The Coventry-born star, who was made a CBE in 1991, worked in close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, who described her as a perfect actress. But in her autobiography, Billie Whitelaw . . . Who He? she said it was her work with Beckett that generated most interest. Without their association, she wrote, “nobody would have been remotely interested in my autobiography.”
By this time she had given up theatre performances, partly because of Beckett’s death and also because of her failure to conquer her stage fright. “Death’s not one of those things that frighten the life out of me,” she once said. “Getting up on stage with the curtain going up frightens me more.”
She did continue to act in films, she appeared in more than 50 during her career, and on television. Billie Whitelaw was the most natural of performers, who made a speciality of playing independent, and sometimes dominant women.
But she didn’t take her profession that seriously seeing it, as she put it, something which paid the parking tickets, which she habitually collected. “I’m not really interested in acting anymore,” she said in a 1996 interview. “It’s not the centre of my life. I always thought it was a bit of a flibbertigibbety occupation.”