Meriel Forbes

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Meriel Forbes in 1943

Meriel Forbes, Lady Richardson (13 September 1913 – 7 April 2000) was an English actress. She was a granddaughter of Norman Forbes-Robertson and great-niece of Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson. After making her stage debut with her father's touring company in 1929 she progressed via provincial repertory to the West End, where she appeared continually from the 1930s to the 1970s.

She married the actor Ralph Richardson in 1944, and the couple regularly appeared together in London, and on tour in the UK, continental Europe, Australia and North and South America. She made her first film in 1934 and made fourteen more films between then and 1969.

Life and career[edit]

Forbes was born Muriel Elsa Florence Forbes-Robertson in Fulham, London, daughter of Frank Forbes-Robertson and his wife Honoria, née McDermot.[1] She was educated in Eastbourne, Brussels and Paris. At the age of sixteen she made her first stage appearance, in her father's touring company in 1929, as Mrs de Hooley in The Passing of the Third Floor Back by Jerome K Jerome. After a short spell with the Dundee Repertory company in 1931, she made her first London appearance in the same year, as Simone D'Ostignac in Porcupine Point by Gabriel Toyne.[2]

In 1931 she joined the Birmingham Repertory company, and then worked mostly in the West End. She was briefly engaged to Robert Morley in the 1930s and later had an affair with Robert Donat.[3]

In 1934 Forbes made her film debut in Girls, Please!, which starred the comic actor Sydney Howard.[3] Among her West End roles was Daisy in The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse (1937), which starred Ralph Richardson. Most of her roles were in modern plays, but she was also cast in the classics, including The Rivals (as Julia at the Old Vic, 1938), and the Strand in 1940. In 1940 and 1941 she served in the auxiliary nursing organisation the Voluntary Aid Detachment. In 1944 she married the widowed Richardson. They had one son, Charles, who became a television stage manager.[1]

Among the productions in which Forbes played in the early 1950s were The Philadelphia Story (1950) and The Millionairess (1953),[4] and several plays with her husband, including a Ruritanian comedy, Royal Circle (1948), in which she played Katerina Fantina, the royal mistress, and Home At Seven (1950) as the barmaid on whom the resolution of the plot hinges.[5] Richardson directed a film version of the play in 1952, with the couple playing their original stage roles.[3]

In 1955, together with Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson, the Richardsons undertook a long tour of Australia, in Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables and The Sleeping Prince. Forbes and Richardson appeared on Broadway in Jean Anouilh's The Waltz of the Toreadors (1957).[5] During Richardson's long West End run in Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry (1958), he had three leading ladies in succession: Celia Johnson, Wendy Hiller and finally Forbes.[5]

In 1959 Forbes took the part of the Duchess of Clausonnes in Noël Coward's Look After Lulu.[4] The title role was played by her old friend Vivien Leigh, whose marriage to Laurence Olivier was on the verge of breakdown; Forbes devoted much time to supporting and comforting her.[5] In 1962, Forbes played Lady Sneerwell to Richardson's Sir Peter Teazle in John Gielgud's production of The School For Scandal in London, New York and on a North American tour. Husband and wife were together again in 1964 as Bottom and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in a tour sponsored by the British Council, playing in South America, Lisbon, Paris, Madrid and Athens.[4]

In 1967 husband and wife appeared together in a BBC television series, with Richardson playing Lord Emsworth in dramatisations of P G Wodehouse's Blandings Castle stories, and Forbes playing Emsworth's bossy sister Constance. Their co-star was Stanley Holloway as the butler, Beach.[6] The performances divided critical opinion. The Times thought the stars "a sheer delight ... situation comedy is joy in their hands".[7] The reviewers in The Guardian and The Observer thought the three too theatrical to be effective on the small screen.[8] After fourteen films since 1934, her last screen role was in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969).[9]

In 1973-74 Richardson and Forbes toured the comedy Lloyd George Knew My Father in Australia and North America, with Forbes in the role of Lady Boothroyd previously played in the West End by Peggy Ashcroft, and later by Celia Johnson.[3]

The Richardsons lived in a large house near Regent's Park. After her husband died in 1983, Forbes moved to Belgravia. She was an enthusiastic supporter of theatrical charities. In 1994 she gave a lunch at the Connaught Hotel to mark Gielgud's ninetieth birthday. Her son predeceased her.[5]

Forbes died in London at the age of eighty-six.[3]

Film roles[edit]

Year Film Role
1934 Girls Please! Ann Arundel
1934 The Case for the Crown Shirley Rainsford
1934 Borrow a Million Eileen Dacres
1935 Mr. Cohen Takes a Walk Sally O'Connor
1935 Vintage Wine
1936 The Belles of St. Clements Natalie de Mailliere
1939 Come On George! Monica Bailey
1939 Young Man's Fancy Miss Emily Crowther
1942 The Day Will Dawn Milly, the barmaid
1943 The Bells Go Down Susie
1943 The Gentle Sex junior commander
1946 The Captive Heart Beryl Curtiss
1951 The Long Dark Hall Majorie Danns
1952 Home at Seven Peggy Dobson
1969 Oh! What a Lovely War Lady Grey

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Morley, Sheridan. "Richardson, Sir Ralph David (1902–1983)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2011, accessed 27 January 2014 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ "Gate Theatre", The Times, 15 September 1931, p. 10
  3. ^ a b c d e Vallance, Tom. "Obituary: Meriel Forbes", The Independent, 2 May 2000
  4. ^ a b c Gaye, p. 614
  5. ^ a b c d e "Lady Richardson", The Daily Telegraph, 14 April 2000, p. 12
  6. ^ "Blandings Castle – Lord Emsworth and the Crime Wave at Blandings", British Film Institute, retrieved 18 January 2014
  7. ^ Cooper, R W. "Wodehouse's Emsworth on TV", The Times, 25 February 1967, p. 7
  8. ^ Reynolds, Stanley. "Television", The Guardian, 25 February 1967, p. 6; and Richardson, Maurice. "Television", The Observer, 26 February 1967, p. 25
  9. ^ "Meriel Forbes", British Film Institute, retrieved 1 February 2014

References[edit]

  • Gaye, Freda (ed.) (1967). Who's Who in the Theatre (fourteenth ed.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. OCLC 5997224. 

External links[edit]