British actor, best known as the harridan wife Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers: "that golfing puff-adder", as Basil calls her, among many other things.

She was born Prunella Margaret Rumney Illingworth on 22 June 1933 (or 1932?) in Sutton Abinger, in Surrey, the daughter of the actress Catherine Scales, from whom she took her stage name.

She trained at the Old Vic Theatre School and at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York. Her first film was Hobson's Choice in 1954, and in 1961 she appeared in Coronation Street as Eileen Hughes, a clippie with a crush on bus conductor Harry Hewitt... a little bit of trivia for any Corrie fans out there.

In 1963 she married the actor Timothy West, with whom she has very often appeared since. Their son Samuel West is also an actor and has also appeared with his mother in several things. They have another son Joseph.

In 1966 she and Timothy made a BBC concert recording of Princess Ida (not commercially released), she doing the dialogue for Ida and he doing the dialogue for King Gama.

Her films include Howards End from the E.M. Forster novel, A Chorus of Disapproval (1989) from the Alan Ayckbourn play, Breaking the Code (1992) about Alan Turing, an ageing vamp in An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Jane Austen's Emma (1997) in which she played Miss Bates, Agnes the maiden aunt in Stiff Upper Lips (1998) also starring her son Samuel and Peter Ustinov, and Kathy Lette's Mad Cow in 1999.

She and Timothy West do the voiceovers in a cinema short Small Talk, with all child actors, à la Bugsy Malone.

She starred as the Queen, the first television fictional representation of her, in Alan Bennett's play A Question of Attribution about the spy and art historian Anthony Blunt.

Much in demand for readings and voiceovers, she has read many works for audiotape, including Emma, Wuthering Heights together with Samuel, Mrs Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, and numerous works by E.F. Benson. She does Dotty in advertisements for Tesco's.

As well as Fawlty Towers, she also starred as the widow Sarah France in the 36 episodes of After Henry from 1988 to 1992, an adaptation of a BBC radio 4 serial.

She was awarded the CBE in 1992, and is the current President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). She and Timothy West have provided the recorded narration for the new Kennet & Avon Canal Museum, in Devizes in Wiltshire, which they opened in April 1998.

They have lived in Wandsworth in London since the early 1970s. Her agent is Conway van Gelder Ltd of 18-21 Jermyn St, London.

Prunella Scales is also the name of an American heavy metal band (or at least, it sounds like heavy metal to this unlettered Web-searcher: one reviewer described it as "ball-crushing, nitro-burning alternative rock 'n roll). The group consists of singer and bassist Rachel Bolan (a bloke despite the Rachel bit), drummer Phil Varone, and guitarists Tommy Southard and L. Wood.

Bolan says, "These songs rock, but they're supposed to make you think. There are fucked up things in the world, and these songs are about some of them."

I'm sure Sybil Fawlty couldn't have put it better herself.

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