OBITUARY : Thelma Holland
Thursday 09 March 1995
Her devotion to Wilde's memory made her something of a guardian of his best attributes - Oscar as a family man, fascinating his two children with bedtime stories . . . Oscar the wit and the genius - while her constant insistence and encouragement persuaded her husband Vyvyan to write his autobiographical Son of Oscar Wilde (1954). The book was cathartic, and gave him a new lease of life for his last 13 years.
I first met Thelma Holland through my husband, Philip Broadley, who played Oscar Wilde in the play My Name is Wilde at the Torch theatre many years ago. Vyvyan and Thelma came to see the performance and we all became friends. At the age of 70 Vyvyan insisted on riding pillion on Philip's scooter - a balancing act fraught with danger. He was a "goer", like Thelma. "Because of my father," he confided to Philip, "I have been suspected of being a homosexual. I - who have wasted my time, my money, my substance on women!"
Thelma was born in Australia, and after experience in a bookshop and repertory company she fulfilled her ambition to get to the mother country. Years later she returned to Melbourne as the "The Girl Who Made Good", under the auspices of Cyclax Cosmetics - lecturing and demonstrating make- up with the bubbling personality that was her trademark.
In 1940 she came back to a London at war - and created a camouflage cream for the Forces. Soon Elizabeth was to become Queen. At Thelma Holland's instigation Cyclax approached Queen Elizabeth, suggesting that the time was coming when the Princess would need expert advice on her make-up. Surprisingly the Queen agreed. And Thelma become the Queen-to-be's Cosmetician and Beauty Adviser - guiding her through the Coronation and years of public appearances.
Finally in 1957 she left Cyclax to become managing director in England of the Slenderella group of beauty salons, based in Bond Street. I trained in New York at the same time. We both returned to London with the stereotyped American selling jargon. But Thelma could never get it right. It just wasn't her style. As a result there were a lot of laughs in the salon - Thelma's laughter was always contagious. And there was champagne ("giggle juice") in the backroom when we were depressed.
Colourful characters came to visit Thelma at the salon. I particularly remember Sir Compton Mackenzie. What a handsome man! With his hat at a jaunty angle and dressed impeccably he swept Thelma off to lunch. A few years later when we were filming together, "Monty", as he liked to be called, spoke of Thelma with real affection.
Vyvyan Holland died in 1967. Thelma had given him a son, Merlin, and returned him to a full life. His death had a traumatic effect on her. The shock made her deaf; her last years were lonely and often sad.
But she never lost her compulsion to protect Oscar Wilde's reputation and triumphantly lived to place lilies, three weeks ago, beneath the new blue window in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey dedicated to Wilde's memory.
Dorothy Thelma Helen Besant, beautician: born Melbourne, Australia 19 June 1910; married 1943 Vyvyan Holland (died 1967; one son); died London 1 March 1995.
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