Memories of Yvonne Marsh a real star of the stage
- Credit: Archant Library
She was a tall, elegant woman in a black suit and a golden scarf around her neck...here was Yvonne Marsh in her 80s and making her last appearance at Norwich Theatre Royal where she was once the most glamorous principal boy of them all.
This was more than a year ago, in January of 2016, when she was at a reception following the funeral of her contemporary Jack Bowhill who has been stage manager and technical director at the theatre during the golden years of her days in pantomime.
One again she had an audience as she followed Peter Wilson, the then chief officer at the theatre, in paying tribute to Jack. She spoke of him as a professional, a warm human being...and a dear friend.
Among those at the gathering was the former Evening News arts writer and author Neville Miller who told her: 'I still think of you as by far the best principal boy I ever saw.'
She replied: 'They've all gone now. We don't have principal boys anymore.'
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This makes the thousands from Norwich and across Norfolk and East Anglia especially privileged to have seen Yvonne in her prime, dashing, sweet of voice and infinitely grateful – memories of which are surfacing now that Yvonne has died at the age of 85.
'Forthright, courageous, witty and utterly professional. She already had great respect for other people's talents,' so said Jenni Goodwin, formerly of the National Theatre who was dresser for the pantomines.
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'She was one of the greats,' she added.
Yvonne, who was a regular performer in Norwich for so many years, had trained as a dancer as a child and at 15 played the role of the young Margot Fonteyn in a film called The Young Ballerina.
While she was appearing in Norwich colleagues obtained a copy and gave her a surprise showing.
Television viewers may also remember her much later in the series You Rang M'Lord and it was television which brought fame to her younger sister Jean Marsh, when she co-created the smash-hit series Upstairs, Downstairs and played the maid in it. It turned her into a huge star and a household name.
Yvonne spent a large part of her life in the theatre but was also busy in cabaret as well. She was a true all-rounder – and people in front and behind the stage loved her. She appeared in most of the Norfolk theatres and took part in summer shows at Cromer, Hunstanton and Great Yarmouth.
In Norwich she also shared the direction with Doreen Donnelly of the first Hello Chatterbox variety show in aid of the Norwich talking newspaper for the Blind. A series followed.
She will be remembered above all as a principal of boy in so many pantomines in the city – and it is thanks to people like her that the annual Christmas shows are now among the most successful and popular in the land.
Yvonne really was the queen of the principal boys.
With thanks to Neville Miller.
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