Betty Paul: Stage and screen actress and writer of ITV's first rural soap opera

Anthony Hayward
Wednesday 13 April 2011 00:00

After one career as an actor and singer, Betty Paul switched to another as a writer and co-created ITV's first rural soap opera, Weavers Green (1966), with her third husband, Peter Lambda.

They envisaged Weavers Green as "a mirror of country life", and set their stories around a Norfolk village's veterinary practice run by Alan Armstrong (Grant Taylor) and Geoffrey Toms (Eric Flynn). There were also appearances by Wendy Richard as a barmaid and Kate O'Mara as a young vet.

The programme did not idealise country life, with Paul and Lambda portraying the difficulties both for those new to rural life and others who wanted to escape it. They were also involved in a screen "first", with Anglia Television making most of the twice-weekly serial on location, on videotape instead of film, which was unusual at the time – and expensive.

However, although the weekday, peak-time episode was popular, the weekend one was scheduled in a children's slot and struggled to find an audience. After six months and 49 episodes, ITV cancelled the soap. Anglia believed it was the victim of being an outsider among ITV's "big four" companies – and, when the network later launched Emmerdale Farm, it was the last region to promote it to a peak-time slot.

Paul contented herself with contributing scripts to ITV daytime serials – Harriet's Back in Town (1972-73), featuring a woman facing life after divorce, Marked Personal (1973), about a personnel officer in a large company, and Rooms (1974-77), which followed the tenants of a house converted into bedsits.

Paul was born Betty Percheron in Middlesex, in 1921. Her French father was a fabrics importer and her Irish mother encouraged a love of the theatre. Just a week after her 13th birthday, she was appearing at Sadler's Wells theatre in the ballet production The Legend of Dick Whittington (1934).

On finishing her education – at South Hampstead high school and the Institut Français – she set out on a career as an actor, singer and dancer, aged 14. A year later, she was in London's West End, playing Adele in Jane Eyre (Queen's Theatre, 1936). Then, in 1938, she became the youngest member of C.B. Cochran's Young Ladies troupe.

During the war, she joined ENSA, which entertained the troops, and performed in the West End musicals Lady Behave (1941) and Old Chelsea (1943). Deciding to change her professional name to Betty Paul, she acted in further West End productions – Bless the Bride (1947), Bitter Sweet (1949), The Dish Ran Away (1951), All for Mary (1954) and And So to Bed (1961), playing Mistress Pepys in a musical about Samuel Pepys. She even had a brief Broadway run as the title character in the musical Maggie (1953), based on J.M. Barrie's play What Every Woman Knows. Although there were only five performances, she was nominated for a New York Critics' Award.

On radio, Paul appeared alongside Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss in the comedy Up the Pole (1947-48). She made her film debut in the director David Lean's screen version of Oliver Twist (1948), as one of the singers at the Three Cripples pub (Hattie Jacques was the other). She also acted in Let's Have a Murder (1950) and Flesh & Blood (1951). There were a handful of television appearances, in Children's Newsreel (1950), Colonel March of Scotland Yard (1956), No Hiding Place (1960) and Echo Four Two (1961).

But she switched to writing following her marriage to Lambda, a Hungarian refugee who moved to London in 1938 and was also a talented sculptor (he produced busts of theatrical legends such as Laurence Olivier). The couple jointly contributed two scripts to the short-lived drama series The Sentimental Agent (1962), before they teamed up again for Weavers Green.

After enjoying some success writing other serials, Paul returned to acting for a two-year run in the West End as Mrs Pearce, the housekeeper, in My Fair Lady (1979-81). In 1987, she and Lambda retired to Gloucestershire, where Paul wrote two novels, Lucky Star (1989) and Conditions of Love (1992).

Betty Percheron (Betty Paul), actor and writer: born Hendon, Middlesex 21 May 1921; married Robin Hood (died 1944), 1945 Hartley Power (marriage dissolved 1955), 1958 Peter Lambda (died 1995); died Tibberton, Gloucestershire 27 February 2011.

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