DAME Judi Dench has thrown her support behind the Evening Press campaign to save York's Mystery Plays.

York's most famous daughter was involved in the first three productions in the Museum Gardens in the 1950s, performing as the Virgin Mary in 1957 before going on to a glittering career in theatre, film and TV.

Now she has told the Press that she feels "very strongly indeed" about the news that the next major staged production of the Plays may not take place until at least 2010.

"Wherever I have been in the world, I have been astonished by the number of people who have told me that they have seen the Plays, and the enthusiasm for the York Cycle is phenomenal," she wrote.

"It is a wonderful way of bringing visitors to York, not only from the British Isles but from all over the world."

She said she had been associated - "with my entire family" - with the very first staging in 1951 by E Martin Brown, and had appeared in the Plays on the two following occasions.

"I feel very strongly indeed about the news that they may not be performed again until 2010.

"I feel passionate that the Mystery Plays should continue in the tradition of being staged every four years, and I totally support your efforts to achieve this."

Her comments come only a week after the creation of a new York Mystery Plays Association, whose aim is to ensure they are performed again in the Museum Gardens, if possible in 2005.

Former Lord Mayor Keith Wood, who will chair a working party to investigate the feasibility, welcomed news that Dame Judi was backing the campaign. "I am delighted that she is so supportive," he said.