Friday 28 June 2013

The Theatre by the River (Yvonne Arnaud 1890 -1958)

Guildford Guildhall
I’m sure I must have mentioned previously in passing that I had the pleasure of growing up in the fine Surrey town of Guildford.

My home town is famous for its cathedral, the crumbling old castle, the Spectrum Leisure Centre, the Royal Grammar school in the Upper High Street and, well not a lot else really.

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre frontage
But down by the River Wey, lurking alongside the Debenham’s department store, sits the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. The auditorium was built in the middle 1960’s and will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary.

 I have to admit to vaguely remembering it being built, although I was only knee high to a grasshopper at that particular time (honest I was guv!).

But until recently I never gave much of a thought as to who it was named after, or inspired by. This is a sad reflection from someone who actually worked in the building for a short period about 20 years ago.

So the question now has to be asked, who was Yvonne Arnaud and exactly what relationship did she hold to this fairly nondescript Surrey market town?

Yvonne Arnaud
Germaine Yvonne Arnaud was a French born actress, pianist and singer (b. December 20th, 1890). Born in Bordeaux, she was raised in Paris and at the age of 9 entered the Conservatoire de Paris.

Regarded as something of a child protégée, she started her career as a child concert pianist, touring and performing with many leading orchestras throughout Europe and the USA.

In her early 20’s, she moved on to musical comedy and then, after an operation on her larynx affected her singing voice, into non-musical comedy and drama around the time of the early 1920’s.

She married the actor Hugh McLellan in 1920 and lived in Effingham near Guildford for many years, hence her continual connection to the town.

She appeared on stage and in numerous British films in the 30’s and 40’s, going on to playing a maid in Jacques Tati’s “Mon Oncle” (1958 - her final performance). This production was in fact the first of Tati’s films to be released in colour.

Not that she ever gave up “tinkling the ivories” occasionally returning to perform as a pianist in her later career (e.g. with the Halle Orchestra in 1948 and at the 1956 Hoffnung Festival).

Memorial stone
She died in Guildford aged of 67, after an operation on a cerebral haemorrhage.and her ashes were scattered in St Martha’s churchyard* where there is a memorial dedicated to her. 

7 years after her death, the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre was opened.

* The area in and around St Martha’s has a local reputation for the odd haunting and “strange” event taking place. In my late teens, myself and a few school friends spent a night up there around the sandpits “ghost hunting.” 

We never witnessed anything, but with the amount of red wine that was consumed on that rather damp evening, it is a wonder we knew what day it was let alone anything else!

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Whatever Happened to Nicholas Bond-Owen?

Cast your mind back to the late 1970s and you may remember a spin-off TV sitcom, emanating from characters from the hit ITV show "Man About The House"

Again written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, "George and Mildred" starred Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy as the Ropers, an ill-matched married couple who upped sticks and moved to the posher London suburb of Hampton Wick. 

Their arrival horrified the next door neighbour Jeffrey Fourmile (played by Norman Eshley), convincing him that their presence would not only lower the tone of the neighbourhood, but also drop the value of local property.

Fourmile's wife Ann was played by Sheila Fearn, best remembered for being Terry Collier's sister in "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" and Ronnie Corbett's girlfriend in the BBC's "Sorry"

The main cast list was made up with the Fourmile's young son Tristram, who was played by Nicholas Bond-Owen and when I was recently researching another article, I came across this piece written by Simon Stabler from the Peterborough Community website that sheds some light as to what became of Nick. 

Click HERE to be taken to the article.

At the height of its popularity, "George and Mildred" came to an abrupt end in 1980 when Yootha Joyce suddenly died aged only 53. Plans were afoot for a 6th series to be made and  the successful movie spin-off of the show was dedicated in her memory (released after her passing). 

It later came to light that she had an alcohol dependency problem, consuming upwards of a half bottle of brandy every day.

An idea for Brian Murphy to star in a show as George, coping as a widower never materialised, but soon after her death he did appear in another Mortimer and Cooke written show, along with Roy Kinnear (who also made regular appearances in "George and Mildred"), entitled "The Incredible Mr Tanner"

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Friday 21 June 2013

Katharine Hepburn 1907-2003

On 29th June 2013 it will be 10 years since the Academy award winning film, stage and television actress Katharine Hepburn died.

Born on 12th May 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA, Katharine Houghton Hepburn was raised in a well-to-do family, her father being a doctor, whilst her mother was a suffragette.

The young Katharine was very much a tomboy and was encouraged by her parents to always speak her mind. In years to come, she became globally famous, not only for her successful acting career, but also for her headstrong independence and somewhat spirited personality.

Winning a record 4 Academy awards for Best Actress, the "First Lady of Cinema" decided to make her career as an actor whilst studying at Bryn Mawr College close to Philadelphia, where she appeared in many productions.

In "Rooster Cogburn"
Soon after graduation, she started gaining small parts on Broadway and after getting regularly noticed, these soon became roles in movies, signing a contract with RKO in 1932.

She won her first Academy award in 1934 for "Morning Glory" when starring opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jnr,
but soon became known for her haughty behaviour where she refused to pose for pictures or to give interviews. 

It wasn't long before her lack of popularity with the press soon rubbed off on movie and theatre goers causing her fame to plummet.

But after returning to Broadway to star in "The Philadelphia Story" she bought the movie rights to the production and was rewarded with a Hollywood smash hit.
Poster for "Woman of the Year"

For her next film in 1942 ("Woman of the Year""), she starred alongside Spencer Tracy with whom she went on to star in eight more films over a 25 year + span and conducted a long term off screen romance, (even though he remained married throughout this time).

Her 2nd Academy success came in her final film with Tracy which was completed just a few weeks before his death. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" which also featured Sidney Poitier, also brought BAFTA awards for both leading actors (posthumously in Tracy's case).
Starring in "Love Affair"

Her 3rd Best Actress accolade came just a year later for "The Lion in Winter" starring alongside Peter O'Toole and Anthony Hopkins - a movie that gains an impressive 8 out of 10 IMDB rating (and happens to be Tatty's favourite film of hers).

The 4th and record breaking Oscar came in 1982 when starring in "On Golden Pond" with Henry Fonda and his daughter Jane.

Her last feature film came in 1994 when starring with Warren Beattie and Annette Bening in "Love Affair" (see image) although later in that same year she did appear in a made-for-TV movie "One Christmas" with Henry Winkler and Swoosie Kurtz.

Soon after, as her health declined, she retired from public life and eventually passed away at the age of 96 in her beloved Connecticut on 29th June 2003. 

A week after her death, as a tribute, the lights of Broadway were dimmed for an hour in her honour.

The "Great Kate" will always be remembered for her feisty outlook, not only in her career but throughout her life in general. 

Being very much of a show-off and with her distinctive way of speaking, angular features and her outspoken personality, Katharine Hepburn was one of the brightest and it has to be said, more fascinating actors of her generation. 

So what was your favourite Katharine Hepburn movie? 
Please feel free to comment.....

Wednesday 19 June 2013

TV Comedian Eric Sykes

Recently I have been enjoying the re-runs of the BBC TV sitcom Sykes from the 1970s which have been airing on Satellite/Cable channel UKTV Gold.

The TV shows, written and starring comedy legend Eric Sykes, ably assisted by another greatly loved comedy actress Hattie Jacques (who regularly appeared on TV with the Lancastrian), ran from 1972 until 1979, clocking up seven full series and a Christmas special in their wake.

Much of the show was based on previous similar TV comedies for the comic, indeed many of the episodes were colour remakes of previous black and white shows made in the sixties.

The show revolved around the antics of unmarried twins Eric and Hattie (Hat) who lived together in the London suburb of East Acton. Eric's character is somewhat childish and often manages to get himself into varying degrees of trouble. Meanwhile Hattie is the calming influence, trying her utmost to keep Sykes on the straight and narrow.

Other well known actors to regularly grace the programme included the likes of Deryck Guyler, Richard Wattis and Joan Simms, most of which had been associated with the TV comedian for many years.

The show finally came to the end of its run in 1979, although the BBC were fully intending to continue on with it. The untimely death of co-star Hattie Jacques from heart failure in 1980 bringing a premature conclusion.

I must admit to never thinking a great deal of the programme when it was aired in the 70s, but with maybe a more mature outlook, it is abundantly clear what a genius Sykes was, with an immaculate comedic delivery and his writing of varied content.

With a performing career spanning in excess of 50 years, Sykes is remembered for becoming profoundly deaf as an adult. The spectacles that he wore contained no lenses, they were used as a bone conducting hearing aid and as he got older he was also registered as blind and suffered a stroke and heart problems.

Eric died in July 2012 at the age 89 after a short illness, surrounded by his family.

Monday 3 June 2013

Cyril Fletcher - "Pin Back Your Lugholes"

Cyril Fletcher
Tuesday 25th June 2013 will be the 100 year anniversary of the birth of British comedian Cyril Fletcher. 

Fondly remembered for his appearances on the BBC panel show "What's My Line" and latterly on the lamented consumer magazine programme "That's Life" with Esther Rantzen, Fletcher is best remembered for his "Odd Odes" and for his "Pin back your lugholes" catchphrase.

The Odd odes were not a new innovation for the television series however, he originally started performing them back in 1937 when short of material for a radio show. 

Their inauguration gave rise to him receiving a regular programme on Radio Luxembourg, which in turn brought him national recognition.

On the "That's Life" TV set
Born the son of a solicitor in Watford, Hertfordshire, he graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 

His 70 year career covered theatre, radio and television with him being a regular contributor to the BBC radio show "Does The Team Think" throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. In later years he presented a gardening programme for Channel TV.

Described as a very droll, whimsical and artistic man, he passed away peacefully in his sleep in January 2005, at his home in Guernsey, Channel Islands.

Excerpt from his Channel TV gardening programme

25th Anniversary of Russell Harty's Death

On the 8th of June, it will be 25 years since the death of UK chat show host and TV presenter Russell Harty.

Considered by some to be somewhat in the shadow of his contemporary Michael Parkinson, Harty was born on 5th September 1934 in Blackburn, Lancashire.

The son of a market fruit and veg stall-holder, he attended Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in the town, going on to complete a first class English Literature degree at Exeter College, Oxford.

After graduation, he started work as a teacher at Giggleswick School in Yorkshire where one of his pupils was Richard Whiteley (later remembered as the first host of the cult TV word game “Countdown”). 

His broadcasting career got under way a few years later working for the BBC Third programme reviewing his beloved art and literature.

Soon moving into British TV, he initially fronted an arts programme for ITV and went on to present a celebrity chat show on the channel which was pitted against the BBC’s “Parkinson” show.

In 1975 Harty returned to the BBC to front an early evening chat show which lasted until 1982. It was on this show when he was memorably slapped in the face by singer Grace Jones, after she took offense when Harty turned away from her to talk to another guest.

Grace Jones attacking Harty

Having very much of a camp turn of phrase, he is fondly remembered for the catchphrase "you were, were you not..." when interviewing guests.

Russell Harty passed away in 1988 from Hepatitis B in a Leeds hospital at the young age of 53 and is buried in Giggleswick.