Thora Hird played Mrs Dorbell in the 1949 film of The Cure for Love and this seems to have been her first contact with Greenwood. In this still from the film, seated next to the hero, Jack Hardacre (played by Robert Donat), Thora is barely recognisable. (1)
In 1953 Thora played a different part, Sarah Hardacre (Jack’s mother), in the same play in a BBC radio adaptation broadcast on the Home Service (18 and 23/4/1953). She and Greenwood became firm friends and she acted in and indeed inspired characters in two of his plays of the nineteen-fifties. Her performance in the play version of Greenwood’s Saturday Night at the Crown in 1957 was highly praised (almost to the point of eclipsing the rest of the cast and the play itself): ‘most will agree it has given her her best acting assignment so far’ (West London Observer, 20/9/1957, p. 4). Greenwood next wrote another play designed to emphasise her talents, Happy Days, about a couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary with friends at Blackpool. It was first performed at the Coliseum Oldham in November 1958 and then ran for a successful summer season actually in Blackpool. The Stage reviewer saw it as very much Thora Hird’s play and also as a play which updated generic traditions to some degree:
Walter Greenwood’s new vehicle for Thora Hird … is as near as anyone has come to contemporary Lancashire comedy. The county clichés of fish and chips, Wakes Week, club money, the family cat, are still there, but the approach is farther from the clogs and shawl than Mr Greenwood has yet travelled … this new-look Lancashire romp could be another novelty winner.’ (27/11/1958)
Thora Hird later remembered that Greenwood asked her to promise never to forget her own accent (the Listener, vol 11, 1989, p.11). In the first edition of her autobiography Thora Hird recalls how much she enjoyed being in Saturday Night at the Crown, which ‘seemed to punctuate my life for many years’ and is returned to across three chapters of her book (Scene & Hird – My Autobiography 1911-1974, W.H. Allen 1976; Harper Collins 1976, p. 262). Indeed, Thora played the part of Ada Thorpe in the play for the thousandth time at a run of the play at the Perth Playhouse, Australia, in 1972 (p.338, and supplementary information from the Stage, 24/2/1972, p.10). She also talked about her close and long friendship with Walter, though reports that they often argued about her lines – presumably whether the playwright’s original or her suggested amendments were the better version. She remembers several things about Greenwood which I have never seen recorded anywhere else. Firstly, that his favourite topic of conversation was British history, about which he was very knowledgeable, and secondly that Love on the Dole was sent back to him thirty-nine times before being accepted by Jonathan Cape (p.261). However, her contextualisation of the conversation about rejections of his novel as taking place during a ‘whiskey all-in’ might perhaps make one approach this evidence with some caution. I had always thought that Greenwood was not a drinker, but perhaps I need to revisit that perception.
For more about creative partnerships between Greenwood and other writers and performers, see Walter Greenwood’s Creative Partnerships
Note 1. Image use licenced by Alamy.
Note 2. Free use image from Wikipedia: 1974 photograph by Allan Warren.