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The Six Wives of Henry VIII

The Six Wives of Henry VIII was a series of six plays produced by the BBC in 1971. One of the first major British television series to be videotaped in colour, it was a huge success, propelling its previously little-known star, Keith Michell, into the limelight.

Each of the series of plays was devoted to one of the wives of King Henry VIII of England, and all were of equal length, regardless of the enormous variation in the length of their respective marriages. Each episode was written by a different dramatist.

The wives were as follows:

Katherine of Aragon played by Annette Crosbie
Anne Boleyn played by Dorothy Tutin
Jane Seymour played by Anne Stallybrass
Anne of Cleves played by Elvi Hale
Catherine Howard played by Angela Pleasence
Catherine Parr played by Rosalie Crutchley

Two of these actresses, Tutin and Crutchley, were already well-known; two, Crosbie and Stallybrass, went on to greater fame; the remaining two remained minor bit-part actresses.

The series was so successful that it was adapted into a 1973 film, also starring Keith Michell as Henry, but with six different actresses in the roles of his wives. Two of them, Charlotte Rampling who played Anne Boleyn, and Jane Asher who played Jane Seymour, were well-known. The others, Frances Cuka as Katherine of Aragon, Jenny Bos as Anne of Cleves, Lynne Frederick (wife of Peter Sellers) as Catherine Howard, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Catherine Parr, remained minor actresses. The only actor besides Michell to play the same role in both the series and the film was Bernard Hepton as Thomas Cranmer. The film failed to achieve the success of the TV series.

The series also spawned a successful sequel, Elizabeth R, starring Glenda Jackson.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII was also the title of a more recent Channel 4 documentary series on the subject.