Rosamund John (1913 – 1998)

Tom Vallance wrote in an obituary for The Independent of 23 October 2011 :

“ONE OF Britain’s most popular film actresses of the Forties, Rosamund John was voted second only to Margaret Lockwood as the country’s favourite British female star in 1944. Among her films were two of the finest of the decade, The Way to the Stars and Green for Danger.

A grey-eyed honey-blonde, she was one of the most interesting of the well-bred heroines who dominated the British screen of that time. “In those days we were much more ladylike than they are now,” she said recently. “We used to admire ladies in French films because in them actresses were allowed to be real: but English films made us unreal because the audience liked being taken out of the reality of the war.”

Intensely political, she retired into a long and happy marriage to the Labour MP John Silkin and could often be seen attending the House of Commons to hear him speak.

Born Nora Rosamund Jones in Tottenham, north London, in 1913, she was educated at the Tottenham Drapers’ College, then attended the Embassy School of Acting. Her early ambitions were to be an actress or author…

…her popularity increased even further with her appearance in the outstanding film about a bomber station, The Way to the Stars (1945), written by Terence Rattigan and directed by Anthony Asquith (“my favourite director”). As “Toddy”, the compassionate pub manageress who loses both the flier she marries and the American airman she later befriends, John was the epitome of patrician common sense and stoicism. In a memorable scene, in which she persuades a young pilot (John Mills) that his determination not to marry his sweetheart during the war is misguided, John conveys a wealth of compressed emotion as she tells him: “If I could go back five years now and choose again whether or not to meet David, whether or not to fall in love with him, to marry him and bear his child, I’d choose again to have things happen exactly the way they did before . . . Any other woman in the world would tell you the same.”

…John’s final film was a B movie, Operation Murder (1956), but she had long virtually abandoned her acting career for politics and for marriage. In 1949 she became an Equity representative on the Working Party on Film Production Costs, an appointment made by Harold Wilson, then President of the Board of Trade. “It was a great advantage being a woman on that council. All the men around the table were going on about cutting production costs, cutting down wardrobe budgets and so on. I pointed out that one of the reasons people to go the cinema is to see beautifully dressed women, that the money was not being wasted.”

John also served on a committee which established a minimum rate for chorus workers, and with the increasing emergence of television she helped battle with the BBC, which did not want to pay for repeat screenings and wanted to treat actors as self-employed and thus not pay their National Insurance.

It was through her political work that Johns met a handsome young naval officer, *John Silkin, 10 years her junior and an intensely ambitious solicitor who had joined the Labour party when only 16. Silkin admitted later that he was first attracted to the film star’s fame, but they ultimately fell in love and were married in 1950, the year that Silkin first contested (unsuccessfully) a Labour seat. He eventually entered the Commons at a by-election in 1963, became a confidant of Wilson and was appointed Chief Whip in 1966. He and John were both vehemently opposed to American involvement in the Vietnam war, and allegedly influenced Wilson’s decision to accede to Lyndon Johnson’s demands for British involvement with only a token “battalion of bagpipers”.

Though Silkin always opposed the party’s “hard left”, he and John regarded themselves as precursors of the “soft left” epitomised by Neil Kinnock. Tam Dalyell, who was Richard Crossman’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, was a friend of the Silkins and fondly recalls John’s charm and elegance. Dalyell organised a memorial meeting at Methodist Hall for Crossman and, since it was not a religious service, arranged for poems by Yeats and Byron to be read by John. No one who attended, he said, will ever forget the clarity and resonance of John’s beautiful readings.

The actress maintained her interest in politics to the end, and just 18 months ago attended a Westminster Labour Party brunch.”

*(Wikipedia): “He was the third son of Lewis Silkin, 1st Baron Silkin, and a younger brother of Samuel Silkin, Baron Silkin of Dulwich. He was married to the actress Rosamund John from 1950 until his death in 1987. Their son Rory L. F. Silkin was born in 1954.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s