Obituary: Eve Lister

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The Independent Online
If ever there was a heyday for English musical comedy it must have been when Eve Lister joined its ranks. She had all the qualities - looks, charm, warmth of temperament, sympathy, gentleness, a good voice and a pleasing manner. It was part of her appeal that she should be content not to push herself into the limelight but to occupy it when required.

A grandmother, an aunt, an uncle and both parents had all served on the boards; and no sooner had young Eve come forward as a Cochran young lady in Noel Coward's revue Words and Music at the Adelphi in 1932 than this delightful creature was evidently going to sustain the Lister tradition.

As she stood in that crowded chorus line - the cast numbered over a hundred - Cochran could see that his latest "young lady" need never play another. She had a leading part in his next production, Music in the Air (His Majesty's).

It was that of a simple Bavarian village girl in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's latest musical play, about the production of a new musical play in Munich, in which she vied with the resident prima donna.

Did she triumph? She did not. But Lister's "virginal beauty and freshness" were enchant-ing enough to have made her a star overnight. The Play Pictorial featured her lovely features on four successive pages.

Her vanity however did not and never would extend to even a cuttings book. After Music in the Air she spent four years in films (including several for John Baxter, Birds of a Feather, Sunshine Ahead, and The Girl in the Crowd); but at the same time began a branch of her career which was to mean a great deal to her - that of principal boy in pantomime. Friendly, forthright, trustworthy, she had the "go", the dash - and svelte figure - to make a star principal boy.

She had the precious gift of seeming always natural. And it was touchingly exemplified in one of the dozen odd films she made in the mid-1930s, George King's Sweeney Todd (1935).

As she nearly falls victim to the eye-rolling Todd Slaughter's attempts to set her on fire, Lister has dressed herself as a barber's apprentice to track down the cockney villain; and while the film creaks her acting in its simple-hearted ease does not.

But the straight actress of the cinema rarely went straight in the theatre. After the wartime revues in Edinburgh and Glasgow of that summer season show, Half-Past Eight, came tours of musical comedies like Sidney Monckton's A Country Girl and Happy Birthday and a West End show with Nervo and Knox and Will Hay, For Crying Out Loud (Stoll 1945).

She also toured in Harold Purcell's musical play The Lisbon Story and The Merry Widow and Bitter Sweet, and did a couple of West End musicals at the old Prince's, now the Shaftesbury (The Nightingale, 1947, and Happy as a King, 1953) and had a long run with Fred Emney and Richard Hearne in Blue for a Boy (His Majesty's, 1950) which brought enough acclaim for Marlene Dietrich as hostess at the Cafe de Paris to introduce her to the cabaret audience.

But the show that should have gone to Lister's head if she had had that kind of head was The King and I (Drury Lane, 1955) when she took over as Anna from Valerie Hobson. If there was anything to be gained from the change of cast, one critic declared, "It was due largely to the performance of Miss Lister" with her "excellent singing voice, warm personality, and sense of humour - and of dignity".

Phyllis Eve Lister, actress: born Brighton 12 December 1913; married first Hugh French (one son; marriage dissolved), second Bernard Hunter; died London 31 January 1997.