Frances de la Tour is an English actress perhaps best known for her role as Miss Ruth Jones in the British sitcom Rising Damp, and as Madame Olype Maxime in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. She was born in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, to Moyra and Charles de la Tour. She was graduated at London's Lycee Francais and the Drama Centre London, (a college of the University of the Arts London). She is married to playwright Tom Kempinski and have a son and daughter.
On leaving drama school she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1965 where she studied with Michel Saint-Denis. Over the next six years, she played many small roles with the RSC in a variety of plays, gradually building up to larger parts such as Hoyden in The Relapse and culminating in Peter Brook's acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which she played Helena as a comic "tour de force". In the 1970s, she worked steadily both on the stage and on television. Some of her notable appearances were Rosalind in As You Like It at the Oxford Playhouse in 1975, Isabella in The White Devil at the Old Vic in 1976. She enjoyed a collaboration with Stepney's Half Moon Theatre, appearing in the London première of Dario Fo's We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay (1978), Eleanor Marx's Landscape of Exile (1979), and in the title role of Hamlet (1980).
In 1980, she played Stephanie, the violinist with MS in Duet for One, a play written for her by Kempinski, for which she won the Olivier for Best Actress. She played Sonya in Uncle Vanya opposite Donald Sinden at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1982. Her performance as Josie in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten won her another Olivier for Best Actress in 1983. She joined the National Theatre for the title role in Saint Joan in 1984 and appeared there in Brighton Beach Memoirs in 1986. She again won the Olivier for Best Supporting Actress for Martin Sherman's play about Isadora Duncan, When She Danced with Vanessa Redgrave at the Globe (now the Gielgud) Theatre in 1991, Leo in Les parents terribles at the National in 1994.
She co-starred with Maggie Smith in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women at the Wyndham's in 1994 and with Alan Howard in Albee's The Play About the Baby at the Almeida in 1998). In 1999, she returned to the RSC to play Cleopatra opposite Alan Bates in Antony and Cleopatra in which she did a nude walk across the stage. In 2004, she played Mrs Lintott in Alan Bennett's The History Boys at the National, later on Broadway and in the film version (2006). In 2007 she appeared in a West End revival of the farce Boeing-Boeing.
Her many television appearances include the 1980 miniseries Flickers alongside Bob Hoskins, the TV version of Duet for One, the series A Kind of Living, Tom Jones, episodes of Poirot, Marple and Waking the Dead. Of all her TV roles, however, she is best-known for playing spinster Ruth Jones in the successful Yorkshire Television comedy Rising Damp. De la Tour told Richard Webber, who penned a 2001 book about the series, that Ruth Jones "was an interesting character to play. We laughed a lot on set, but comedy is a serious business and Leonard took it particularly seriously, and rightly so. Comedy, which is so much down to timing, is exhausting work. But it was a happy time."
In 2003, de la Tour played a terminally ill woman in the film, Love Actually, although her scenes were cut from the film's theatrical release, and only appear on the DVD. In 2005 she played Olympe Maxime, headmistress of Beauxbatons Academy, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In December 2005 she starred in the London production of the highly acclaimed anti-Iraq-war one-woman play Peace Mom by Dario Fo, based on the writings of Cindy Sheehan. She won a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award in 2006 for her work in The History Boys on Broadway. She was nominated for the 2006 BAFTA Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for her work on the film version of The History Boys.