Victoria Hopper

Star of Thirties stage and screen


Victoria Hopper, actress: born Vancouver, British Columbia 24 May 1909; married 1934 Basil Dean (marriage dissolved 1939), 1951 Peter Walter (deceased); died New Romney, Kent 22 January 2007.

The actress and singer Victoria Hopper was a petite blonde who was at her height of popularity in the Thirties, when she starred in such films as Lorna Doone and The Mill on the Floss, appeared in the West End production of the Kern/ Hammerstein musical Three Sisters, and was one of the pioneering performers on live television. Her marriage to Basil Dean, the producer-director who initiated the building of Ealing Studios, gave a boost to her career, though inevitably there were accusations that he overrated her talents.

Born in Vancouver, in 1909, to a housepainter father, she was raised in Trail, a small town in the Canadian Rockies, where she displayed early musical prowess, winning an all-Canada piano competition. After her family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1922, she enrolled at the Webber-Douglas School of Singing, where she was spotted in a school production and given the title role in the play Martine at the Ambassadors Theatre (1933).

Among those impressed by her work in the show were directors Carol Reed and Basil Dean. Dean, who had co- written with Margaret Kennedy a stage version of Kennedy's 1924 novel The Constant Nymph, was about to start a film version but had not yet cast the key role of Tess, the sickly schoolgirl passionately in love with a composer who marries her cousin. Hopper was given the role, co-starring with Brian Aherne. (The novel had already been filmed as a silent in 1928 and was to be made again in 1943 with Joan Fontaine winning an Oscar nomination as Tess.) Dean's direction brought out the poignancy of the piece, and Hopper's performance was well received.

Dean then gave her the title role in his film version of Lorna Doone (1934), though this found less favour and is best remembered now for featuring the first speaking part of the later superstar Margaret Lockwood. Hopper, who became Dean's third wife on completion of the film, was judged too delicate as the heroine of the lusty romantic adventure. Dean recorded in his autobiography,

I thought Lorna would be ideal for her: an unspoilt personality, a determined chin, steadfast character, and a pleasant light singing voice seemed exactly suited to Blackmore's heroine.

Hopper's stage career had continued with an appearance in the 1933 Christmas attraction at Drury Lane Theatre, Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel, in which she was admired for her sweetly girlish rendition of the score, and she was next cast in the lavish Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Three Sisters (1934). Hopper played one of three daughters of an itinerant photographer (the others were played by Adele Dixon and the lanky comedienne Charlotte Greenwood) and introduced the song Kern had hoped would be the hit of the show, the lovely ballad "What Good Are Words", but the musical, which was booed by the gallery on opening night, lasted just six weeks and produced only one enduring song, "I Won't Dance", which was written for Adele Dixon, but did not become a hit until interpolated into the Astaire/ Rogers movie Roberta (1935).

In 1936 Dean gave Hopper the role she would later say was her favourite, that of Constance Weber, the wife of Mozart, in the biographical film Whom the Gods Love. Location shooting in Vienna and Salzburg, and music by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thomas Beecham, resulted in an inflated budget and a financial failure. The slow pacing, and the inexperience of the leading man (Stephen Haggard, a nephew of Rider Haggard), were blamed, with some critics also questioning Dean's judgement in casting Hopper. "Everyone thought I'd married Basil just to further my career but this just wasn't true," she said recently:

Correct, he was older than me, but he was a charming man and so much more sophisticated than the other men I knew.

The Lonely Road (1936), produced by Dean but directed by James Flood, was a brisk thriller in which Hopper helped an alcoholic (Clive Brook) reform and round up a gang of smugglers. Another of the star's champions, Carol Reed, then directed her in one of her most popular films, Laburnum Grove (1936), a skilful adaptation of the J.B. Priestley play, in which she was persuasive as the daughter of a pillar of suburban respectability who is secretly a forger.

It brought Hopper some of her finest reviews, and was followed by The Mill on the Floss (1937), based on George Eliot's novel about feuding families in rural England. Hopper was Lucy Deane, whose feckless fiancé switches his affections to her cousin and best friend, Maggie (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Sweetly sympathetic, Hopper was particularly touching in her scenes with Fitzgerald, but it was her last film of note.

In 1938 Hopper playedTess again in a television production of The Constant Nymph, performed live at the Alexandra Palace studios. She played in several more television productions before the outbreak of the Second World War, and in 1939 she starred at the Saville Theatre in J.B. Priestley's Johnson Over Jordan.

When war broke out, Dean became a founding director of Ensa (Entertainments National Service Association), responsible for sending entertainers to the fighting men, and Hopper toured France, Italy, Egypt and the Middle East performing in the comedy Springtime for Henry, and she visited RAF bases across Britain, singing with the Central RAF Band. Though Hopper had divorced Dean (whom she later described as "a womaniser"), they remained friends, and she kept in touch with her two stepsons.

As the war drew to a close Hopper returned to the theatre, and, after touring with Cedric Hardwicke in The House on the Bridge (1944), she spent a year at the St Martin's Theatre in the hit thriller The Shop at Sly Corner (1945) playing Margaret Heise, the violinist daughter of an antique dealer, unaware that her father is in fact a convict escaped from Devil's Island.

She made a brief return to the screen starring with John Stuart and John Le Mesurier in John Gilling's neat little (37-minute) suspense movie Escape from Broadmoor (1948). Her last West End role was in the play Serious Charge (1955) at the Garrick Theatre, in which she took over the role of Hester Ryfield, a spinster who, when rejected by the new vicar, maliciously supports a youth who accuses the priest of sexual assault.

In 1951 Hopper married Peter Walter, an actor, a union which lasted until his death, and they made their home in a picturesque cottage on Romney Marsh.

Tom Vallance

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
people
Life and Style
tech
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Executive Assistant - London - up to £40,000 + bonus

£33000 - £40000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assista...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

HR Advisor - 6 months FTC Wimbledon, SW London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - 6 Months Fix...

IT Manager - Tolworth, Surrey - £40,000

£37000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Tolworth, Surrey - £40,...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil