To investigate Betty’s career on stage in the UK hasn’t been at the forefront of my research priorities. Her film career has overshadowed the time she has spent on stage as it has had a much higher profile in the newspapers of the time. Film is generally a much more portable format as it can be copied from the original and is often distributed all round the world for audiences in cinemas on first release and later in their homes as reruns of old movies on TV.
I have collected a few references to stage performances but I’m sure that there’s a great deal more to be found in the future.
As a young reader, Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ and ‘Secret Seven’ series of books captured my imagination and a few found their way to my own book shelf. What a surprise to find that ‘The Famous Five’ had been both a radio play and a stage play and none other than Betty was to play a role in the latter.
Betty was not far short of 51 by 1955 so it was unlikely she would be playing one of the children! Rather it seemed she was to play the role of Mother.
An Unexpected Stage “Mother”
Betty Stockfield, outstanding player of romantic leads in British and French films and plays, takes on an unfamiliar task with the greatest zest and ability at the Princes Theatre, where she is “Mum” in Enid Blyton’s new play, The Famous Five. Miss Stockfield, last seen in the West End in The Devil’s General, with Trevor Howard, finds being surrounded with stage children no strain on the nerves, for she has numerous nephews and nieces to whom she is devoted. She has a flat in Belgravia, but whenever possible spends her week-ends at her cottage in Tatsfield, Surrey. She also has a villa in the South of France. Her most recent film was Lovers of Lisbon.
Recently I had acquired an ‘original’ photograph from a newspaper archive – my photograph was not credited but the article above credits the image identical to mine as the work of photographer Houston Rogers, much of whose work in held in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s V&A Images collection. The new addition to my collection is an original print of that photo even including the crop marks for the paper’s layout.
Adhered to the back of the photo was a small newspaper article in which it was used. A search of the British Newspaper Archive has failed, so far, to find the article in question but another article found refers to the forthcoming production of the Jean Genet play, Les Bonnes (aka: The Maids). The work was considered somewhat controversial for its sadomasochistic themes.
Betty played the role of Madame in both this English version and a French language production staged in the UK. This has been an enduring work by Genet, having been staged many times including here in Australia in 2013 with Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki in the main roles. It has also transitioned to film in 1975 starring Susannah York and Glenda Jackson. There have been other interpretations of the play and biopics of the two French women whose lives on which the original play was supposedly based.
Betty’s stage roles were quite diverse when you consider Enid Blyton and Jean Genet side by side! The play, The Devil’s General, referred to in the Tatler article above, was staged in 1953 at The Savoy Theatre in London. It also attracted controversy as it was amongst the first plays staged post WW2 written by a German playwright and dealing with Hitler and his generals. Betty was certainly not afraid to take parts in productions that might well have attracted unwanted attention from the press and the public.