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The longest lunch: Thora Hird
on 4 April 2012
The longest lunch I ever had was with Thora Hird, an actress whose modesty was as remarkable as her talent: it lasted around five hours, and it was a pleasure to meet her then as it is a pleasure to remember now. So how did that conversation go? Here is some of it:
Thora Hird left school at 14, sold music on the pier, played the piano in the kitchen, tap-danced, worked for her father in his office.(he was manager of Morecambe's West End pier for a time, then moved to the Alhambra), and worked for Blundell the draper (shrouds, ties, modesty vests).
She wore a navy blue dress, black silk stockings and dark knickers to Blundell's. There were Victorian hat pins that had to be rubbed with emery paper, and 32 boxes with brass handles that required cleaning. Thora was fired after being accused of stealing a halfpenny. Mrs Blundell was convinced the halfpenny had been stolen, and Thora was terrified of the woman who was "like a tram ticket sideways, she was so thin." Father said she should quit. Thora, appalled by the accusation, gave her employer a few sharp words, and thereafter went to the Co-op for a job, which she got after describing to a committee in cheerless surroundings the appalling saga of the halfpenny in all its detail.
"It was Christmas Eve. I took two half crowns out of my money box and nipped across from the shop to the Benefit boot shop for a pair of slippers for my mother. They cost four shillings and elevenpence halfpenny (25p ). I put the halfpenny change in my pocket. When I returned to Blundell's and bent down, the halfpenny rolled away." Mrs Blundell drew her own conclusions.
It was a highly dramatic moment in a life signposted by them.
George Formby spotted her in a Morecambe stage play and he said, "We'll send somebody up to see you." The somebody was the casting director of Ealing Studios. "There he was in a most beautiful camel coat, good trilby, eyeglass dangling. I said, , Are you on holiday?' He said no -he had come to see me play. And what do you think I said? -'But the fare is £3 7s 9d!" A white fiver arrived to take her to a film test in London and she was put under contract at £10 a week if there was no work, and £10 a day if there was work. Thora' s conscience was upset again.
It went on from there...