Anna Neagle

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West End actress, dancer and singer was one of the most beloved and durable performers in British showbusiness history.
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Artist Biography by

b. Marjorie Robertson, 20 October 1904, Forest Gate, London, England, d. 3 June 1986, Surrey, England. One of the most beloved and durable artists in the history of British showbusiness, Neagle was an actress, dancer and singer in West End musicals and British films, with a career spanning more than 60 years. She took dancing lessons as a child, and appeared in the chorus of Charlot’s Revue and a similar production, Tricks, in 1925. In the late 20s she undertook more chorus work in Rose Marie, The Charlot Show Of 1926, The Desert Song and two London Pavilion revues as one of ‘Mr Cochran’s Young Ladies’. Up until then she had been primarily a dancer, but she developed further in 1931 when she took the ingénue lead opposite Jack Buchanan in the hit musical comedy Stand Up And Sing, duetting with him on the lovely ‘There’s Always Tomorrow’.

Herbert Wilcox produced and directed her first film musical, Goodnight Vienna, in 1932, and most of her subsequent pictures, and the two were married in 1943. As well as making a number of acclaimed dramatic films during the 30s, Neagle continued to appear in screen musicals such as The Little Damozel, Bitter Sweet, The Queen’s Affair, Limelight and London Melody (1939). From 1940-41 she and Wilcox were in America to make films such as Irene (in which she sang and danced to the delightful ‘Alice Blue Gown’), No, No, Nanette and Sunny. They returned to England to make a series of light and frothy romantic comedies, with the occasional musical number, which included Spring In Park Lane, The Courtneys Of Curzon Street and Maytime In Mayfair (1949). Neagle’s leading man was Michael Wilding, and this magical partnership ensured that the films were among the British cinema’s top box office attractions of the time. In the 50s Neagle returned to the stage for The Glorious Days (1953), co-starred with Errol Flynn (of all people) in the film version of that show, Lilacs In The Spring; and also appeared in the screen adaptation of King’s Rhapsody. She then kicked up her heels with popular singer Frankie Vaughan in The Lady Is A Square (1958). That was her last appearance on screen, although she did produce three more of Vaughan’s films, These Dangerous Years, Wonderful Things! and Heart Of A Man.

In the early 60s Wilcox went bankrupt when his film company and several of the couple’s other business ventures failed. Part of their salvation came in the form of David Heneker’s smash hit musical Charlie Girl (1965). Neagle stayed with the show - apart from the occasional holiday - for the duration of its run of over 2, 000 performances and subsequent tours. On the day it was announced that she was to be made a Dame of the British Empire, the cast of Charlie Girl surprised her by singing ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’ at the end of the evening’s performance. In 1973 the new Broadway production of No, No, Nanette arrived in London, and Neagle played the role that had been taken by Ruby Keeler in New York. Four years later Wilcox died, but Neagle continued to work. In 1977 she was back in the West End with the musical Maggie; in 1978 she toured as Henry Higgins’ mother in a revival of My Fair Lady, and in 1982 she played in the pantomime Cinderella at the Richmond Theatre. It was as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella that she made her final stage bow at the London Palladium at Christmas 1985. A few weeks after it closed she went into a Surrey nursing home to rest, and died there in June.