Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Beryl Laverick

Blackheath actor, art student and sitter in a lost painting by Phyllis Dodd

Churchman's Cigarettes: In Town Tonight, Miss Beryl Laverick, no 20 of 50.
Collection of the author.

At thirteen years of age Beryl Laverick was chosen to play Alice in Alice in Wonderland at the Little Theatre, Adelphi in the West End. The woman responsible for the casting, Miss Price, described Laverick as having ‘… a wonderful future on the stage. I regard her as a remarkable discovery. She has never acted in any production yet, but already I can see greatness in her.’[1] She was also believed to have the closest resemblance to John Tenniel’s depiction of Alice.[2]

Photograph of Nova Pilbeam (holding a bouquet of flowers) at the screening of the Little Friend at New Cross Kinema, Beryl Laverick (wearing the dark coat) is stood immediately to the right of her.
Conservatoire Collection.

Laverick was one of three students who were extremely highly regarded members of Gertrude Burnett’s Elocution and Drama classes at the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music along with Nova Pilbeam and Elaine Smorthwaite (later Elaine Benson). All three students were awarded half scholarships for tuition sponsored by Gertrude Burnett.[3] Laverick accompanied Beryl Laverick to the special screening of The Little Friend held at the New Cross Kinema by Gaumont in 1934 (see above).[4] Laverick had also appeared in, by this time The Constant Nymph and The Unfinished Symphony, her best known roles.

As well as attending the BCM Laverick also studied at the Blackheath School of Art. Douglas Bliss remembered her attending classes in one of his letters describing the school in the 1930’s. By this time her acting career had taken off and she was very popular. The classes, which I am assuming were Book Illustration and Wood Engraving were taught by Bliss on Monday evenings were interrupted by various suitors and photographers. Beryl Laverick obviously made an impression on Bliss as he wrote many years later:
'I remember best one who was very pretty a dancer who was gifted in many ways. She was Beryl Laverick who soon married Maudling the Tory MP. She was acting in the West End as A[lice] in Wonderland when she joined my class. It was once or twice interrupted by Beryl’s “sugar daddies” and press photographers.'[5]

Phyllis Dodd, Olga in her flounced dress, 1930. 
Image courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.
Phyllis Dodd, Beryl Laverick, mid 1930's. Current location unknown.
Image courtesy of Rosalind and Prudence Bliss.

Phyllis Dodd, Bliss’ wife, and accomplished portrait painter enjoyed keeping her skills fine-tuned by painting portraits when the opportunity arose. The sitters included teaching colleagues, Olga Whitton, in a stunning fabric dress being one such example (see above), and also students who were at the Blackheath School of Art. Dodd painted a portrait of Margaret Rattray, a pupil at the art school and also one of Beryl Laverick (see above). Sadly the portrait of Beryl Laverick has gone missing and all we have is a black and white reproduction although Rosalind and Prudence Bliss have confirmed that Laverick was portrayed wearing a striking, bright red sweater. The last we know of it is when Dodd’s daughter, Rosalind, brought it to the Blackheath School of Art to be loaned with along with Dodd’s Portrait of Mrs Martin in 1984. Records of the committee meeting minutes only describe one painting being loaned to the Art School and we assume that this was the painting of Mrs Martin (I will write more about this in my entry on Bliss and Dodd soon). If you have seen this painting or know of its whereabouts please do get in touch.

[1] 'Star Aged Thirteen as Alice in Wonderland', Daily Mirror, 12 December 1932, p. 4. Laverick was born on 12 June 1919.
[2] loc. cit. This is referred to in a caption below a photograph from the same article. It is also believed that this might have had something to do with her having a large size head. A drawing by William Kerridge Haselden of Laverick and various co-stars, which was reproduced in Punch, can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum - (the image is still in copyright so cannot be reproduced here)
[3] Laverick was described as ‘one of three little Elocution students at Blackheath Conservatoire of Music, who have been chosen for Christmas Plays in town this year.’ from 'Clever Children to Star in this Year’s London Stage Shows', Kentish Independent, 16 December 1932.
[4] This photograph is on display in the Waiting Room of the Conservatoire and is inscribed on the reverse:
‘Photo taken on the occasion of a visit to the New Cross Kinema, by invitation of the British Gaumont, of a party from the Blackheath Conservatoire, including Nova Pilbeam (pupil here for nearly 5 years), to see the film ‘LITTLE FRIEND’, in which Nova Pilbeam takes the principal [principle] part.Nova Pilbeam may be seen in the picture being congratulated by Mr William Dunn, Chairman of the BCM.’
[5] DP Bliss letter to Neil Rhind, Monday 6 April, 1981, p. 3. Laverick married Reginald Maudling in 1939.

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