Obituary: Daphne Rye
Monday 14 December 1992
DAPHNE RYE had many claims to fame in the theatrical world. In the 1930s she began her vivid, much-married life as assistant stage manager playing small parts at the small Theatre Royal, Margate. At 22 she married Roland Culver, the distinguished leading actor. She was to be a vital part of the all-powerful HM Tennent organisation in Shaftesbury Avenue living a star-studded life as London's most influential casting director - she discovered Richard Burton when he was 17. She became friend and confidante of her boss, Hugh 'Binkie' Beaumont, and was involved with the lives of many in a gilded theatre world. She eloped in the mid- 1950s to live in Spain.
Rye adored people and had great powers of attraction. She was the best company with her throaty but somehow silvery, wicked mocking laugh. As a young actress at the Arts Theatre Club with her sensual presence and small piquant looks, she was always especially fetching in her 'shades' - dark red-framed glasses in the mid-Thirties before such things became fashionable film and rock-star accessories.
In Europe with ENSA after the Normandy landings she stage- managed plays for the forces with stars including Ivor Novello and Diana Wynyard. Then, as a West End assistant stage manager, her drop-in after-matinee back-stage tea parties became well-known. She had a special gift for judging people, their acting abilities and their other possibilities.
Beaumont spotted her. She became essential to him as a casting director of exceptional taste and insight. She was a quick, imaginative cook and gave splendid parties in her various homes, all furnished with her individual taste. The purpose was always to introduce people: producers and directors from home and abroad, Americans and Australians met likely young talents.
She directed some new plays for Tennents at the old Lyric, Hammersmith, also several UK tours, especially Margaret Lockwood and Peter Graves in Private Lives, and then Robert Morley in his own play and greatest success Edward, My Son (1948) in Australia. She also directed another Morley vehicle, The Little Hut, this time in South Africa with Robert Flemyng. Of her two Culver sons, Michael is well- known on television and the multi-talented Robin lives in the West Country. Her second husband was the handsome John Janvrin MD. She changed his life and guided him towards a much-valued and appreciated theatrical practice in Hans Place.
She changed many lives. She often went around the country looking for talent in the repertory companies. Emlyn Williams was casting his newest Welsh play at the Sandringham Hotel, Cardiff. First among equals was Richard Burton. He was put under contract to Tennents and became one of Daphne Rye's many lodgers. Three other talents found in Cardiff were Stanley Baker, the bubbly character actress Jessie Evans and the handsome Richard Leech, a qualified doctor with theatrical hopes. Her house in Pelham Crescent, south Kensington, had several bedrooms, much laughter and many parties.
Her London life seemed safe, glamorous, busy, useful, happy and full of friends. She had met a younger man who she met some years earlier when he was an ASM playing a small part in one of HM Tennent's All Star productions. He was Sam Ainley, sometime actor, all-time charmer to women, soldier of fortune and of the French Foreign Legion. He was one of the actor Henry Ainley's many children. She fell desperately in love for the last time. Nothing would ever be the same. They eloped to Spain by car. Her specially collected English furniture followed by sea. Daphne always had a weight problem. Now happy with Sam in Majorca with ease and comfort, release from theatre tensions and the telephone she blossomed vastly; those tiny feet, slim ankles and elegant legs supported an ever-increasingly heavy body. When she left Tennents, Richard Clowes, a witty publicity man, said it was the only known case of the sinking ship leaving the rats. Borrowing from JM Barrie's Mary Rose, another wit said: 'My dear, she is the Island that Likes to be Visited.'
But there was nothing of the innocent Mary Rose in her character until the end. She was unsentimental, sharply outspoken, and critical of people however rich or grand or important they may have thought themselves. Her villa at Camp de Mar became the most glamorous pensione in Europe, visited by old friends and stars.
In a few years the island became overcrowded. She and Sam moved into Palma and opened a restaurant. It seemed popular but loud and difficult rows took place inflamed by alcohol. Daphne feared for her life when Sam waved a carving knife, then tried to strangle her parrot - 'rather the bird than me', she said, as she flew back to England. Her old friends became shareholders in a Chelsea restaurant, inevitably called 'Daphne's'. It was an instant hit. It stayed open late, was packed with after-theatre diners. The food was original and excellent. To the horror and fury of her old friends, Sam Ainley reappeared and Daphne welcomed him. She sold the restaurant, the backers got their money back, the lovers returned to Spain, this time to San Pedro de Alcantara, a few miles from fashionable Marbella. Finally they married, opened new restaurants, living with the noisy parrot and about 30 cats, maybe more. The restaurants failed. Daphne had a great new idea and opened a Book-Bar. There expatriate Brits would meet to exchange books and gossip and enjoy the first drink (or drinks) of the day. It prospered but business fell off when too many customers were insulted by the proprietor. Sam died. Daphne was distraught, moved to other houses with what was left of her original English furniture plus her parrot and her cats. She ended her days well-attended in a peaceful Spanish nursing home.
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