Norfolk farmer's book celebrates his aunt Pearl, the one-time famous actress

A publicity picture of Pearl taken in around 1911. Picture: Tacon Family Collection

A publicity picture of Pearl taken in around 1911 - Credit: Tacon Family Collection

They tended to be something of a mystery but today more people than ever are researching their family history. Derek James tells the story one man has who has written a family book about his famous great aunt Pearl

When Norfolk farmer Richard Tacon was just a lad she would look after him whenever she was in Norfolk…teaching him to ride a bike and build forts for him in the garden.

And when he was older she introduced him to Greek and Roman history as well as the arts. Not to mention Dubonnet with a dash of lemonade!

Following her death in 1962 she left a pile of box files with pictures, letters and reviews which painted a glorious picture of a very public and glamorous life.

Now Richard, of Rollesby, has produced a wonderful profile  for the family following the life and times of actress Pearl Keats and her husband, author John (Jack) Keble Bell, who wrote under the name Keble Howard.


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A celebrated writer and playwright.

Pauline with her son Richard in 1943. He was born during air raid over Great Yarmouth and she was ba

Pauline with her son Richard in 1943. He was born during air raid over Great Yarmouth and she was badly injured by flying glass as she protected her baby - Credit: Tacon Family Collection

When they married in 1911 it made headlines in the national newspapers although it was kept secret for three months. Today they would be described as celebrities.

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And how they loved Norfolk where they had a home at Potter Heigham and a boat built by Brooke’s of Lowestoft called Harmony II. A familiar sight on Broadland waters he was a member of both Yarmouth Lowestoft Yacht Clubs.

“Even though Pearl spent most of her theatrical life in London her roots and attachments to Norfolk were very strong,” said Richard, a member of a well-known farming family with a popular farm shop at Rollesby.

Pearl Keats was born in May of 1883 in Vienna. The second of six children born to George and Laura Keats. “She was also sister to Ruby Pauline Victoria Keats, my grandmother,” said Richard.

The family moved back to England and Pearl went to London and before sailing to New Zealand and Australia with a theatre company. She was described in the Sydney Mail of 1907 as a “dainty little actress.”

She returned to England and the London stage where she met and fell in love with former journalist and author, the man known as Keble Howard. They married in 1911. The year after her younger brother Marcus, who was serving in the Navy with HMS Ganges at Shotley died aged 17.

Pearl went to make a name for herself as a talented and much-loved actress in London and across the country and Richard’s lovely book paints a colourful portrait of her life and times with many reviews, posters and newspaper cuttings.

The story of Pearl Keats. A profile by Richard Tacon. Picture: Tacon Family Collection

The story of Pearl Keats. A profile by Richard Tacon. Picture: Tacon Family Collection - Credit: Tacon Family Collection

She appeared in many of her husband’s plays to loud applause and received rave reviews in the national press.

As for Jack. He was born in 1875, the third of 12 children. He became a journalist working on The Sketch  before becoming Theatre Critic on the Daily Mail.

After serving in the First World War he continued to write many best-selling books and plays (performed at the London Palladium and the Coliseum and many other top venues) during the 1920s. A number of films were based on his work. The last being The Fast Lady in 1962 starring Leslie Phillips, Julie Christie and James Robertson Justice.

Richard has illustrated his profile with some fascinating letters Jack Keble received from the likes of H.G. Wells and Buckingham Palace. Along with the posters and photographs which illustrate life in the roaring twenties so well.

In 1922 Pearl’s sister Ruby moved to Great Yarmouth and then Rollesby where her daughter Pauline, Richard’s mother,  met Dudley Tacon.

Pearl and Jack were regular visitors. They bought a chalet at Potter Heigham where they kept their boat.

Pearl and Jack were always helping others and in 1925 were campaigning to get radio sets for patients in hospitals. Jack did a broadcast on the BBC and followed by an article in Radio Times.

The revolutionary idea was for a wireless apparatus with a loudspeaker to each ward and the walls would be plugged so head-phones could be used. Among those he wrote to were the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital and North Walsham and District Memorial Cottage Hospital.

Then, in 1928, Jack died and Pearl was ill. Letters in the book show her struggling to cope with his complicated business affairs.

She returned to live at Rollesby where she spent the rest of her life. She died in 1962 and was cremated at St Faith’s Crematorium, Norwich,  with her ashes scattered on the lower lawn behind the Chapel.

If you are interested in buying a copy of the book about Pearl contact Richard at thetacons@hotmail.co.uk

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