Betty was a well-known Barford character having lived in the village for almost 30 years. Her memorial service was held on December 18th 2014 in Barford St Peter’s Church and we print below the two eulogies given by David Hall and Tim Barlow.
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By David Hall
A few snippets on Betty’s early life that I have gleaned on going through her papers etc. and through talking to her.
She was born on the 25th November 1916 at home in Friern Barnet, North London.
Her parents were Edgar Croft Corbridge, a commercial clerk aged 43 and May Elizabeth Beecher, aged 34. They already had a daughter, Dora, who was 6 years old when Betty was born.
Betty attended Norfolk House School, a private school in Muswell Hill, and remained at this same school until leaving at age 16.
In 1923 aged 7, she won a school prize for General Progress, and 9 years later in the Senior Form, a prize for French. Both the prizes were books, which she kept for the rest of her life.
She also kept school photos in which she is seen with an array of medals adorning her gym slip. I once asked her if these were Good Conduct Medals. “Good Conduct” she snorted ”Good heavens no! They were for gymnastics!”
Betty left school aged 16 and worked for a few years as a secretary for a Commercial College. Then in August 1936 she joined the City of London College in the Admin Department.
Her father died in April 1941 aged 68, having risen to be Superintendent of Supplies for London County Council.
In 1943, Betty founded the ENTENS Amateur Dramatic Society. Called Entens for the simple reason that they were based in the London Postal District of N10. Rumours that Barford Drama Group is to be renamed “SEEVEE THIRTY FIVES” in her memory are totally without foundation!
In 1946 Joyce Willson joined ENTENS and so began a partnership that was to endure until Joyce’s death in 2002.
Betty went on to direct and occasionally act in 145 full length plays over a period of 40 years between 1944 and 1984, at the rate of 4 a year.
She was also a very keen tennis player and played in and won several tournaments around this time.
In October 1951 she left the City of London College and joined the regional Advisory Council for Technological Education rising to be Office Superintendent by 1968. During her time with the Council, she organised several Overseas Conferences and subsequently, following her retirement at the end of 1976, was awarded the MBE in February 1977 for her services to education.
Betty’s mother died at the end of 1977, aged 95, her sister Dora having died 5 years earlier.
Having no further family ties, Betty and Joyce decided by 1984 that they would like to move out of London, and on the recommendation of friends who had already moved from London, joined them in the village of Barford.
By Tim Barlow,
Barford Drama Group Chairman
In 1985, I received a phone call from a lady asking is she and her companion might join Barford Drama Group. I said we were always interested in new members, and asked if she had done anything before…..
At the time, Barford Drama Group already had a busy programme of full length plays, festival offerings and the Music Hall was in its infancy. Previously we had raised money to put a stage into the village hall and buy lighting and sound equipment.
Betty and Joyce first saw the group on stage in the village Hall in a performance of the one act play, “The Jar “. We had already got to the regional heats of the All England Competitions and were due to perform at Stamford Hall the next week. Betty was not a little surprised when one of the main actors, needing a prompt, walked into the wings to collect it. From now on we would take our prompts correctly. ‘The Company – Betty’s words – would become a little more professional.
Betty’s first BDG production was “When We are Married” by J.B. Priestley – a play that she had done in London. The play was set and we were sent away to learn our lines. When, at the subsequent rehearsal, we (mostly the men) had not learned our lines we realised that the lady meant business. The play, like many others, was a sell-out, a great success. Betty had arrived.
How best to describe the thoroughness of Betty’s approach? One of her early productions was Charles Dickens “Hard Times”. After one rehearsal I mentioned to Betty that I could not get a clear picture of how she wanted me to play Thomas Gradgrind. Returning from work the next day, an envelope on the mat contained seven sides of notes explaining the character and how she would like him played.
Betty always had a very clear idea of what she wanted from each rehearsal and for the cast at that stage. Rehearsals began promptly at eight and finished around ten – job done! (Present producers please note!) Notes made during setting were referred to “But Betty you said…” “No I didn’t!” Corrections were made. Occasional comments such as “Wendy dear, J.B. Priestly’s words are quite good if you could try them”
Absence from rehearsals was unusual and unexplained non-attendance even rarer. Picture the scene one Sunday afternoon we are into the second half of rehearsal with no sign of Sandy [Peirson]. He then appears at the back of the stage with a bowl and spoon eating his pudding. We watched like gleeful schoolchildren. Betty corners Sandy at the back of the stage. He continues to clean his dish. We could not hear what was being said but Sandy has never been the same.
We were warned that if the play was not good enough it would not go on. Thankfully this never happened. As rehearsals improved performance the pressure lessened, compliments flowed and we were told “I think we have a play”. Betty would retire to the back of the hall and continue to laugh at comedy she had heard many times before.
The progress to performance from this point was usually fairly easy, but on one occasion was challenged. ‘Betty I can’t come to the dress rehearsal, I’ve got an audition at The Loft”. Time appeared to stand still. Needless to say, the actor was present at the dress rehearsal.
Although not a great fan of festivals, Betty produced a number of one-act plays that were successful at local and regional level. It would be an understatement to say that she did not always see eye to eye with adjudicators. This was especially so with local festivals where amateur adjudicators left her bemused and disappointed. She was much happier facing the challenge of a three-act play, and there were many of them.
“The Stratford Herald”, reviewing “You Can’t Take it with You” used the headline “Sure-footed in Barford”. Generally after her careful preparation, Betty’s cast did feel sure-footed.
Things did not always go according to plan, Betty being delighted when the cast still coped. Leslie Frampton’s ad-lib “Has anyone got a shilling for the meter?” when the lights failed in “Tim and the Conways” delighted her. Likewise the cast re-arranged the set when Jane’s [Scott] chair collapsed during “Outside Edge” and many of the audience thought this was part of the play.
Betty also had a great sense of mischief. In “Tim and the Conways”, Act 3 precedes Act 2 and challenges the audience to follow this. After coffee, the cast were on stage ready to start again, but Sue Hobbs, the prompt, was missing. Betty motioned to us to start. When Sue raced back to her seat we were well into a scene that had no roots in Priestly. Sue continued to search the text for any sign of this dialogue, and only stopped when she noticed Betty’s gales of laughter.
As well as producing many plays, Betty was a member of the Programme Committee, organised Readings, Theatre Trips, Children’s Workshops and produced items for the WI and “Christmas is Coming”. No11 Fairfax Close became a resource centre for scripts, costumes, advice or just a good natter.
In truth, Betty would rather the group did a full length play rather than the Music Hall, but nevertheless produced many items for this. She loved the large scale production numbers. People still talk about “Nut and Bolt”, AKA Corbridge and Willson, or was it the other way round? And such acts as “The Coybells”. Aged 93, Betty appeared, looking good in fishnet tights. Whatever she did was well-prepared and “stage ready” at the first audition.
Betty last appeared on stage in the Music Hall reading a poem which included the line “Bollocks said the King” – not her greatest, but produced with great enthusiasm. The audience received it well, but in truth it was not a very strong item, and some of it she had not done very well. The audience were not applauding the poem, they were showing their affection and appreciation for the lady herself.
David has already talked about the superb eulogy Betty gave at Joyce’s funeral. At the end she turned and said “Thank you Joyce”.
On behalf of the Drama Group, and the village,
Thank you Betty
These eulogies given at Betty’s Memorial Service in Barford St. Peter’s Church, December 18th 2014.