Dora BRYAN (1923-2014)
THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Dora Bryan, actress, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the living room of her Brighton home.
Dora made her stage debut as a child in a pantomime in Manchester. She honed her craft over eight years with Oldham Repertory Theatre, eventually moving to London where she continued working in the West End theatre, as well as playing supporting roles in such films as The Blue Lamp and The Fallen Idol.
In 1961 she appeared in Tony Richardson’s film A Taste of Honey - a role which won her the BAFTA award for Best Actress.
Dora was honoured by This Is Your Life a second time in 1989.
“Tonight? Oh dear! I've got to do some auditions at four!”
Dora recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in her autobiography According to Dora...
A few weeks later somebody telephoned to ask if I would have some family background photographs taken for publicity for the new musical. I agreed, and was told the photographers would come the following morning. I was upstairs in the nursery next morning when Bill came in and said the photographers had arrived. I walked downstairs into the large dining-room-cum-playroom, carrying William. I thought there was rather a lot of equipment just for a few photographs, but I sat down on the sofa, facing what looked suspiciously like a television camera. Then a familiar voice said from behind me, ‘Hello, Dora,’ and the owner of the familiar voice walked in. It was Eamonn Andrews. ‘Hello, Eamonn,’ I said shakily. ‘What are you doing here?’ It didn’t take long to explain, and his next words were, ‘Dora Bryan – This is your life!’
The cameras began to roll as they filmed the introduction to what would take place in the evening at the studios. I was so taken aback that I said exactly what I felt – ‘Oh, how marvellous!’ And so it was, but this was not what the doctor ordered. A nursing mother needs peace and quiet. It was the start of a long exciting day for me, and marked the occasion of William’s introduction to the bottle.
I rushed around and found myself something to wear, and in the afternoon kissed the children goodbye, told the nanny they could sit up and watch the programme, and caught a train to London, and the BBC television studios. Sometimes This Is Your Life can be rather sad, or even occasionally embarrassing, and for some of the ‘subjects’ it is clearly something of an ordeal. This one was great fun, and just like a party. I enjoyed every minute of it.
One after another, in came so many of my favourite people. There was dear Auntie Jeff, my landlady when I had been at Colchester Rep; Joan Heal, with whom I’d always had such fun in revues; lovely Gladys Henson, who played the role of my mother in the film The Cure for Love, and young Robert Henrey, whom I had last seen as a small boy when we made the film The Fallen Idol, and who now was a handsome young man about town. They even brought on stage the ticket collector from the train, who on the night before my wedding had made me take my dog along to the luggage van, because he wasn’t allowed in my sleeper. How on earth did they find him, I wondered. I was hoping the BBC would have filmed a message from my brother John in South Africa. It never occurred to me that they would have gone to all the trouble and expense of flying him from Cape Town, and I must admit that when he walked on to the stage with his wife Marguerite, I cried a little from sheer happiness.
The producer had pulled a fast one by having Daniel rushed up to London by car with the nanny, and when he was brought on stage I was so surprised that I turned to my poor husband in front of the cameras and said, ‘What on earth is Daniel doing out at this time of night?’ That raised the biggest laugh of the evening.
After a lovely party, my brother John and his wife came back home with us and stayed on for a while.
One of Dora's guests, Robert Henrey, the former child actor who had worked with her in the film, The Fallen Idol, recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Through Grown Up Eyes, reproduced here with kind permission of the author...
I have no idea how the BBC learned of my whereabouts, but I was at work one morning checking a client’s ledger in a warehouse next to Waterloo Station. ‘You’re wanted on the phone’, I was told. The caller asked me point blank whether I remembered Dora Bryan. I could have hung up, but I didn’t. I had fond memories of Dora. She had played the brief but engaging role of the young prostitute who had been asked by the police to wheedle information out of the frightened little boy. It was a key scene: the child was marooned in the police station after his night time escape from what he imagined to be the scene of a heinous murder.
Had I ever watched a TV show called This Is Your Life? That was a tougher question to which the answer was hardly, if ever, but I did know it involved putting a famous person on stage and then inviting in, one by one, people that famous person had come across in the past. The idea was to surprise the famous person and then for everyone concerned to say clever and funny things. The show had been pioneered in America in the 1950s and then adapted for UK audiences where it met with enduring success.
Unhesitatingly, I accepted. I liked the idea that Dora was to be the famous person. She had made a name for herself as Rita Tushingham’s mother in the deservedly successful 1961 film A Taste of Honey. That was something Dora excelled at: a larger-than-life supporting role that added zest to the entire production. Besides, I was in need of stimulation: accounting, especially in its early stages, involves episodes of unremitting boredom.
The clincher was that I was offered a £30 fee: hardly a fortune, but in relation to my annual salary of £500 not something to be passed up. I can’t say I remember much about the actual show except that Dora was as gushing and welcoming as ever. She did, though, remember me as the little boy she had bounced on her knees on the police station set at Shepperton Studios.
on the guest list...