George’s leading ladies
Co-Star of ZIP GOES A MILLION George was always sweet with me, calling me his `little Sally'. "Unfortunately, this caused rather a rift with his wife, Beryl. She stood in the wings watching us every night, in case he held me too tightly. "Once he kissed me in a scene where he was just supposed to hug me. I suppose he wanted to see what would happen. Well, at the next performance, Beryl hid herself behind the sofa on stage to be sure there was no repeat!" This year, on the 50th anniversary of George's West End hit musical, his pert leading lady reminisced about her role of Sally Whittle, beloved by George's Percy Piggott. The show was a musicalization of the 1906 play, Brewster 's Millions, filmed at least a half dozen times before and after George's London version. Sara Gregory recorded the show's charming love duet, Ordinary People, with George, and he sang of his devotion for her in Saving Up For Sally. Pleasure Cruise was another well ­received tune in the production. "The audiences loved it," says Sara. "George got so much applause when he sang it that the director decided to build in an encore. George would sing his old hit Leaning On A Lampost while I was waiting in the wings for my next entrance. He was something of a flirt and told me that he was singing the song just to me." At the time, Sara was hardly a romantic threat to Beryl, being happily married and a mother. Indeed, it was Sara's agent-­husband, Richard Stone, who had gotten her the audition for Zip Goes a Million. But despite the playful nature of George's attentions, Sara recalls that, "Beryl was upset, so it was difficult. But George and I had quite a lot of fun together. It was a happy show. Very nice. "Zip was the first time my name was up in lights. I stood in front of the Palace Theatre, and it was a wonderful sight: `George Formby in Zip Goes a Million with Barbara Perry, Ward Donovan, Wallace Eaton', and me! "The Palace Theatre is a great place to see your name up in lights. "Ever since, I've kept in touch with Barbara Perry. And with Ward Donovan who later married Phyllis Diller. Sara Gregory was born in Sydney, Australia on 16 May 1919. "I came to England when I was 17 to go to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) where I met my future husband, actor Richard Stone. "During World War II, before we got married, I returned to Australia with Williamson's Gilbert and Sullivan opera company. "When the tour finished in 1942, it took me three months to get back to England! First, we crossed the Pacific in a coal‑burning steamer, trying to avoid enemy ships. Then via the Panama Canal, up to Halifax, and finally in a convoy of war ships to the UK. "By coincidence, another passenger was composer Eric Maschwitz who later wrote the music for Zip Goes a Million." Back in England, Sara and Richard married. There was just time for a one-­week honeymoon before Richard was posted to the Middle East. For the rest of the war, Sara toured in ENSA (Entertainments National Service Agency) shows and performed in the West End. "I was in The Vagabond King at the Winter Garden ‑ the theatre is now called something else, it's where Cats is playing ‑ and a revue called Light and Shade at the Ambassador. I also played Cinderella in The Glass Slipper at the St James Theatre. "This was just after my first son Barry was born, and I had him in my dressing room. Robert Donal produced it, and I remember him up in his box during the dress rehearsal, saying, `We'll now have a break while Cinderella feeds the baby'. [The play was later made into a film with Leslie Caron and Michael Wilding.] I also played with Robert Donat in The Sleeping Clergyman. I have fabulous memories of him." In 1944, Sara almost became a film performer. She was appearing in Emile Littler's pantomime Goody Two Shoes at the Coliseum (along with another Formby leading lady, Pat Kirkwood) when she tried out for a small role in the Gabriel Pascal epic, Caesar and Cleopatra. "For the film test, I performed a scene with Richard Burton who wasn't famous yet. I got the part, but Emile Littler wouldn't let me out of Goody Two Shoes, so that was the end of my film career." Sara's husband Richard returned from the war with a Military Cross. Their first son, Barry, was born in 1945. Two more children followed, Tim in 1948 and Diana in 1950. Richard decided to switch from acting to management and became Sara's agent. He was soon recruited by the government to form the Combined Services Entertainment, an organization that is still in existence. His many clients included Dave Allen, David Jason, Benny Hill, and David Croft, co‑writer of Dad's Army and Are You Being Served. In 1951, Richard arranged for Sara to audition for Emile Littler's production of Zip Goes a Million. "I got the part and played in Zip throughout the London run, first with George Formby and then, after George became ill, with Reg Dixon. I didn't do the tour because I didn't want to leave my children. Instead I stayed in London and starred in The Two Bouquets, a charming Victorian pastiche. "Then I stopped performing. With three children, it became too much. One time, my son won the race on sports day and I wasn't there. I had a matinee. I decided, `This is not for me anymore'. I never missed another sports day! But there was one last play. "Paul Elliott asked me to play the Fairy Godmother in pantomime in Canada. (He's the big impresario whose production of Buddy is still running in London.) My son Barry was living there, so I agreed ‑and started the trend for elderly Fairy Godmothers. We toured Cinderella all over eastern Canada with final performances in Toronto. That was my swan song. Paul Elliot still calls me his Fairy Godmother." Sara and her husband moved to the Isle of Wight that is still her home. Her children live in California. Sara winters in California and her family visits her in the summer. On her 75th birthday, her sons prepared a surprise video of greetings from her many friends, including Pat Kirkwood and Barbara Perry. Then, for their golden wedding anniversary, Barry and Tim produced another video tribute that included Benny Hill in his last recorded appearance. (Richard was Benny Hill's agent.) Richard wrote a book about his life and war experiences, called You Should Have Been In Last Night ‑ a humorous reference to the actor's traditional excuse when friends or agents view a disappointing performance. He autographed many copies at the big book launch at the Green Room Club in London in September 2000. Sadly, he died two days later. Richard Stone had contributed to a book on pantomime, Dames, Principal Boys, and All That by Lady Viola Tait. Sara agreed to be in Australia for the April 2001 book launch. Later, she learned this would mean missing the London performance of Zip on 12 May at the Theatre Museum. "I'll be flying home when it's going on." With the lilt in her voice and the twinkle in her eye, it seems hardly possible that 50 years have gone by since Percy Piggott took Sally Whittle in his arms and sang of the joys of Ordinary People. On the recording, we can still hear Sara Gregory's infectious giggle as she explains: And when the ordinary moon Is in the ordinary sky What extraordinary things we'll do!
Sarah Gregory
Co-Star of ZIP GOES A MILLION George was always sweet with me, calling me his `little Sally'. "Unfortunately, this caused rather a rift with his wife, Beryl. She stood in the wings watching us every night, in case he held me too tightly. "Once he kissed me in a scene where he was just supposed to hug me. I suppose he wanted to see what would happen. Well, at the next performance, Beryl hid herself behind the sofa on stage to be sure there was no repeat!" This year, on the 50th anniversary of George's West End hit musical, his pert leading lady reminisced about her role of Sally Whittle, beloved by George's Percy Piggott. The show was a musicalization of the 1906 play, Brewster 's Millions, filmed at least a half dozen times before and after George's London version. Sara Gregory recorded the show's charming love duet, Ordinary People, with George, and he sang of his devotion for her in Saving Up For Sally. Pleasure Cruise was another well ­received tune in the production. "The audiences loved it," says Sara. "George got so much applause when he sang it that the director decided to build in an encore. George would sing his old hit Leaning On A Lampost while I was waiting in the wings for my next entrance. He was something of a flirt and told me that he was singing the song just to me." At the time, Sara was hardly a romantic threat to Beryl, being happily married and a mother. Indeed, it was Sara's agent-­husband, Richard Stone, who had gotten her the audition for Zip Goes a Million. But despite the playful nature of George's attentions, Sara recalls that, "Beryl was upset, so it was difficult. But George and I had quite a lot of fun together. It was a happy show. Very nice. "Zip was the first time my name was up in lights. I stood in front of the Palace Theatre, and it was a wonderful sight: `George Formby in Zip Goes a Million with Barbara Perry, Ward Donovan, Wallace Eaton', and me! "The Palace Theatre is a great place to see your name up in lights. "Ever since, I've kept in touch with Barbara Perry. And with Ward Donovan who later married Phyllis Diller. Sara Gregory was born in Sydney, Australia on 16 May 1919. "I came to England when I was 17 to go to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) where I met my future husband, actor Richard Stone. "During World War II, before we got married, I returned to Australia with Williamson's Gilbert and Sullivan opera company. "When the tour finished in 1942, it took me three months to get back to England! First, we crossed the Pacific in a coal‑burning steamer, trying to avoid enemy ships. Then via the Panama Canal, up to Halifax, and finally in a convoy of war ships to the UK. "By coincidence, another passenger was composer Eric Maschwitz who later wrote the music for Zip Goes a Million." Back in England, Sara and Richard married. There was just time for a one-­week honeymoon before Richard was posted to the Middle East. For the rest of the war, Sara toured in ENSA (Entertainments National Service Agency) shows and performed in the West End. "I was in The Vagabond King at the Winter Garden ‑ the theatre is now called something else, it's where Cats is playing ‑ and a revue called Light and Shade at the Ambassador. I also played Cinderella in The Glass Slipper at the St James Theatre. "This was just after my first son Barry was born, and I had him in my dressing room. Robert Donal produced it, and I remember him up in his box during the dress rehearsal, saying, `We'll now have a break while Cinderella feeds the baby'. [The play was later made into a film with Leslie Caron and Michael Wilding.] I also played with Robert Donat in The Sleeping Clergyman. I have fabulous memories of him." In 1944, Sara almost became a film performer. She was appearing in Emile Littler's pantomime Goody Two Shoes at the Coliseum (along with another Formby leading lady, Pat Kirkwood) when she tried out for a small role in the Gabriel Pascal epic, Caesar and Cleopatra. "For the film test, I performed a scene with Richard Burton who wasn't famous yet. I got the part, but Emile Littler wouldn't let me out of Goody Two Shoes, so that was the end of my film career." Sara's husband Richard returned from the war with a Military Cross. Their first son, Barry, was born in 1945. Two more children followed, Tim in 1948 and Diana in 1950. Richard decided to switch from acting to management and became Sara's agent. He was soon recruited by the government to form the Combined Services Entertainment, an organization that is still in existence. His many clients included Dave Allen, David Jason, Benny Hill, and David Croft, co‑writer of Dad's Army and Are You Being Served. In 1951, Richard arranged for Sara to audition for Emile Littler's production of Zip Goes a Million. "I got the part and played in Zip throughout the London run, first with George Formby and then, after George became ill, with Reg Dixon. I didn't do the tour because I didn't want to leave my children. Instead I stayed in London and starred in The Two Bouquets, a charming Victorian pastiche. "Then I stopped performing. With three children, it became too much. One time, my son won the race on sports day and I wasn't there. I had a matinee. I decided, `This is not for me anymore'. I never missed another sports day! But there was one last play. "Paul Elliott asked me to play the Fairy Godmother in pantomime in Canada. (He's the big impresario whose production of Buddy is still running in London.) My son Barry was living there, so I agreed ‑and started the trend for elderly Fairy Godmothers. We toured Cinderella all over eastern Canada with final performances in Toronto. That was my swan song. Paul Elliot still calls me his Fairy Godmother." Sara and her husband moved to the Isle of Wight that is still her home. Her children live in California. Sara winters in California and her family visits her in the summer. On her 75th birthday, her sons prepared a surprise video of greetings from her many friends, including Pat Kirkwood and Barbara Perry. Then, for their golden wedding anniversary, Barry and Tim produced another video tribute that included Benny Hill in his last recorded appearance. (Richard was Benny Hill's agent.) Richard wrote a book about his life and war experiences, called You Should Have Been In Last Night ‑ a humorous reference to the actor's traditional excuse when friends or agents view a disappointing performance. He autographed many copies at the big book launch at the Green Room Club in London in September 2000. Sadly, he died two days later. Richard Stone had contributed to a book on pantomime, Dames, Principal Boys, and All That by Lady Viola Tait. Sara agreed to be in Australia for the April 2001 book launch. Later, she learned this would mean missing the London performance of Zip on 12 May at the Theatre Museum. "I'll be flying home when it's going on." With the lilt in her voice and the twinkle in her eye, it seems hardly possible that 50 years have gone by since Percy Piggott took Sally Whittle in his arms and sang of the joys of Ordinary People. On the recording, we can still hear Sara Gregory's infectious giggle as she explains: And when the ordinary moon Is in the ordinary sky What extraordinary things we'll do!
Sarah Gregory
George’s Leading Ladies