Dame Marie RAMBERT DBE (1888-1982)
THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Marie Rambert, ballet teacher and producer, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London’s Mercury Theatre.
Born Cyvia Rambam in Warsaw, Poland, and known to all as Mim, Marie studied dance first in Paris, then in Berlin with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, where she worked with Nijinsky.
She settled in London where she established a ballet school in 1920, and continued to study and teach. Through Ballet Rambert - her own company, and the first of its kind in Britain - Marie became one of the great pioneers of modern British ballet, inspiring countless dancers, choreographers and designers.
Marie recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in her autobiography, Quicksilver...
In 1962 I was made a Dame, much to my surprise. In that same year, I was the subject of the television programme This Is Your Life. I knew absolutely nothing about it in advance. My secretary told me only that I had been asked to do ‘an interview’ on television.
They wished to do the first few minutes in the print room at the Mercury, which is five minutes from my house. As the weather was appalling – melting snow, and dirty underfoot – a friend came to fetch me with a car. I did not know what I was to wear for the interview, so I took a case with me containing an evening dress, a day dress and some practice clothes. To be ready to change quickly, I did not trouble to do up the zip of the dress I was wearing. What was my surprise when the door of the print room was opened for me and I saw Eamonn Andrews, the producer, and a team of technicians under blazing lights, all ready to shoot.
I got very angry and would have been very rude to them for giving me this abominable surprise, as I was not fit to be seen, in my huge snow-boots, with a thick mohair scarf wrapped round my head. But then Eamonn Andrews put a big card in front of my eyes on which was printed ‘This is Your Life!’ Until that moment the secret had been kept from me most scrupulously, the whole point of the programme being that the ‘victim’ had no idea of what was going to happen. I began to unwind my hideous mohair scarf, then feverishly tried to zip up my dress – all of which was later seen on screen. It turned out to be one of the happiest events of my life.
The programme was shown that evening, and after the incident at the Mercury I had to promise not to divulge the secret. My secretary was allowed to ring a few of my friends and advise them to watch television that night, but under no circumstances reveal my name.
For the programme proper I was called on the stage and took a seat. Presently Karsavina appeared, said a few sweet things about me, kissed me and disappeared. Then came Ashton – same procedure. Then my adored Sally Gilmour, who had flown from Melbourne the previous night specially for the programme. Then the old lady, over ninety years of age, who had been my first accompanist in 1906. John Gilpin and Belinda Wright appeared.
Then there was a shot of the Metropolitan Theatre in New York, and I heard Antony Tudor’s voice – also one of my artists – from Montreal. Then the voice of my younger daughter. She was living in Trinidad at the time – and I was thrilled to hear her. But Eamonn Andrews told me to look round – and there she was, large as life and smiling. She also had been flown in specially for that programme.
Then there was a shot of the jungle in South Africa and Peter Scott with a little bird in his hand, talking to me and reminding me how I had taught him to do cartwheels when he was my pupil during the first war. He added: ‘I believe I could still do them, shall I try?’ and promptly executed a couple of perfect ones. It was all incredibly exciting and at moments very moving.
After the performance they gave me a supper party with all the people who had been brought together for the occasion. As I was walking in on Eamonn Andrews's arm, I whispered to him: ‘is it not marvellous that you, who had never met me before, should have had it in your power to make me so happy?’ He tapped me on the shoulder and said laughing: ‘And earn my living at the same time.’
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