10 Best British TV Actresses

Sunday, February 6 by D. Michaels

American audiences are pretty familiar with the actresses they like on TV due in part to all of the award shows that air each year, but many would be hard pressed to name their 10 best British TV actresses since many do not appear often in American TV. However, the ones who do and can establish a following tend to be quite well-known. Many of those women have coincidentally also appeared in some of the best British shows to have come across the pond to America’s shores. Here are ten such women.

  1. Marina Sirtis. Born to Greek parents, Sirtis got her start on the English stage playing roles like Esmerelda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Magenta in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” before landing the role of a lifetime as Deanna Troi in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” a role she is still known for wherever she goes.
  2. Jane Leeves. An ankle injury ended her initial career as an aspiring ballet, but fans of comedy don’t mind one bit. They got to see Leeves' blossoming comic talents first as a member of Benny Hill’s comedy troupe, then as Daphne Moone on the “Cheers” spinoff, “Frasier.” Audiences and critics alike awarded this British TV actress for her performance for almost every year she was on the show (1993-2004).  
  3. Catherine Bell. Fans don’t ordinarily think of Bell being a great British TV actress because she has played more on American TV than English, most notably on “J.A.G.” (1996-2005) and “Army Wives” (2007-2010). Fun fact about Bell: she was the nude body double for Isabella Rossellini in the movie “Death Becomes Her” (1992).
  4. Joan Collins. Known the world over as super-bitch Alexis Carrington (from the nighttime soap “Dynasty”), Collins has had one of the most prolific careers in the entertainment industry and the only British TV actress to be awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work in the entertainment industry.
  5. Joanna Lumley. While some fans remember Lumley for her appearance in the James Bond classic, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” this great British TV actress is best known to modern fans from the hit BBC sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous,” where she played Patsy Stone, a champagne and cocaine-loving flirt who would often steal the scenes from her co-star (and the show’s creator) Jennifer Saunders.
  6. Jennifer Saunders. The other half the comedy duo from “Absolutely Fabulous,” Saunders was the creative genius behind the shoe’s popularity, both writing and starring in virtually all of the episodes. Her, along with her childhood friend and writing partner, Dawn French, are arguably the two most cherished and well-known comedy writers in all of Britain.
  7. Catherine Tate. Fans of British comedy also immediately recognize Tate from her self-titled sketch-comedy show on the BBC where she played a variety of characters that entertained audiences. But she achieved worldwide fame for role as Donna Noble on the sci-fi mega-hit, “Doctor Who,” where she was able to flex both her comedy and dramatic muscles.
  8. Tracey Ullman. Arguably the most well-known British TV actress in the last few decades, comedienne and impressionist Tracy Ullman is known for both her success as a pop star in the 1980’s as well as her run in the U.S. on her self-titled comedy show. Fun fact: On her U.S. show, she had a young artist put up 30-second cartoons to fit in between sketches. The artist was Matt Groening and the cartoon was "The Simpsons."
  9. Miranda Richardson. While now known primarily as a film actress (most notably for her role as Rita Skeeter in the "Harry Potter" films), she is perhaps best known to British audiences for her various roles in the “Blackadder” series.
  10. Billie Piper. The youngest actress on the list, Piper gained famed before becoming one of the best British TV actresses by first becoming a pop star (much like Tracy Ullman). This all changed when she began her two seasons as Rose Tyler on the revamped “Doctor Who” series starting in 2005. After her much publicized departure, she took on the controversial role of Belle de Jour on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.”