Stuck-up stars are noth­ing like this dame

Os­car-win­ning ac­tress Dame Wendy Hiller in­sisted on be­ing called plain Mrs Gow Don­ald Stan­ley re­veals the star with her feet on the ground

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - PEOPLEANDPLACES -

THE ac­tress Dame Wendy Hiller was once de­scribed as a kind of anti-star: one hus­band, one house, one fam­ily. My first en­counter with Mrs Gow, as she pre­ferred to be known in Bea­cons­field, was when I was work­ing in my gar­den when an el­derly lady on a bi­cy­cle stopped to en­quire hes­i­tat­ingly if she might take some fallen crab ap­ples.

Lit­tle did I know how im­pe­ri­ous she could be if oc­ca­sion de­manded as when an of­fi­cial pre­sumed to in­ter­rupt her de­vo­tions in the Parish Church to de­mand the re­moval of her car in prepa­ra­tion for the May Fair. One look from her and the car re­mained parked. Few who saw ‘Crown Mat­ri­mo­nial’, based on the Ab­di­ca­tion Cri­sis, will for­get her trans­for­ma­tion into the for­mi­da­ble Queen Mary.

Born in Manch­ester, Wendy was sent to school in south­ern Eng­land to lose her north­ern ac­cent to bet­ter her fu­ture chances of mar­riage. What re­sulted was the ac­qui­si­tion of a voice de­scribed as her great­est dra­matic as­set which, com­bined with a highly pho­to­genic fa­cial struc­ture, charm, frank­ness, and the abil­ity to ex­change such roles as that of a flower girl in the film of ‘Pyg­malion’ for a Countess in ‘Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press’ put her stamp on a suc­ces­sion of plays and films. Aged 18 she joined the Manch­ester Reper­tory Com­pany re­main­ing un­no­ticed un­til suc­cess as Sally Hard­cas­tle in an adap­ta­tion for the stage of ‘Love On The Dole’ by a school­mas­ter, Ron­ald Gow, who later be­came her hus­band. This led to parts in plays and films based on such works as those of Ge­orge Bernard Shaw and Ib­sen. She re­ceived an Academy Award, the OBE in 1971 and was made a Dame in 1975. Sadly, her Os­car was stolen and never re­cov­ered.

In the 1940s Wendy and her hus­band moved Strat­ton Road, Bea­cons­field. As Mrs Gow do­mes­tic­ity took prece­dence over ca­reer. In re­turn for the sight of vis­its by fa­mous stage folk, her neigh­bours would post­pone lawn mow­ing and chil­dren’s games un­til af­ter her af­ter­noon rest. She would then be taken to the West End by a lo­cal driver who, if held up in traf­fic, would find him­self pressed into ser­vice to help re­hearse her lines.

She sup­ported lo­cal am­a­teur dra­matic so­ci­eties and was pres­i­dent of the Chiltern Shake­speare So­ci­ety. Ron­ald died in 1993 and Wendy ten years later at the age of 90. Their house, ‘Spin­dles’, has been de­mol­ished.

Ac­tress Wendy Hiller as El­iza Doolit­tle on the set of Pyg­malion in 1938

Wendy Hiller with Lau­rence Olivier, above, and, right, as a lead­ing lady

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