genealogy of the Jeffrey and Nott families
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Gladys Cowper

Well maybe not a star of stage and screen but she did have some success on the stage and a small part in the Ealing Comedy "Passport To Pimlico", but more on this later.

Whilst many of the Cowper family changed the spelling of their surname to Cooper, Gladys and her parents retained the original Scottish spelling but to be consistent I have used Cooper throughout this website for all of the Cooper / Cowper families as various records show either spelling. However for this page, I will use the Cowper surname for Gladys as that is what she was personally and professionally known by.

Gladys's showbiz career spanned the 1940's after which she worked for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a major UK and international company perhaps best known for "Dulux Paints". The company has since been taken over but the "Dulux" brand lives on. It was whilst working for ICI that an article appeared, written by Gladys, in their staff magazine which is reproduced below:-

This is her story .....

.....Singing, I had decided, was to be my career. I was studying hard at the Royal College of Music and aiming for the opera world. But acting and movement are equally important on the stage, whether in grand opera or the lightest of musical shows and so I decided to take a course of acting and dancing at the famous stage school of Italia Conti. The first thing I was told there was that the theatre is 25% talent and 75% good luck.

Most students attending a stage school have an audition arranged for them by the school when they are considered good enough, my first experience of auditioning was somewhat unorthodox.

I was returning to the Conti School after several weeks away with jaundice when I met another Conti student who told me she was going to the Lyric Theatre for her first audition. I felt the butterflies in my stomach for her. How wonderful to have an audition in a London theatre! She asked me to play truant and go to give her courage, stressing how important it was for me to watch an audition and to learn what would be expected of me when my turn came. I was enthralled with the idea, particularly when she told me the audition was for "Waltz Without End" which had been running at least five months and was now coming off to do a provincial tour.

I don't know which of us was trembling the most as we walked through the stage door. The keeper asked for our auditioning cards and my friend showed hers , explaining I was merely accompanying her. This appeared to satisfy him and he told us to go through the door marked "Stage - No Smoking". On the other side of that door my trembling turned to shaking. The stage was so dimly lit, only a working light and a row of footlights in an unflattering shade of amber were being used. A piano tinkled in the pit while a soprano sang one of Novello's well known tunes, then a voice from the auditorium said a line that must be the most famous in ant theatre: "That's enough, thank you very much." I didn't realise it then but I later learned that that's the thumbs down for any auditionee.

As we stood watching, the stage manager walked over to my friend, asked for her name and address and type of voice and then told her that she was on next. She went over to the pianist and discussed her music, and then the voice from the stalls said "Thank you, you may begin." Her voice sounded quite confident, for the stage school had rehearsed her through her song and had also taught her a musical comedy dance which she did with such grace that I envied her calm and poise.

Watching keenly from backstage, I did not notice the stage manager walk over to me and was rather startled when he turned to me and saying "Do you sing?" I told him I did and explained that I had only gatecrashed to hear my friend's audition. He didn't seem to think this was important and merely asked "Are you a soprano?" Uneasily, I answered "Yes". To my amazement he replied "OK". Two more to be heard then you can go on." and marched off.

My friend had finished her audition. She had not been stopped halfway through, which was a good sign. When she came over to me I quickly told her that I could do an audition if I wished. Suddenly I had the urge to try my luck but hadn't a scrap of music with me. "I've a pile of music, look through it, you must find something you know" said my friend obligingly. I could find nothing I knew. There was only a song by Ivor Novello, the music of which I knew but not the words, the same song the girl had been singing when we entered through the stage door. I think it must have been the producer's nightmare, for nearly every other soprano would sing it on these occasions to show off her voice.

We had only about five minutes in which to write down on the back of a used envelope. As I walked forward to hand the pianist my music, a numbness I had never known before crept over me. I remember gluing my eyes on that small envelope as I sang the first line. After that first line I remember no more but somehow I managed to get through the whole chorus.

The stage school had always told us how important it was to give a first impression at auditions by paying particular attention to make-up, hair and clothes. Walking unsteadily from the stage into the prompt corner I was horrified when I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I had taken my doctor's advice about keeping well wrapped up after jaundice and so in slacks, a thick rolled neck sweater and brogues I had ventured out that cold February morning. In the confusion of finding and writing out the words of a song I had not combed my hair and my nose had not been powdered since I had left my home. With heavy heart I wandered back to my friend.

The audition over, one sensed the nervous tension as the artists stood around in huddles awaiting the results of their morning 's ordeal. The producer and musical director then came up from the stalls and handed a paper to the stage manager who in a clear voice sais "Come forward all of you whose name I call. The others may go." My heart was thumping heavily as in a monotone he went down the list. My friend's name was called out and afterwards - I couldn't believe my ears - mine! My foot was on the first step of that very fragile ladder.

We rehearsed in London for two weeks before opening at the Hippodrome, Bristol. I felt a millionaires when I was handed my first week's rehearsal pay of £ 3 (artists earning under £ 10 a week in those days were paid for rehearsals) but the feeling soon left me when after budgeting for meals out, fares, theatre make-up and an Equity membership fee, I was borrowing from my father.

I was waiting with great excitement for the Sunday morning to arrive when the company would assemble on Paddington Station for their first train call of the tour. When the day came, I only felt very under-rehearsed and already slightly homesick.

The tour for me was a great experience but was also a great disappointment. I was soon learning that I was very much a beginner as far as stagecraft was concerned and realising the importance of watching some of the old troupers at work.

Touring was very hard work, I began to dread the next town where I would have to look for digs. But I was determined to live on my salary of £ 5 per week and would not succumb to my father's helping hand for the comfort of a good hotel. I remember all to well once tramping around Glasgow in a thunderstorm and wearing out a pair of shoes in the process before getting fixed up.

The eight weeks tour finished in May 1943 and I was not to look upon the footlights again until October of that year. Five months "resting" was the price to be paid for a London production but this was the beginning of five years with Emile Littler productions.

The show was Hammerstein and Romberg's "Sunny River" with Evelyn Laye, Dennis Nobel and Edith Day and on the opening night we found to our delight our audience included King Peter and Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia, Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox and a host of other celebrities. Edith Day, returning to the London stage after an absence of ten years stole the show.

A short provincial tour followed, with a revival of "The Quaker Girl". During rehearsal it became obvious that our leading lady was having difficulty attuning herself to her part and to our great dismay we discovered one day (from our newspapers!) that our leading lady had departed. The show was to open in little over a week but fortunately for us Celia Lipton had just returned from an ENSA tour of the Middle East and she agreed to play the part. At the dress rehearsal she was not even word perfect but on the opening night she sailed through the part to the great admiration of the Countess of Dudley (Gertie Miller), the original Quaker Girl.

During the tour I secured for myself an audition with Mr Littler and was offered the part of the singing Fairy Godmother in Cinderella which was to be the Christmas show for the Hippodrome , Coventry, until Christmas I was to remain with the "Quaker Girl" company.

I was very surprised one morning to be called into the manager's office and asked if I was prepared to give up the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella for two small parts in the forthcoming London production of "Song of Norway". This, of course, was a wonderful opportunity, already the theatre was humming with the news that Emile Littler was going to present in London a production which was still running successfully in New York, everyone was writing for an audition. I seized my chance.

I shall always remember that show - the spectacular opening in London, Margot Fonteyn backstage during rehearsals (Robert Helpmann was the choreographer) and the surprise visit of Queen Mary accompanied by the two Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

Another exciting occasion was the charity show sponsored by Lord Camrose in aid of the Reunion Theatre, which had been formed to help actors who had been in the forces to find their feet once more on the stage. My luck was holding and I was asked by Emile Littler who had lent the Palace Theatre , to be in "1066 And All That", the show chosen for the occasion. In due course I received from Lord Camrose an invitation to a cocktail party at the Savoy Hotel to meet the rest of the artists. As every personality of stage, radio and screen in London at that time had at least one line in this fantastic production, this was some cocktail party!

The lift to the dressing rooms in the Palace Theatre would always break down if more tha four people were inside and during this special performance (cheapest seats about £ 5) I was on my way down with another young lady when the lift stopped on the second floor and five gentleman joined us. In vain I told them it would not take seven people, they merely joked about it and pressed the button. Sure enough it broke down between two floors, we had to wait before they could get us out and we were almost late on for the next scene. But what more entertaining company could I have when stuck between two floors than Nervo and Knox, Will Hay, Harry Green and Ronald Shiner?

After "Song of Norway" and some film experience - a small part in Ealing Studio's "Passport To Pimlico" - I auditioned for the leading role in an operetta which had been written for the Open Air Theatre in Scarborough. This unique theatre (I believe it is larger than the Hollywood Bowl) seated at that time around 7000 people. Edgar Evans and Rhydderch Davies, both on loan from Covent Garden, had been engaged to play Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. I felt very honoured to be given the part of Maid Marian, for at 22 I was the youngest leading lady this theatre had ever employed.

Agents and producers would often ask if I had ever been in concert party and when I answered "No" declare I must not miss this experience, every artist should have played in concert party. The next summer season found me doing just that. I soon understood why this was an experience not to be missed. As the soprano of the show, apart from singing I did sketches which included feeding comics (an experience out of this world), dancing and an act on mental telepathy, was wardrobe mistress, sewed the curtains, cleaned the footlights - and had five different programmes to be learned and rehearsed (the programmes changed every three days). Then I understood the meaning of the word trouper!

The autumn found me back in operetta but at Christmas I broke new ground as principal girl in "Robinson Crusoe" at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith. Max Wall was playing Billie Crusoe and I found myself doing an act with him on the frontcloth, closing this little scene with a song which Max had written and in which he accompanied me on his guitar. I was glad then of my concert party experience, which stood me in good stead when feeding a comic of Max's calibre.

After the panto, I went once again on tour with the National Light Opera company, playing the lead in "Waltzes from Vienna" and the juvenile lead in "London Story" but for domestic reasons closed my career in the theatre when we finished our production of "Waltzes from Vienna". I remember the lump in my throat almost choking me when the final curtain fell.

It was 1st March 1943 that I had first walked through the stage door of the Hippodrome, Bristol to embark on my stage career. 1st March 1955 found me walking round the revolving doors of Gloucester House, Park Lane and the curtain rising on a new chapter of my life.