On this day in history….8th July 1967

On this day in history : 8th July 1967 – Vivien Leigh, English film actress, whose films include ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘A Streetcar named Desire’, dies after a recurrence of tuberculosis….

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Fawcett Publications – Public domain

The 53-year-old, two time Academy Award winning actress, was found by her husband, Jack Merivale, in their Belgravia apartment…. It appears she had collapsed whilst attempting to walk to the bathroom – her lungs were filled with fluid….

Vivien had the previous month been struck down by a recurrence of TB – a disease that had plagued her for half her life….although she had appeared to have been getting better after this last attack….

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Photograph by Roloff Beny, 1958 – Copyrighted free use

She had been born Vivien Mary Hartley on the 5th of November 1913 in Darjeeling, India…. Her father was of French descent and her mother came from Ireland…. Vivien was educated in a Bavarian convent and she then attended finishing schools in England and Europe….

Her very first appearance on the stage was at the age of three, when she played ‘Little Bo Peep’ – but her first serious role was at the age of fourteen….img_3512

Vivien married London barrister Herbert Leigh Holman when she was nineteen – and the couple had a daughter, Suzanne…. Vivien first came to the public’s attention in 1935, as Henriette in the stage play ‘The Mask of Virtue’…. It was at this time that she first met Lawrence Olivier….when he stopped by to congratulate her on her perfomance…. Although he was also married, to actress Jill Esmond, there was a strong attraction between Vivien and Lawrence from the start…. Vivien’s own husband had an intense dislike of the theatre; this would undoubtedly have put pressure upon the marriage – soon Vivien and Lawrence were involved in a passionate affair….

It was in 1939 that Vivien began to show the first signs of bipolar disorder – for which there was no treatment at the time…. Her marriage to Herbert ended in divorce in 1940 – and on the 31st of August of the same year she and Lawrence were married…. She was to suffer two miscarriages during the marriage – which was to end in 1960, after twenty years….both went on to remarry….

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Vivien and Lawrence in Australia, June 1948 – Public domain

In 1944 Vivien was first diagnosed with TB in her left lung…. On the day of her death, a Saturday, all of London’s West End theatres extinguished their lights for an hour during the evening in her memory…. A memorial service was held at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and her cremated ashes were scattered upon the lake of her summer home, Tickerage Mill in East Sussex….

Vivien won two Oscars during her career; the first for her portrayal of Scarlett in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and the second for ‘A Streetcar named Desire’…. Undoubtedly she found everlasting fame as Scarlett O’Hara – a role she was chosen for out of over 1,400 other women….

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As Scarlett O’Hara – Trailer screenshot – Public domain

On this day in history….22nd December 1909

On this day in history : 22nd December 1909 – The birth of BAFTA award winning actress Patricia Hayes – who appeared in so many much loved radio and television comedy shows….

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Patricia was born in Streatham, London…. Her father, George Frederick Hayes, was a civil service clerk and her mother, Florence Alice, was a school teacher…. After attending school in Hammersmith Patricia joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the age of 18 – having already made her stage debut when she was just 12 years old…. After her training she was to spend the next ten years in the repertory theatre….

She married actor Valentine Brooke in 1939 and they were to have three children, two daughters and a son, the actor Richard O’Callaghan…. Patricia and her husband were to divorce in 1951, she never remarried….

During the 1940s she appeared in numerous films, including Went the Day Well? in 1942 and Nicholas Nickleby in 1947 – but during the 1950s it was radio and TV comedy that she was to become well-known for…. Her work included Hancock’s Half Hour, The Benny Hill Show, The Arthur Askey Show and Till Death Us Do Part…. She was frequently cast in the roles of Cockney characters…. She would still occasionally undertake film work, appearing in films such as The Bargee in 1964, The NeverEnding Story in 1984, A Fish Called Wanda in 1988 and Willow in 1988….

Theatrical release poster for The NeverEnding Story

But it was in 1971 that Patricia took on a very different role to her usual comedy characters, when she stared in Jeremy Sandford’s Play for Today Edna, the Inebriate Woman…. Her powerful portrayal of the drunk and troubled Edna won her a BAFTA…. After this it would have been easy to alter the path of her career to follow a route of more serious roles – but Patricia chose to return to the comedy she did so well….

She was awarded with an OBE in 1987…. She continued acting well into the 1990s with appearances in ITV’s The Bill and the BBC’s Lovejoy…. Patricia died on the 19th of September 1998 in the Surrey village of Puttenham and is buried in Watts Cemetery, Compton…. Her last film Crime and Punishment was released posthumously in 2002….

On this day in history….27th November 1920

On this day in history: 27th November 1920 – The birth of Buster Merryfield, the English actor best known as ‘Uncle Albert’ in the BBC comedy series Only Fools and Horses….

Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ – Fair use

Buster was born in Battersea, London to Lily and Harry Merryfield…. Weighing a whopping nine pounds he was immediately nicknamed ‘Buster’ by his grandfather…. It was the name he was to go by throughout his entire life – in fact he refused to divulge his real name…. It only became public knowledge after his death that he had really been named Harry, after his father….

His was a working-class background…. He enjoyed sport, liked football and was a life-long Millwall supporter; but he was particularly keen on boxing…. During the 1930s he became quite a boxing sensation himself, he was the 1936 British Schoolboy Champion and an Army Champion in 1945….

Buster began working for the Westminster Bank (now National Westminster) and in June 1942 he married Iris – they went on to have a daughter…. During the War years he served in the Army, as a jungle warfare instructor…. It was while in the Army he discovered his talent for acting and also directing, after joining the Entertainments Division…. He was to become Entertainments Officer, responsible for organising shows….

After being demobilised in March 1946 Buster returned to the bank and was to remain with them for nearly 40 years, reaching the position of Senior Bank Manager at Thames Dutton in Surrey…. He carried on with his acting by joining an amateur dramatics group and after taking early retirement from the bank in 1978 he joined a repertory theatre company….

One of his first professional parts was in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in Eastbourne; he was also to have other small parts both on stage and television…. Then in January 1985 he joined the cast of Only Fools and Horses as the former sea-dog Albert Gladstone Trotter…. His character ‘Uncle Albert’, the long lost little brother of Grandad Trotter (who had been played by Lennard Pearce until his death in December 1984), was a pipe-smoking rum-swigger – who always predictably started his stories with….”during the War”….much to the annoyance of Del Boy….

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Buster could not have been more unlike Uncle Albert in real life…. He was keen on keeping himself fit and never drank or smoked during his lifetime…. He died of a brain tumour in Poole General Hospital on the 23rd of June 1999….

On this day in history….10th November 1998

On this day in history : 10th November 1998 – The death of English actress and singer Mary Millar – who played Rose in the highly successful BBC TV comedy series Keeping Up Appearances….

Mary Millar as Rose in ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ – Fair use

Mary was born on the 26th of July 1936 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to music hall singers Horace and Irene Weston…. Her parents had an act, Sweethearts in Harmony and as a child Mary would go on tour with them…. At first she had her heart set on becoming a stable hand – but changed her mind and began singing arias on stage at the age of 14….

In 1953, aged 17, Mary made her first TV appearance in Those Were the Days…. She went on to appear in The Dick Emery Show and The Stanley Baxter Show…. But she is probably best remembered as Rose, the youngest sister of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances…. Rose, with her eye for the men (especially married ones) and her love of skimpy clothes, who brought shame to her social climbing snobbish elder sister….

The cast of ‘Keeping up Appearances’ – Fair use

In 1962 Mary made her acting stage debut in Lock Up Your Daughters; in the same year she married Rafael D Frame and the couple had a daughter in 1972…. Mary had a busy and constant theatrical career and was in the original cast of Phantom of the Opera…. Her final performance was in 1998 as Mrs Potts in the West End production Beauty and the Beast…. She left the production in February 1998 as her health was deteriorating – she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer the previous month…. Mary lost her battle with her illness in the November of 1998, dying in Brockley, London, with her husband and daughter at her bedside….

On this day in history….30th October 2014

On this day in history : 30th October 2014 – The death of English actress Renee Asherson – with a career spanning 65 years she was known for her versatility and grace….

Renee Asherson – Fair use

Born Dorothy Renee Ascherson in Kensington, London, on the 19th of May 1915, she was to drop the ‘c’ from her name early in her acting career…. Renee’s father was a German-Jewish businessman and she was brought up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire – before attending finishing schools in Switzerland and Anjou…. As a teenager her health suffered as she battled with anorexia…. When she announced that she had decided on an acting career her mother was greatly alarmed – it was not what she wanted for her daughter…. However, she enrolled at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and completed her training….

Renee’s first stage performance was a walk-on part in October 1935, in John Gielgud’s production of Romeo and Juliet…. Her stage career was to focus on Shakespeare at the Birmingham Rep, Old Vic and other leading theatres…. Her first major film role was as Katherine in the 1944 film adaption of Henry V – in which she starred opposite Laurence Olivier…. Rumours were, at the time, that he had chosen her over Vivien Leigh, as he did not want his own performance to be overshadowed….

Renee was to work with actor Robert Donat – who became enchanted with her…. He was then to cast her in the 1945 comedy A Cure for Love…. In 1946 she returned to the stage playing Juliet at St. James’s Theatre – and completely won the hearts of the audience with her charm, poise and elegance…. Olivier tried to persuade her to join him at the Old Vic but she opted to work with Donat – whom she married in 1953….

Robert Donat – Fair use

Donat was suffering from ill-health and Renee put her own career on hold so that she could nurse him…. However, his illness put too much strain on their relationship and the marriage broke down…. Ironically they were on the verge of a reconciliation when Donat died of a brain tumour in June 1958….

Having been left nothing in Donat’s will Renee threw herself back into her work – more out of financial necessity rather than love of her trade…. She never remarried and had no children….

Over the next half a century she proved her versatility as an actress in a large variety of roles…. from Shakespeare to Agatha Christie, to comedy…. Her television work included series such as Clayhanger and Tenko…. Her last film appearance was in 2001, in the haunting story with an incredible twist at the end – The Others – also starring Nicole Kidman….

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Renee died in Primrose Hill, London, at the age of 99….