Obituary: Elizabeth Montgomery

IN 1929, when I was playing in Shakespeare at the Old Vic, a shy, handsome young woman brought some charming drawings she had made of me from memory, writes Sir John Gielgud (further to the obituary by Harriet Devine, 20 May). When I came to know Elizabeth Montgomery better she introduced me to two sisters, Sophie and Margaret Harris, both art students, with whom she shared a flat in Kensington.

In 1932, when I was making my debut as a director for the OUDS at Oxford, I asked the three girls to design the costumes for Romeo and Juliet, and their success in this field led them to assume the official name of 'Motley', under which they became extremely well-known. Their imaginative and practical gifts, economical budgets, and admirably decorative inventions, were enormously appreciated by the public, and they were able to open a boutique and establish themselves in a big studio just off St Martin's Lane, which became a hospitable centre of attraction to a number of actors, directors and writers, notably George Devine, Michel St Denis and Glen Byam Shaw and his wife Angela Baddeley.

Their first big success was with their decor for Richard of Bordeaux in 1933, and I was then able to use their invaluable contributions in many successful productions, Noah and The Old Ladies in particular, as well as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Also working with Devine and St Denis at his Old Vic School, they taught and lectured brilliantly.

Later, Laurence Olivier sent for them to design his American production of Romeo, but unfortunately it was not a success. While there Elizabeth married an American and did not return to England for many years. Sophie Harris died, and Margaret (Percy) Harris was left alone as the trio was sadly broken up. However, she continued working with unflagging dedication (as she still does today) and nursed Elizabeth, sadly dogged by increasingly bad health, with infinite devotion.

I have so many unforgettable memories of Elizabeth, not only in the theatre, but in long talks and delightful travels, especially of a short holiday just before the war, when Percy and Liz came with me to Venice, which we saw together for the first time, and another at a villa I had leased in the South of France, with Elizabeth bathing with us looking like a portrait by Gauguin, her beautiful long black hair glistening in the sunshine. Shy and reserved, she was tremendously talented and a very dear friend.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot