Thumbnail sketches – 1949/1950: Cross-eyed Judges and a circle of Rabbis

While some suburbs were sprouting beige, square ‘mushrooms’ (prefabs) in excess to house the bombed-out unfortunates in our midst – our house shaken and stirred but still standing – Dad was again working as a Lighterman on the River Thames, while Mum trained to be a ‘silver-service waitress’. My three brothers were still at school: the eldest, Terry, with his eyes on becoming a ‘Telegram Boy’ (?) Higher aspirations matured later… and I was ‘tapping the keys’ by day and ‘kicking up my heels’ twice a week by night with lots of other teenagers.

Now indubitably Rubenesque in stature – or fat… (I have always wanted to write that) – sniggering from offspring heard from the wings – I look back on the distant past with something akin to wonder, for not only was I slender while curvy then, things happened to me that seemed – on consideration – more than a tad unbelievable….

One Saturday night (before I met my other half), I and friend Pat Fullalove, went to an ‘Air Force Dance’ at ‘The Elm Park Hotel’ where a horde…of uniformed and mufti-clad, eager – Brylcreemed – ‘panting’ youths: mainly conscripted lads from the local aerodrome, were eyeing up ‘the talent.’ Unaware that my friend had put my name down for a competition, I blushed beetroot red when pushed forward to meet model/actress Angela Rankin, and Canadian actor Hugh McDermott. Before I knew it, I had been chosen ‘Romford Glamour Queen 1949’ and was duly sashed, photographed and applauded (no crown or parade fortunately!) The fact that I was gauche seemed irrelevant but I did enjoy the lads queuing up to dance with me nevertheless…I wasn’t allowed to let it go to my head as my brothers sniggered and suggested that both judges were cross-eyed, or the other contenders had been the then equivalent of ‘dogs’…However, when on a further occasion – busy dancing in Leys Hall in Dagenham– I was photographed and ‘miraculously’ chosen to enter a ‘Film Contract Competition,’ while dumb-struck, I grew a bit vain. Under the ridiculous veil of vanity I, of course, knew the real truth. After all, I had a ‘funny’ nose and one ear that stuck out (if not covered by my hair), so why would anyone choose me?! There was a joke in the family: “If you win – if… you could always understudy for ‘Lassie!’

Urged by my dear mother (who, like all loving mothers, thought I was the best thing since sliced bread); despite suffering griping colly-wobbles – I succumbed to the invitation to attend the final’s Ball, held in Seymour Hall, London, and was accompanied by Mum and my then current beau. In awe of the glamorous girls around me, I knew I had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but made the final ten despite disbelief and a gripping terror that I’d faint on the stage. It was as well someone else was chosen, as I was too self-doubting and self-conscious to have made a good actress (or even a bad one…) and would have fought like a tiger on the ‘contract couch’…(there WAS one!) Coincidentally, a girl from Dagenham (my home town): a sophisticated, very pretty blonde called Sylvia Wren won, although I didn’t hear whether she was given a test or not. Later, she became a model and we travelled on the same train: her destination more seductive than my prosaic date with a typewriter. Good friend Louis Molenski (a handsome, chivalrous lad who used to ‘see me home’ like a brother from dances sometimes) won the male ‘Screen Test’ trophy. Sadly, I never saw or heard from him again and often wondered what happened to him. (Perhaps he went to Hollywood and appeared in B movies I never saw!) He certainly had the face and figure for it. Whether he could act was another matter! Oh, the vanities of youth…

On to more serious matters – by then ‘happily ensnared’ by Eric – I studied Hebrew and learnt by rote significant Jewish religious days; such as New Year, Passover etc., with enthusiasm and zeal…and, while normally abysmal about learning dates, rattled them off like a parrot. Too soon… the date was set for my appointment with a group of Rabbis – is there a special name for a ‘gathering’ of Rabbis? – at the West London Synagogue. The day arrived, and oddly, I was only a little nervous… Ushered into a large, formal room with a huge, oval table in the middle surrounded by about four or five Rabbis (I can’t recall how many), I was met with polite smiles and treated kindly. Questioned at length about my beliefs I was asked – if I gave birth to sons – whether they’d be circumcised and brought up as Jews. More questions about dietary laws, keeping a Kosher home and so on, followed. I was then asked to wait in an adjoining room – the worst bit – while they considered me a suitable convert or not. Re-called, I was told “Muzeltov. You have been accepted into the Jewish faith” and asked to choose a Jewish name to use alongside my own. I chose Ruth.** Eric was waiting to congratulate me outside with a kiss, and things on the ‘future mother-in –law front’ improved after that!

** I chose Ruth as she was from a different faith and ‘followed wherever her husband went…’ Ironically, on checking the Old Testament, (hugely contradictory) Ruth’s first husband died and she says she will follow her mother-in-law?! She also later says she will follow her second husband. So much for the truths of the bible.

More to come…