Ethel Muriel Ashton AM (11 November 1903 – 21 October 1999), known professionally as Queenie Ashton, was a British-born soprano and English and Australian character actress and comedian. She had a long career, primarily on radio, although she was also a renowned theatre actress, a specialist in voice production and drama who added television and film performances to her impressive repertoire. She was particularly known for her role as "Granny Bishop" a character many years her senior in the long-running Gwen Meredith radio serial Blue Hills.
Ethel Muriel Ashton was born in London, England on 11th November, 1903. She was an accomplished ballet dancer, who started performing when she was fourteen. She appeared in musical comedy on the London stage (even appearing with playwright Noël Coward), and performed for Dame Nellie Melba in 1927 while travelling to Australia through the Suez Canal.
She played Budge's mother in "Budge's Gang", a segment of the ABC Children's Session (ca. 1941–45 and it was so popular it was made into a comic book). Most notably, she played the wife of Dr. Gordon and the long-running role of Granny Bishop (a character many years her senior) in the radio serial Blue Hills, for the entire 27 years of the serial's run (1949-76 - indeed, hers were the very first and last spoken parts). She also played this role on Australia's first television serial Autumn Affair. In 1957 she appeared in a one-off television play called Tomorrow's Child. Other television roles included Division 4, Certain Women (as "Dolly Lucas"), The Restless Years (as "Jessica Metcalf"), and Mother and Son. She was a semi-regular cast member of A Country Practice (as "Lillian Coote") and G.P. (as "Mrs Sculthorpe") film roles included Mama's Gone A-Hunting, opposite Judy Morris, and also appeared in many television commercials most notably for Sara Lee. She was still performing in stage and cabaret plays and films in her nineties and was one of Australia's last great grand dames and one of the oldest entertainers still performing. She died on the 23rd October, 1999, in the Sydney suburb of Carlingford, New South Wales at the age of 95, she had a successful 80-year career in the arts.
In 1931 she married Lionel Lawson (who died in 1950), violinist and later leader of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; they had a daughter, nurse Janet Lawson, in 1933 and a son, Tony Lawson, in 1935. They divorced and around 1945 she married theatrical agent John Cover, managing director of Central Casting.
Selected stage appearances
- Kid Boots with Leslie Henson at the Winter Garden, London (1926)
- Sunny as "Sue Warren" at the Empire Theatre, Sydney (1927)
- Rio Rita as "Carmen" at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne (1929)
- Whoopee! at the Empire Theatre, Sydney (1929)
- The Patsy (play by Barry Conners) as the nasty elder sister (1944)
- Anna Christie for the John Alden Company with Leonard Thiele and Lyndall Barbour (1951)
- A Victorian Marriage (1951 play by Warwick Fairfax)
- Always Another Dawn (1948)
- Tomorrow's Child (1957) (TV play)
- Lady in Danger (1959) (TV play)
- Pardon Miss Westcott (1959) (TV play)
- Mama's Gone A-Hunting (1977)
- The Year My Voice Broke (1987)
In 1950 she won the Macquarie Network's award for "best performance by an actress in a supporting role" (in "Edward, My Son").
- O'Meara, Maeve (27 November 1983). "Queenie's high kick at 80". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 63. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
- Atkinson, Ann; Linsay Knight; Margaret McPhee (1996). The Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia: Opera, dance, music. Allen & Unwin. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-86373-898-9. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
- Webber, Graeme (26 October 1999). "NSW:Radio serial star Queenie Ashton's final farewell". AAP General News (Australia). Retrieved 28 December 2009. (Registration required.)
- "Women in Early Radio, Queenie Ashton, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia". Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
- Crocker, Patti Radio Days (with foreword by Queenie Ashton), Simon and Schuster 1989 ISBN 0-7318-0098-2
- Lane, Richard The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama Melbourne University Press 1994 ISBN 0-522-84556-8
- Sydney Morning Herald 1 October 1953
- Sydney Morning Herald 28 January 1927
- The Argus 26 January 1929
- Sydney Morning Herald 17 June 1929
- Sydney Morning Herald 2 February 1944
- Sydney Morning Herald 22 April 1951
- Sydney Morning Herald 30 June 1951
- The Argus 12 February 1951
- It's an Honour
- Read more about Queenie Ashton, and listen to an oral history interview done with her on the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's website.
- Visit the National Film and Sound Archive's Women in Early Radio collection for more information about the history of women in radio in Australia.
- Queenie Ashton at the Internet Movie Database