Kathleen Byron

A film star remembered for one role – as Sister Ruth in ‘Black Narcissus’ – that’s a bit unfair really because she was in lots of others and active on the stage and Television over a long career in acting.

These pictures are from a 1949 magazine and shows her in her Knightsbridge flat and were taken just before she made the film ‘ The Small Back Room’

She is here in her three b edroom apartment in Knightsbridge – and the caption even says the she ‘does her own housework’

She also designed the attractive furnishings herself

ABOVE – A service lift connects to the kitchen below to her dining room above.

She is a music lover and has a collection of French Cabaret songs

In 1943 she had married USAF pilot Daniel Bowen, and gone to live in the USA but there her film work never made any headway, so she came back to England. She was divorced from Daniel Bowen in 1950 so maybe when these pictures were taken the marriage was effectively over and she was living alone in London.

She must have returned in 1945 because she was in ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and then ‘Black Narcissus’ – both made here at Denham Film Studios

However it is the role of Sister Ruth that cements her well and truly in the British Film Hall of Fame for this wonderful portrayal which leaves the cinema audience at first frightened and then disturbed.

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Phyllis Calvert

I have just watched an episode of Midsomer Murders with John Nettles from the year 2000, and this looks to have been Phyllis Calvert’s last ever role – she died in 2002, ending a career in films and Television that spanned more than 60 years.

An early role was the love interest of George Formby in ‘Let George Do It’ from 1940, a story where George who is travelling with a Theatre Troupe somehow somehow gets on a boat to Norway where he is mistaken as from British Intellegence. Thus begins a quite exciting film – suitably intersperced with gaps to allow the famous George Formby songs which he delivers with his Ukelele

To star in a George Formby film at that was very much the icing on the cake for a young actress because these were extremely successful.

I recall a former Usherette saying that at that time, if there was a George Formby film on at the cinema, then it was a sell-out

Later, she again hit the jackpot with a series of British made films ‘Fanny By Gaslight’, ‘The Man in Grey’ and ‘Madonna of the Seven Moons’ alongside such actors as James Mason and Stewart Granger.

Madonna of the Seven Moons‘ is maybe the  best of these. Set in 1930s Italy, it tells the story of a young rape victim (played by Phyllis Calvert) who marries and has a daughter but, driven to madness by her early experiences, leads a double life. When gripped by madness, she loses all memory of her respectable life as the wife of a wealthy wine merchant and instead rushes into the arms of her gangster-lover, played by Stewart Granger.

Years later

Phyllis Calvert This Is Your Life

THIS IS YOUR LIFE – Phyllis Calvert, actress, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews  on the doorstep of her West London house.

Phyllis trained at the Margaret Morris School of Dancing and performed from the age of ten, gaining her first film role at 12. She acted in repertory theatre and in several films, before making her London stage debut in A Woman’s Privilege in 1939.

Her role in the Gainsborough Studios production of the melodrama The Man in Grey in 1943 confirmed her status as a leading actress, and during the following decade she starred in many romances, including Fanny by Gaslight and My Own True Love, becoming one of Britain’s highest paid film stars.

Phyllis also appeared on television, playing Mrs March in the 1958 serials Little Women and Good Wives, and in 1970, she landed the leading part of an agony aunt with problems of her own in the drama series Kate. I couldn’t remember this at all.

This programme went out on December 20th 1972

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Dad’s Army 2016

I watched this film again last evening and have to say I seem to enjoy it more each time – the casting of Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Naghy as Sergeant Wilson was an inspired choice because they slipped into the parts perfectly.

Bridlington old town stood in as Walmington on Sea and it just looked so much in the era of Wartime and conveyed an array of varied shops and of course the Bank

The thrilling climax to the film was shot at North Landing Flamborough just a few miles north and to see that U Boat rise out of the sea was brilliantly done.

I have read one review on imdb that said that we, as the audience, didnt have enough time to take on board everyone of the other members of the platoon who were all good though – and the comment was made that maybe they should have made TWO Dads Army films back to back by which time we would all have been on board. I think this is probably true.

I wish that they had done two films

What a scene this is – a German UBoat surfaces near Warmington On Sea

I mentioned the climax to the film earlier, and remember when we first saw it at the cinema on the big screen, almost jumping on the seat and cheering when that march past through Walmington On Sea took place to the famous Dad’s Army theme song as two Spitfires swooped overhead and away. Wonderful

ABOVE – One of my own pictures – and I love it – so dramatic

Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike

At the World Premiere on 26 January 2016 at The Odeon, Leicester Square in London

In the film one particular element had been used before – when Catherine Zeta Jones asks Mainwaring to remove his glasses which he does, she pretends to be very taken with his appearance – like Churchill

In an episode from 1970 of the original series, Mainwaring ( Arthur Lowe) becomes besotted with a woman called Mrs Gray, who comes to Walmington On Sea played by Carmen Silvera and she again asks for Mainwaring to take his spectacles off with a similar reaction – and in both cases they meet up in the town Tea Shop

In 1970 Carmen Silvera appeared in the Dad’s Army episode Mum’s Army as Fiona Gray, the love-interest for Captain Mainwaring, a role especially written for her by David Croft
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Radio Times from 1955

I remember that we had our first television set from early in 1952, when at that time we only had one channel BBC and even at the time that these Two Radio Times magazines were issued in March 1955 nothing had changed.

Then in September of 1955 ITV was introduced – so we had then two channels. Early sets had to be converted with an ‘add-on’ box that at the flick of a switch gave us the new channel.

ABOVE – Peter Scott was often on Television at that time from his home at Slimbridge

Looking back at the scheduling for Friday 1st April 1955, The Grove Family was on at 7-45 pm but it only ran for 15 minutes.

Transmission started at 3 pm and closed down at 4 pm then re-opened at 5 pm for one that I remember so well ‘The Cisco Kid’ followed by ‘The Range Rider’ and then we closed down again for an hour.

Then from 7 o clock we had the News, The Grove Family, a visit to Wells Cathedral with John Betjeman and after that Arthur Askey ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ – with very special guest Sabrina.

It does sound rather good – I would just love to sit down for an evening and watch that very programme

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The Heart of the Matter 1953

Yet another one with Maria Schell in it – hadn’t realised that until I came to look through the actors.

Also it is a film set in Sierra Leone. A dear friend and near neighbour of ours, who sadly passed away in 2012, had spent two years in the country during the War. He spoke very well of it, in that it was quite safe from German Bombers as they didn’t have the range, but the main dis-advantage was Malaria.

The weather is very hot and tropical so in many ways a paradise

Trevor Howard gives a capable performance as a British colonial policeman who is stationed in Sierra Leone caught up in a mid life crisis. He’s fallen out of love with wife Elizabeth Allan whom he sends away on money borrowed from a man who the authorities suspect of smuggling, an offence during wartime.

He also falls in love with Maria Schell, an Austrian refugee who with others had been on a life raft for 40 days at sea after Elizabeth Allan has been sent away. That and the fact that he now has the appearance of impropriety has his superiors questioning him after accusations were brought by another civilian Denholm Elliott.

Howard’s troubles are big, but he is his own harshest judge

Peter Finch played the priest, Father Rank in the film – he had just finished ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ for Walt Disney, then Gilbert and Sullivan and also a stage play in the West End with Laurence Olivier and shortly after this he was heading to Ceylon for ‘Elephant Walk’ with Vivien Leigh. As we all know by now, Vivien Leigh became ill in Ceylon and had to be flown back to Britain – her place was taken by Elizabeth Taylor.

Peter Finch

So we can see that Peter Finch was then a very busy actor

Trevor Howard looking quite stern

ABOVE – the actors and crew gather together on the set of the film

Arriving in Sierra Leone

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New Film Studios in England

Just about 70 years on from when the legendary Denham Film Studios were closed and later demolished, we learn of a renaissance because NEW film studios are to be built at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.

Sunset Studios the Hollywood studio facility that were behind such hits as “La La Land” and “When Harry Met Sally,” looks to be heading for Hertfordshire

Hudson Pacific Properties, who own Sunset Studios, have partnered with private equity firm Blackstone Group to create a film, TV and digital production facility in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.

It will be Hudson Pacific’s first international expansion. Together with Blackstone, they own 35 sound stages and on-site creative offices in the U.S.

The 91-acre site, which cost £120 million is less than an hour’s drive from Central London, and nearby Leavesden studios, where the “Harry Potter” and “Batman” franchises have been filmed.

Leavesden first came into use for ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995 – it was a former Rolls Royce Factory with its own runway at that time – in fact in that film the opening sequence set at the nerve gas establishment at Archangel in Northern Russia was mainly filmed on the runway.

I visited Leavesden around 1995 while the Bond film was in production and had a good long tour round it – it had huge amounts of space much as Denham had years before.

The sites will be about 15 miles apart.

Denham Film Studios

Denham Film Studios
The Denham Studio ‘Tank’ later changed to a Car Park

On Feb. 24th 1952 the last chapter in the story of Denham Film Studios was written when the final contents were sold by auction. It was in 1936 that Sir Alexander Korda opened the studios which were the largest in Britain, the first to be built here on Hollywood lines – and one of the largest if not THE largest in the world then

Denham was aimed at making British films of international importance and it drew to the studios world famous stars and directors.

Famous films made there included The Ghost Goes West ” and ”Rembrandt”. At one time the studio had 15 features on the floor. The last complete film made at the studio was Walt Disney’s ”The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Man” in 1951 – and released almost at the time of this closure.

Before that Walt Disney had produced his very first ‘live-action’ film there ‘Treasure Island’ with Robert Newton. The Deham Lake was used for the ‘landing on the island’ sequence

Since then it has been gradually dying, only being used for a few ”bits and pieces”, and for music recordings.

It should never have closed – and if it could have stayed around for another decade I am convinced that it would have been successful again.

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The Magic Box 1952

I hadn’t realised that the lovely actress Maria Schell was in this. She was later in that great film ‘So Little Time’ with Marius Goring – who actually was also in this film.

The film was also shown later in 1956 in the Kraft Television Theatre slot in America. NBC had purchased the film version for just one showing only and even then they trimmed the length of the film to 50 minutes.

Robert Donat give a typically moving performance as the British inventor who experimented with film making in his Bath studio.

This film was made for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and is notable not just as an interesting slice of nineteenth century history, but also for a parade of famous faces, all popping up in the film as though to pay homage to one of the founders of cinema.

In the cast are Laurence Olivier, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Ustinov, Stanley Holloway, Marius Goring, Sybil Thorndike, Sid James, Michael Redgrave, Joyce Grenfell, Michael Hordern and many more.

THE MAGIC BOX [BR 1951] ROBERT DONAT, FREDERICK VALK
I remember Frederick Valk in ‘Dead of Night’

William Freise-Greene ( Robert Donat )

William Green had changed his name to include his first wife’s so that it sounded more impressive for the photographic portrait work he was so good at.

He was also an inventor and his search for a way to project moving pictures became an obsession that ultimately changed the life of all those he loved.

Robert Donat with Maria Schell

With his wife played by Maria Schell

The film belongs to Robert Donat as the obsessed, but strangely appealing William Friese- Greene who helped give the world a new and universal medium of entertainment.

Robert Donat did not make many films but they are all memorable to such an extent that you always think of him as being prolific in the cinema. It is fair to say that he never gave a bad performance on the screen and William Friese-Greene ranks among his best.

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The Killer Shrews 1959

THE KILLER SHREWS (1959)

Sometimes, as we all know, scientific experiments go wrong with disastrous consequences – this is the pretext for many horror / monster / creature films of this era but we loved them.

This one tells the story of a scientist who created the killer shrews

Good Special effects

killer

To set the scene, arriving on a remote island Captain Thorn Sherman (James Best) and his first mate, Rook Griswold (Henry Dupree) are there to deliver supplies to scientist, Dr. Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet).  

Cragis is on the island with his daughter, Ann (1957 Miss Universe Ingrid Goude), her fiance Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis who also produced the film), and research assistant Dr. Radford Baines and servant, Mario (Alfred DeSoto).  

The group are on the island conducting experiments to prevent overpopulation – should that ever become a problem.  The Doctor’s theory revolves around the notion that if we had slower metabolisms and were half our size we’d live longer lives and the planet would survive on less.

Rook and the Captain approach the remote island
Rook and the Captain approach the remote island

On a normal day Captain Sherman would simply drop off the supplies and leave, but he and Rook become stuck there because of adverse weather conditions.

We soon see that Ann seems really nervous and Jerry Farrell is carrying a rifle and seems jumpy.  

We then learn the story of the Doctor’s experiments after Sherman accompanies the group to the house for a drink.

Rook stays behind with the boat.

Double Bill of Horror

It turns out that the serum that’s supposed to make mankind smaller and slower has been tested on small, rat-looking creatures and a few of them have mutated into GIANT KILLER SHREWS!

Dr. Radford Baines explains all about the shrews and the experimentation

In any case, Dr. Cragis’ shrews have mutated to pick-up all the bad characteristics of their species, which apparently includes developing both a horrendous over bite and a voracious appetite for flesh – human flesh at that.

These shrews also mate like rabbits and the few that escaped from the laboratory now number in the hundreds.  The main problem arises when it seems that the only food source left on the island  is the people!  

The Captain is now trapped inside the house with the others because the shrews will attack if they try to get back to the boat.  Meanwhile, little by little the shrews eat through the walls to get inside the house.

Landing on the Island – unaware of what terrors are ahead
A tense and frightening Scene

Now in constant danger the men take turns staying up through the night with guns in hand to kill any shrew who might get inside.  

The first one killed by the shrews is Rook Griswold when he attempts to reach the house during the night.  

Anyway Mario dies, and we soon learn, due to poison when he is bitten by the shrew on the shin because as the Doctor explains he’d tried to kill the beasts with poison, but they mutated to accept it.  

Dr. Baines also dies as a result of a shrew bite.  As the fast-acting poison works its way through his system he manages to type a list of all his symptoms before he keels over approximately 30 seconds later.  Now the group must not only fear being eaten alive, they have to avoid a mere scratch!

As daybreak approaches shrews come and shrews go, but the majority of the animals are out there and the tension builds.  

We do get some relief as Ann and the Captain have developed feelings for each other.  This in itself, leads anxiety for everyone because Jerry Farrell, Ann’s fiance doesn’t take to the flirting.  

A violent and Frightening end for Rook Griswold

Now that the house has been breached Captain Sherman, Dr. Cragis and Ann decide the only way to survive is to make it to the boat.  Farrell, now crazy with jealousy and fear decides to stay behind and fend for himself, which proves a bad decision, as he becomes fodder for the shrews.  

Meanwhile, the other three come up with an ingenious way to make it out of the house, across the island, into the ocean and onto the boat.  What they do is take empty barrels of oil, cut holes into them so as to see where they’re going, turn the barrels upside down and tie them together.  Each person then gets inside a barrel and walks that way towards the boat.  It’s very effective, if not without its perils as the terrifying shrews pursue them all the way.

Ann looks to where she's duck-walking...
Ann looks to where she’s walking…
teeth
The shrew is looking back at her

Luckily the oil barrel trick works and the three – miraculously – make it onto the boat – and live happily ever after.  The shrews are left to eat themselves on the remote island.

A colorised version of The Killer Shrews was released on DVD as a double feature with ‘The Giant Gil Monster’ which was made at the same time as The Killer Shrews and by the same producer and director.

ABOVE – The Colorised Trailer – Excellent

Both of these films got a National and International Release. The ‘Killer Shrews’ was made on a budget of 123,000 US Dollars and took over One Million Dollars at the Box Office – pretty good going.

I have seen much of the film and have to say it is well done and likeable. I certainly like the film.

They must escape ABOVE

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No Royal Road – David Farrar’s Autobiography

David Farrar wrote his Autobiography a little early maybe – in 1947 – and it does cover ‘Black Narcissus’ but not the later films – including his Hollywood ones and his trips over there with his family.

No Royal Road – the only picture I could find and not a very good one

This is not an easy book to get hold of – and in fairness, I haven’t read it but am given to understand that he was a man with a high opinion of himself.

I recall the story of a school trip by the Old Monrovians to Denham Film Studios where the film ‘Mr Perrin and Mr Traill’ was being made which also starred Marius Goring and Greta Gynt. Apparently all the actors particularly Edward Chapman were very helpful and friendly with the boys but David Farrar was not.

He appeared looking dis-interested, had a picture taken, and then just strode off and that’s the last the schoolboys saw of him.

He does come over as superior and supercilious and unfriendly.

When he retired from films, and after his wife died he went to live near his daughter in South Africa. He didn’t keep in contact with any of his colleagues in the film industry – and appeared to have few friends

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Radio Plays from Hollywood Stars

In the Forties and early Fifties Radio drama in the USA had a huge audience with up to 50 million listeners at times – enormous by today’s standards. Consequently many of the stars found it very rewarding to take on roles there

One of the most famous actors in films at the time, also made a great success of starring on Radio in drama and Serials / Series – was Ronald Colman.

Like many top film stars, Ronald Colman reprised several of his film roles for radio plays on Lux Radio Theatre andThe Screen Guild Theatre.

These included “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “None Shall Part Us”, “The Juggle of Notre Dame”, “Libel!”, “Rebecca”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “The Talk Of The Town”, “Lost Horizon”, “Random Harvest” and others.

One of Colman’s most dramatic pre-War radio appearances was on Mar 16, 1940 in an adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game”.

During the War Ronald Colman lent his support to Radio Tributes to the King and Queen in 1939.

Once America joined the War, he served on the front lines of the “Battle of Hollywood”.

One of Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume’s best loved contributions to Old Time Radio was as a part of a running joke on theJack Benny Programme.

On the Dec 9, 1945, broadcast, Jack is invited to dinner at his supposed next door neighbours, the Colman’s (in real life, the Benny’s and the Colman’s lived a few blocks apart). The joke went on for years, and included Jack getting robbed after he “borrowed” Ronald Colman’s Oscar statuette. It was such a popular routine that Jack revived it for his television programme using James Stewart and his wife as the neighbours.

Ronald Colman, his wife Benita Hulme and Jack Benny

The Colman’s had so much fun doing comedy with Jack Benny that when  writer Don Quinn came up with a new project, they were all ears. Quinn had written his ‘Halls of Ivy’ to star Gale Gordon and Edna Best but when the Ronald Colman’s found out about the concept, they jumped at it. 

The Halls of Ivy’ ran for 109 episodes on the radio, including “The Goya Bequest” which Ronald Colman wrote himself.

The show was more than light sitcom fare, featuring all kinds of stories including an unwed pregnancy – daring for the day.

It then went on to Televsion where thirty eight episodes followed – ‘The Halls of Ivy’ featured on CBS TV, mostly using scripts adapted from the radio programmes.

A Radio play from 1935

Ronald Colman passed away in May, 1958, battling acute emphysema. At the time of his death, he was contracted to star in MGM’s Village of the Damned. The film was eventually made by a British Production company starring George Sanders.

Sanders also married the widowed Benita Hume.

In England a couple tune in ABOVE

An exciting Scene

Top Stars played their famous roles for Radio – ABOVE and BELOW

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