Ellis Powell – Mrs Dale. The Private Life of ‘Mrs Dale’

We go back to a feature done here some months ago, on the Radio personality Ellis Powell who played Mrs Dale in the long running series Mrs Dale’s Diary. There had been reports of her losing the job as Mrs Dale due to drinking but there is no evidence of this and I think it is untrue.

She, very sadly, died shortly after this. However what is not often reported is about her own life – her own life story from quite well-to-do parents living in lovely surroundings and with a father who was influential and well connected in those days – to a fulfilling career as an actress both on stage in the early days to radio drama. Here we see a picture of a happy and fun loving girl from a loving family who found great happiness in touring the country with plays and dramas before settling into those radio days.

Also very important in this story – as with many others born around that time – her life was punctuated and no doubt marked by Two World Wars which ravaged the country and left people changed in their outlook and aspirations.

We did get something of a glimpse into the life of Ellis Powell in the first article on here – and now we have further information from 1954 – at the height of her ‘Mrs Dale’ popularity

Ellis Powell was often been asked if, like Mrs. Dale, she kept a diary – she said that she did not, simply because she just could not find the time to complete it each day – she receives many letters – more for Mrs Dale than herself .

When she first auditioned for the part, she was not really bothered about getting it – after all she had been mainly a comedy actress and this was very much a straight role.

Ellis Powell waves goodbye to her Radio Husband Douglas Burbidge at the entrance to Broadcasting House in London, after they had finished recording another episode for us

ABOVE – We have Ellis Powell with her husband in real life the film actor Ralph Truman

Ellis Powell could not remember why she became an actress – although as a small child she had written verses and received prizes for that and she had at times insisted on reciting some of those same verses.

Her Mother then decided to send her for elocution lessons.

At the time her family lived in a large house in North West London with 5 acres of garden and a lake. She was one of three children and they just loved the place – it was like being in the country but close to the City.

Her father was a Doctor of Science and a Bachelor of Law and for a long time editor of the Financial News. Among his friends was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He married Rose Alberta E. Badhams and they had three children

Ellis Powell as a young girl began writing sketches that she would also act in, and during the 1914-18 War, she appeared in concerts for the Adair Wounded Fund – these were at the Palladium – so she effectively started at the top. Her school teacher encouraged her with her writing and acting.

Her father died in 1922 and then she had to earn a living so she chose the theatre and went to RADA and then joined a Rep touring with plays – often farces such as ‘Rookery Nook’. During that time she lived along with three other women in various houses around the country as they travelled to each provincial location. She described the four years they did this as very happy ones. Apparently they all got on well together and she described them all as being ‘as happy off the stage as we were on it’

Around this time of course Radio or ‘the wireless’ was becoming very popular. She auditioned for a play on radio in 1927. She did not really take to this at that time so nothing materialised

She makes no mention of the fact that she married another actor Ralph Truman on 9 March 1928. However there is a reference to her having a son who in 1954 was in his early twenties, so he would probably have been born around 1929 or 1930.

ABOVE – a picture of her son Clive’s wedding in 1960 to Myra Vaughan.

Ellis Powell kisses the bride – her son is reported in the caption to be called Clive Roman but why I just can’t imagine


Ralph Truman and Ellis Powell remained married until 1963 when she died. It says on the imdb site that their marriage foundered but I can’t find any evidence for that at all.


The next thing she refers to in the interview is getting back into radio in 1938. She auditioned again and described it as ‘a very different audition to the first one’ – she was in a better frame of mind.

When War came, she was often asked to appear in productions with the BBC Rep Company, mainly in Evesham and sometimes Manchester.

She was offered the part of Mrs Williams in ‘The Robinsons’ a ‘true-to-life’ series and grew to love all the people in the Robinson’s family circle. It was after this had finished – and after the War had ended – that she got the part of Mrs Dale – which she is famous for. She got to love the role – there were similarities between her and her character though – they both had sons about the same age – Mrs Dale had Bob and Ellis Powell’s son was Clive.

She also said that ‘like Mrs Dale’, she loved people and was interested in everybody and everything because at some point everyone is the central point in a history story.’

Now to a link which I have never seen mentioned before in any reporting of Ellis Powell – her father – quite famous and well connected he was.

Thomas Ellis Powell, born 1869 in Ludlow, England. Ellis married Rose Alberta Badams and they had three children – Mary Elizabeth Rose, Sidney & Agnes Estelle, born 1904 in London.
From 1909 – 1920 Thom. Ellis Powell held the position of Editor of the newspaper ‘Financial News’ He was a prolific author and his interests included politics, music and Psychic research.
In 1913, the eldest child, Mary, married Wilfrid Lindsay Sturt. To my knowledge they had one child, a girl.
Sidney was interested in film making.
Agnes became an actress using the professional name of Ellis Powell. During the 1950’s Agnes became a household name when she took the leading role in the B.B.C’s daily radio programme “Mrs. Dales Diary.”

Ellis Powell was named after her father, quite famous in his own way, and certainly a man of some standing with influential friends – details of his life as below :

Her father :-

Powell, Ellis T(homas) (1869-1922)

British barrister, journalist, and Spiritualist. Powell was born in Ludlow, Shropshire, and educated at Ludlow Grammar School. He served an apprenticeship to a draper in Ludlow, then came to London, where he became a journalist on the Financial News, eventually becoming editor. He mastered several languages, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. In his spare time, he studied law and became a barrister. Powell was a fellow of the Royal Historical and Royal Economic Societies, the Institute of Journalists, and the Royal Colonial Institute (member of council). He lectured at the London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London).

Powell became a supporter of the Spiritualist movement, travelling throughout Britain and lecturing on psychic subjects. He was a member of the British College of Psychic Science and was a council member of the London Spiritualist Alliance. He frequently contributed to the Spiritualist journal Light.

As a good friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Powell’s name figured in the séance conducted by Doyle and his wife for Harry Houdini. In 1922, when the Doyles were in Atlantic City, they met Houdini on the sea front. Lady Jean Doyle offered to give Houdini an automatic writing séance. This took place at the Ambassador Hotel, where they were staying.

Lady Doyle produced automatic writing purporting to come from Houdini’s dead mother. At the end of the message, Houdini took up the pencil and wrote on the pad—the name “Powell.” This convinced Doyle that Houdini was a medium, since his friend Ellis Powell had died a few days earlier. Houdini later stated the message claimed to be from his mother was not evidential, since she would have been unable to communicate in fluent English, moreover he had been thinking of Frederick Eugene Powell, a fellow stage magician.

As a barrister, Powell brought his legal training to the problem of what he termed the “barbaric legislation” against mediums, campaigning to amend the Witchcraft Act of George II, still used against mediums during the twentieth century. He died June 1, 1922. He was only 52 or 53


I wonder if he died of Influenza in the terrible epidemic of that the early twenties that ravaged the world. By 1922 it had all but fizzled out – but I just wonder

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