Ursula Howells was educated at St Paul's Girls' School in London, where her father Herbert Howells, a doyen of English church music taught music for 26 years. Following the death of her brother Michael from polio in 1935, her father composed his great choral masterpiece "Hymnus Paradisi".

She was evacuated to Scotland during the Second World War and made her stage debut in 1940 with Dundee rep. She made her London debut at the Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage in 1945. Her broadcasting debut came in 1946 with Sweet Lavender and she made her screen debut in 1950, with Flesh and Blood (1951).

Although she continued to make West End appearances during the following thirty years, she remained in demand as a television and film actress. Her successes included Marriage a la Mode (1955), The Third Key (1956), Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and Girly (1970).

She made an impression as Frances Forsyte (the first of Young Jo's three wives) in the BBC's 1967 television adaptation of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga (1967). She became a regular feature in television comedy and drama, ranging from Father Dear Father (1968) and A Rather English Marriage (1998) to The Cazalets (2001).

Her television credits also included playing a psychopath Lettie Blacklock in Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (1985). She also appeared in Bergerac: Sins of the Fathers (1985) and Bergerac: Warriors (1991), Lovejoy: Somewhere - Over the Rainbow? (1994), Heartbeat: Vigilante (1995) and Midsomer Murders: The Electric Vendetta (2001).

She instigated the "Herbert Howells Society" following her father's death in 1983 and became a standard bearer for the promotion of his work. She financially supported the recording of his compositions and did much to encourage the publishing and promotion of church music.

She was married twice. Following a brief first marriage to Davy Dodd in 1949, she remarried in 1968 to the theatre director Anthony Pelissier . She was widowed in 1988 and moved to Petworth in Sussex. Although she had no children of her own, she was a loving stepmother to her husband's son and three daughters who survived her.