One day in the mid-1970s. My son bounced home from school and said "Mum, Tristan (his friend)'s parents are having a party. You are to be invited, and you must go because there is to be somebody there who is eager to meet you and you have to meet her."
My husband John Bishop and I went to the party in North Kensington, and as we entered the room, directly facing us, sitting in a large, ornate basket chair, was a truly beautiful, robust lady with upswept hair and large hanging earrings, clear penetrating blue eyes and a flawless English Rose complexion, and delicate hands with painted nails. As we approached, this lady pointed a heavily ringed finger towards me, and wagging it slowly in time with her speaking, she said "A-ha-ha ... Now ... I know what you do – but you don't know what I do".
In those days, even in my forties, I was not at all a confident person and did not really enjoy parties. But this was Marian Lines, and in no time we were conversing avidly about her writings and my compositions. Marian suggested she drop a poem through my letterbox for me to set.
Within a day or two it arrived. I don't know what I expected, but certainly not something called "'Orrible Little Blue-eyes" – a character in what turned out to be the first of the many children's mini-musicals we wrote together. Here was Little Lottie Leicester with the Big Blue Eyes – "and her chief preoccupation is with telling lies". I set it as a soft-shoe shuffle, feeling that it would not be quite what Marian had in mind; but she loved it, then admitted that she wanted to write a show to introduce children to Old Time Music Hall. And so we wrote The Barnstormers.
I have no memory of the first performance, and wonder if I was even there – all this happening at a time when I was rushing about the country adjudicating and examining. At this time Marian was teaching at the Fox School in Notting Hill Gate, eventually becoming deputy head. She married the actor Graham Lines, and they had two daughters, Robyn and Anna.
Marian also had a very fine mezzo-soprano voice and for many years sang in my NorthKen Community Choir. She was a talented, characterful artist, and would illustrate her characters and costumes with great humour. We worked together running workshops for Women's Institutes and Townswomen's Guilds.
Marian was a great contributor to our group of entertainers, Three's Company Plus, as a performer and writer. For over 35 years our works have been commissioned by schools, choirs, ensembles and individuals. For many years she has designed costumes and sets for the local Ladbroke Players, and in 2006 wrote the words for a musical on the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer, first performed at Swindon in 2006 by the Janice Thompson Performance Trust: The Little Man in the Tall Hat.
This year she produced a set of poems to be set by young composers entering a competition for new songs to mark the centenary of the Association of English Singers and Speakers in 2013. A collection of her writings, Lines by Lines, was published, as she wished, before her death.
Eight years ago Marian was found to have colon cancer. She battled through chemotherapy and it was in respite for short periods, but whatever her physical state she was involved with writing and music reciting. Her willpower and enthusiasm were tremendous, her sense of humour irrepressible; she bought herself a willow coffin on the way to Sainsbury's.
Over the last seven months her health deteriorated, and she moved into the Pembridge Palliative Care Hospice in North Kensington. Here we had our most precious times together, reminding one another of the hilarious times on the way home from venues when I had to stop the car for laughter. Throughout her recent decline I visited her daily. I last left her on 10 November, and she died that evening at 7.15.
Marian Berry Hart, teacher, writer and librettist: born London 27 November 1933; married 1957 Graham Lines (two daughters); died London 10 November 2012.
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