Dame Margaret Rutherford

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Then came along the role that she was so destined for, that of Miss Letitia Prism in Anthony Asquiths ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1952). Incredibly despite a whole string of very capable and distinguished performances – she had still not won a single film honour. More comic characters followed including Prudence Croquet in ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’ (1955), and, quite properly part of those self-conscious celebrations of British cinema, ‘The Magic Box’ (1951).

She was then Mrs. Fazackalee in Basil Deardens ‘The smallest show on Earth’ (1957) with such notables as Virginia McKenna, Peter Sellers and Leslie Phillips. For much of the 60’s she become synonymous with Miss Jane Marple) although a particular favourite of mine is the 1963 film The Mouse on the Moon. She also was awarded an OBE for services to stage and screen in 1861.

She evatually got some recognition from her peers winning the Oscar and Golden Globe for her role as The Duchess of Brighton in ‘The VIPs’ (1963) directed by Anthony Asquith. Also that year Agatha Christie dedicated her 1963 novel "The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side" to Rutherford in admiration of her work.

Orson Welles made an art house tribute by casting her as Mistress Quickly in ‘Chimes at Midnight’ (1965). Two years later her OBE was elevated to DBE making her a Dame of the British Empire. She finished working a year later although she read a number of stories on the childrens programme Jackanory (BBC1).
She was married to actor Stringer Davis from 1945 to her death – she also appeared in several films with him.

One of their children was writer Gordon Langley Hall, who underwent a sex-change operation in 1968 and later wrote a biography of Dame Margaret Rutherford under the name ‘Dawn Langley Hall’. Dame Margaret was a cousin of the radical left-wing Labour politician Tony Benn. Towards the end of her life she started to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, Dame Margaret Rutherford died in 1972 at the ripe old age of 80.


'I hope I'm an individual. I suppose an eccentric is a super individual. Perhaps an eccentric is just off centre - ex-centric. But that contradicts a belief of mine that we've got to be centrifugal'

‘It was during this run that I had one of those nerve-racking experiences that every actress dreads. Real antique chairs had been hired for the production and one of them was tunnelled with woodworm; while I was sitting on it during one scene it suddenly collapsed under me like a pack of cards. Everyone in the audience could not help but see what was happening. What to do? I did the natural thing. I simply clung to George Howe, who was playing Chasuble, in helpless giggles. I have always thought that an actor or actress who does not laugh on stage when some comic disaster occurs has something missing in his humanity and artistic make-up. Oddly enough I was to have the same traumatic experience in America. I must be the only actress in history to be grounded by woodworm both sides of the Atlantic.’


'An Autobiography' 1972

Suggested films to see:

The VIPs (1963)
Blithe Spirit (1954)
Chimes at Midnight(1966)








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