George’s leading ladies
Star of LET GEORGE DO IT "What living performer has had the longest career in films?" A recent movie quiz posed this question and gave as the answer, "Mickey Rooney - his film career spans 1927 to 2001." Phyllis Calvert is certainly a candidate for second place in such a competition and has the potential for surpassing even Mr. Rooney. She also debuted as a child in 1927, and, though her most recent film was in 1997, she continues to appear on TV. The dark-haired, doe-eyed actress was born Phyllis Bickle in London on February 18, 1915, the daughter of Anne (Williams) and Frederick Bickle. She was on stage as a dancer from an early age, then switched to drama following an injury. Her training included the Margaret Morris School of Dancing and the Institut Français. Her dramatic debut was in Crossings at the Lyric, Hammersmith on November 19, 1925, a play that marked the final stage appearance of the legendary Ellen Terry. Calvert's early career involved frequent, rigorous tours in repertory plus occasional small film rôles, including supporting comedians Gordon Harker in Inspector Hornleigh (1938) and Arthur Askey in Charley's Big-Hearted Aunt (1940). This led to her being recommended for Let George Do It. (A plus, as far as Beryl Formby was concerned, was Calvert's status as a recent bride.) Calvert was paid £20 a week for the 6-week shoot. 'I was learning my craft,' she told interviewer Brian McFarland. 'The parts weren't all that terrific, but I loved doing comedy, and I made friends of Richard Murdoch and Arthur Askey. George Formby was protected by Beryl, so I didn't really get to know him. He was a strange creature. He seemed to be quite brainless, but he was a brilliant technician. I watched him with admiration and fascination. He didn't act. He played himself. He was a personality chap. There's a scene where he goes to five doors in a nightclub, finding his way blocked by the villains, and he's singing and playing his uke all the time. The song ends when he gets to the last door. He had to do this several times during shooting, and, on each occasion, he finished the song at the exact moment he reached the final door. 'Off the set, he didn't seem to be interested in anything but watches. He was always tinkering with them and liked to discover what literally made them tick. It was all right if you were interested in watches. Conversationally, I found him boring, but I suppose if I kept talking about my interest in gardening, I'd become a bore. 'He didn't seem at all unhappy with Beryl. They got along well together, with her on the set most of the time. She made sure he had his coffee at the right times and sometimes prepared his lunch for him to eat in his dressing room. Her reputation had preceded her, and the entire cast were in awe of her. I expected a gorgon, but she was pleasant to me. It was taken for granted she should be there, and he accepted the arrangement. He seemed to me a simple man without guile, content in his own world." (To her surprise, Calvert began receiving fan mail from Russia where Let George Do It was very popular under the title Dinky-Do.) Calvert's career took a sharp upward turn with her success in The Man in Grey (1943) (in which she was bludgeoned to death by James Mason, another rising star). She quickly became a household name, identified with the popular Gainsborough melodramas of the 1940s. She invariably portrayed women who were honest, brave, loyal, and ladylike. Trying to escape the goody image and break into meatier vamp parts, she played a dual good girl/bad girl rôle in Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944), but audiences were unconvinced, sensing her innate decency. While many stars seek flamboyant visible proof of their status, Calvert always preferred a modest life at home with her family, taking her daughter to school, caring for her garden, and preserving her own fruits and vegetables. In 1950, when she was asked how many people she employed, she said it was crazy to have a secretary, a sewing maid, a nanny, a cook, and a daily help when she really enjoyed doing it all herself. Despite her preference for home life, Calvert was one of the hardest working and most successful actresses in England. Inevitably, Hollywood claimed her and then, as so often happened, wasn't sure what to do with her. In 1946, she signed with Paramount to work 4 months a year for 4 years. But her heart was in Britain, and she antagonized some of her American co-workers with her super-patriotic (and accurate) insistence just after World War II that the UK had made many more sacrifices and suffered far more than Americans had. Fortunately for Britain, her Hollywood rôles were undistinguished, creating little stir. She soon returned full time to England, adding TV to her hectic schedule stage and screen schedule. In Let George Do It, Phyllis Calvert plays Mary Wilson, a desk clerk in a posh Norwegian hotel who is secretly a member of British Intelligence, spying on Nazi agents in neutral Norway. She erroneously assumes George is a fellow agent. George, of course, helps her catch the spies in a thrilling submarine finale and gets a loving embrace (but no kisses) for his trouble. 'I had been a great admirer of him as a child,' Calvert recalled in 'The George Formby Story.' 'I lived in Chelsea and was always sent to the Chelsea Palace to see him. He was a great sort of hero to me. So, when I was asked to do a film with him, I thought, "This is wonderful." [But] like a lot of people you make films with, they [turn out to be] just ordinary people. So he was a bit of a disappointment. I don't even remember the first day I met him.' 'The thing I admired most about him was his technique. He was a very dull man. I don't remember ever holding a conversation with him, but when you watched him doing his stuff on [camera], then he became a completely different person. The funny thing was, whenever anyone did a film with George Formby, it was put around the grapevine with the girls that he'd make passes at you. I thought, "I'll be ready for that," but nothing happened. I did the whole film, and he didn't make a pass at me. I thought, "Oh, well, there's something lacking in me -- obviously he doesn't like me." But [then] I realized that it was because his wife was on the set the whole time. 'On the very last day of filming, just before Christmas, Beryl had to do some Christmas shopping. I was in my dressing room at the lunch hour, and a knock came at my door. George was standing there, rather like a little boy, and he said, "Eeee, I'm crazy about you!" That was all. I think Beryl appeared the next minute. It was rather extraordinary how he couldn't resist trying to make it with all his leading ladies. 'Phyllis Calvert was the widow of actor-turned publisher Peter Murray Hill (1908- 57). She died on 8 October 2002 in London.
Phyliss Calvert
George’s leading ladies
Star of LET GEORGE DO IT "What living performer has had the longest career in films?" A recent movie quiz posed this question and gave as the answer, "Mickey Rooney - his film career spans 1927 to 2001." Phyllis Calvert is certainly a candidate for second place in such a competition and has the potential for surpassing even Mr. Rooney. She also debuted as a child in 1927, and, though her most recent film was in 1997, she continues to appear on TV. The dark-haired, doe-eyed actress was born Phyllis Bickle in London on February 18, 1915, the daughter of Anne (Williams) and Frederick Bickle. She was on stage as a dancer from an early age, then switched to drama following an injury. Her training included the Margaret Morris School of Dancing and the Institut Français. Her dramatic debut was in Crossings at the Lyric, Hammersmith on November 19, 1925, a play that marked the final stage appearance of the legendary Ellen Terry. Calvert's early career involved frequent, rigorous tours in repertory plus occasional small film rôles, including supporting comedians Gordon Harker in Inspector Hornleigh (1938) and Arthur Askey in Charley's Big-Hearted Aunt (1940). This led to her being recommended for Let George Do It. (A plus, as far as Beryl Formby was concerned, was Calvert's status as a recent bride.) Calvert was paid £20 a week for the 6-week shoot. 'I was learning my craft,' she told interviewer Brian McFarland. 'The parts weren't all that terrific, but I loved doing comedy, and I made friends of Richard Murdoch and Arthur Askey. George Formby was protected by Beryl, so I didn't really get to know him. He was a strange creature. He seemed to be quite brainless, but he was a brilliant technician. I watched him with admiration and fascination. He didn't act. He played himself. He was a personality chap. There's a scene where he goes to five doors in a nightclub, finding his way blocked by the villains, and he's singing and playing his uke all the time. The song ends when he gets to the last door. He had to do this several times during shooting, and, on each occasion, he finished the song at the exact moment he reached the final door. 'Off the set, he didn't seem to be interested in anything but watches. He was always tinkering with them and liked to discover what literally made them tick. It was all right if you were interested in watches. Conversationally, I found him boring, but I suppose if I kept talking about my interest in gardening, I'd become a bore. 'He didn't seem at all unhappy with Beryl. They got along well together, with her on the set most of the time. She made sure he had his coffee at the right times and sometimes prepared his lunch for him to eat in his dressing room. Her reputation had preceded her, and the entire cast were in awe of her. I expected a gorgon, but she was pleasant to me. It was taken for granted she should be there, and he accepted the arrangement. He seemed to me a simple man without guile, content in his own world." (To her surprise, Calvert began receiving fan mail from Russia where Let George Do It was very popular under the title Dinky-Do.) Calvert's career took a sharp upward turn with her success in The Man in Grey (1943) (in which she was bludgeoned to death by James Mason, another rising star). She quickly became a household name, identified with the popular Gainsborough melodramas of the 1940s. She invariably portrayed women who were honest, brave, loyal, and ladylike. Trying to escape the goody image and break into meatier vamp parts, she played a dual good girl/bad girl rôle in Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944), but audiences were unconvinced, sensing her innate decency. While many stars seek flamboyant visible proof of their status, Calvert always preferred a modest life at home with her family, taking her daughter to school, caring for her garden, and preserving her own fruits and vegetables. In 1950, when she was asked how many people she employed, she said it was crazy to have a secretary, a sewing maid, a nanny, a cook, and a daily help when she really enjoyed doing it all herself. Despite her preference for home life, Calvert was one of the hardest working and most successful actresses in England. Inevitably, Hollywood claimed her and then, as so often happened, wasn't sure what to do with her. In 1946, she signed with Paramount to work 4 months a year for 4 years. But her heart was in Britain, and she antagonized some of her American co-workers with her super-patriotic (and accurate) insistence just after World War II that the UK had made many more sacrifices and suffered far more than Americans had. Fortunately for Britain, her Hollywood rôles were undistinguished, creating little stir. She soon returned full time to England, adding TV to her hectic schedule stage and screen schedule. In Let George Do It, Phyllis Calvert plays Mary Wilson, a desk clerk in a posh Norwegian hotel who is secretly a member of British Intelligence, spying on Nazi agents in neutral Norway. She erroneously assumes George is a fellow agent. George, of course, helps her catch the spies in a thrilling submarine finale and gets a loving embrace (but no kisses) for his trouble. 'I had been a great admirer of him as a child,' Calvert recalled in 'The George Formby Story.' 'I lived in Chelsea and was always sent to the Chelsea Palace to see him. He was a great sort of hero to me. So, when I was asked to do a film with him, I thought, "This is wonderful." [But] like a lot of people you make films with, they [turn out to be] just ordinary people. So he was a bit of a disappointment. I don't even remember the first day I met him.' 'The thing I admired most about him was his technique. He was a very dull man. I don't remember ever holding a conversation with him, but when you watched him doing his stuff on [camera], then he became a completely different person. The funny thing was, whenever anyone did a film with George Formby, it was put around the grapevine with the girls that he'd make passes at you. I thought, "I'll be ready for that," but nothing happened. I did the whole film, and he didn't make a pass at me. I thought, "Oh, well, there's something lacking in me -- obviously he doesn't like me." But [then] I realized that it was because his wife was on the set the whole time. 'On the very last day of filming, just before Christmas, Beryl had to do some Christmas shopping. I was in my dressing room at the lunch hour, and a knock came at my door. George was standing there, rather like a little boy, and he said, "Eeee, I'm crazy about you!" That was all. I think Beryl appeared the next minute. It was rather extraordinary how he couldn't resist trying to make it with all his leading ladies. 'Phyllis Calvert was the widow of actor-turned publisher Peter Murray Hill (1908- 57). She died on 8 October 2002 in London.
Phyliss Calvert