Binkie Stuart

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The Independent Online

Elizabeth Alison Fraser (Binkie Stuart), actress: born Kilmarnock, Ayrshire 11 March 1932; married 1962 John Prentice (died 1980; two sons, one daughter); died Reading 4 August 2001

The phenominal success of Shirley Temple as a movie star in the Thirties prompted parents all over the world to promote their offspring as having similar potential. In Britain, there were two child stars who were billed at some point as "Britain's Shirley Temple". One was Hazel Ascot, a champion tap-dancer, and the other Binkie Stuart, who was two years younger than Ascot (Stuart was born in 1932) and physically much more like Temple, with her cherubic face and mass of golden curls. In some ways her physical resemblance did her a disservice, for her halting early performances only made the awesome talent of Temple more impressive. By the time she made her final film, four years later, her assurance had improved, but the onset of the Second World War terminated her film career.

Born Elizabeth Alison Fraser in Kilmarnock, to a musician father and actress mother, the blonde youngster was named "London's Most Beautiful Baby" at the age of two. After she won first prize in a Daily Mail competition in 1935, her father became her full-time manager and arranged for her to audition for film director Monty Banks, who wanted a child for his next film, a George Formby vehicle, Keep Your Seats Please (1936).

Based on a Russian farce which has often been adapted for star comedians, the film concerned the efforts of Formby to trace the owners of a set of antique chairs, one of which contains a fortune left to him by an eccentric old lady. He was aided by a girlfriend (Florence Desmond), who has a moppet niece (Stuart). The child's character was called "Binkie" in the film, and the name was appropriated for the young star, who was billed as "Binkie Stuart" (the surname coming from her Scottish ancestry) on the film's credits.

The movie's musical highlight was Formby's rendition of his famous hit, "When I'm Cleaning Windows". Stuart did a short table-top version of "I'm on the Tip of my Toes" which was strained and tentative, and all her major lines of dialogue were filmed in isolated close-up. The producer Basil Dean had tried to dissuade Banks from using her, maintaining that she was too young but, despite her obvious inexperience, her winsome personality and cute smile endeared her to audiences.

After small roles in Our Fighting Navy (1937), Splinters in the Air (1937) and a vehicle showcasing the pianist Jan Paderewski, Moonlight Sonata (1937), she starred for the "B" movie company Butchers in three modest but popular films with plots and titles reminiscent of Temple's – Little Miss Somebody (1937), in which she was an orphan taken in by a rascal who is after the fortune she is due to inherit, Rose of Tralee (1937), as an Irish child who becomes a radio singer, and Little Dolly Daydream (1938), in which she sang and danced as a child who runs away from a tyrannical aunt and teams up with an organ-grinder.

Stuart's biggest opportunity came with her role in My Irish Molly (1938), the last film made by Maureen O'Hara before her departure to the United States. As an orphan mistreated (yet again) by a domineering aunt, Stuart stole the film, described by one critic as "a Shirley Temple flick without Temple", but the advent of war prevented a planned trip to Hollywood and her film career came to an abrupt halt. Later there was some friction with her father when she rejected his plans for her to become a variety performer on the music-hall stage, insisting instead that she would become a dramatic actress.

She worked as a dental receptionist and, after a further unsuccessful attempt to become an actress in her mid-twenties, she became an assistant in an electrical store, where she met her husband John Prentice. The couple had three children, and Prentice died in 1980, after which Alison Prentice, as she had become, worked as a telephonist and a nurse.

Tom Vallance

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