A Hardy Act to Follow

Emily Fleet - 19th Century Actress

 Katherine from Covent Garden said succinctly of Hanover House B&B – ‘Absolutely perfect!’

A conversation between Veronica and the ‘Lady Ambassador Liaison’ Susan Wade-Weeks, today triggered off a train of thought regarding Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org) (and the family’s) connections with the acting profession in general – quite apart from the semi-professional bouts of histrionics we get from various members from time to time!. Starting with Veronica’s parents, who had met at and performed regularly in amateur dramatics, then moving forward in time to when Veronica was running Pinewood B&B in North Bar Without in Beverley, Yorkshire, she had hosted and become friendly with the actress Fiona Fullerton, then appearing in a local production with Patrick Mower. (We still have her umbrella!)

Further connections emerged from a session of family research into son-in-law Peter’s family where I discovered his great-grandparents were musicians, and his great grandmother Emily Fleet appeared on the stage until marriage, all having originally come from Ireland in the mid to late 19th Century. More recently, we were approached by Gayle Eastell, a fund-raising organiser on behalf of the Chipping Norton Theatre, who are having a charity auction early next year. asking for the donation of guest nights in a luxury town centre B&B in Cheltenham as an auction prize. That, we were happy to do in a good cause.

Gayle went on to say that Robert Hardy was presenting the awards, after a professional auctioneer had obtained as high a price as possible for the donated prizes. We then had a conversation about Robert Hardy himself, who was then about to appear at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and our daughter-in-law Sarah’s family connections with Robert’s elder brother in Bepton in Sussex, where they have been close friends for years. We attended Robert’s presentation at the Festival and during it, discovered a surname in his family in common with one in son-in-law Peter’s family, and after a bit of digging, found that our grand-daughter is actually Robert Hardy’s 7th cousin once removed! 

Another thespian link, apart from having had a few aspiring young actors come and stay at Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org) while performing at the Playhouse or Everyman theatres, is daughter Rachael who is Head of English at The Dragon School in Oxford, another acting breeding ground, with ‘Hermione’ from Harry Potter (Emma Watson) having been educated there. Amongst its current pupils are most likely some other progeny of stage, TV and film personalities, who may or may not follow their parent(s) onto the stage in the future. Rachael herself directed a very successful series of musicals at Cheltenham Ladies’ College while teaching English there.  This had naturally progressed from working as an Assistant Director to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) director Greg Doran., while she was teaching English at The Mount School in York (Judi Dench’s old school).  Greg had been directing the fantastically successful York Millennium Mystery Play in 2000, staged in York Minster to over 28,000 people over a period of a month and starring the TV and film actor Ray Stevenson as Christ.

Coming back to the original instigating conversation, while discussing putting a ‘Lady Ambassador’ article in ‘The Lady’ about Hanover House and her ‘Lady’ activities, Veronica and Susan talked about social things including children. Asked what her own 3 children did, Susan replied diffidently that they were all actors. ‘Really?’ said Veronica ‘Should I know of them?’ (not having had any surname bells ringing). ‘They’ve done some television’, ‘We don’t watch much Television’ responded Veronica. ‘Foyle’s War?’ said Susan. Then the penny dropped – of course – Honeysuckle Weeks!  Son-in-law Peter, managing The White Hart in Winchcombe (just outside Cheltenham) at the time, had once been delighted when she’d come into the bar of The White Hart one evening, while appearing in a production at the Everyman Theatre.

As a footnote, for those interested in Art and Actresses, there is a great exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20th October titled ‘The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons’.  In an advertisement for the exhibition in The Lady, is an illustration of a painting by John Hoppner titled ‘Mary Robinson as Perdita’. I note that Honeysuckle Weeks’ sister is also a Perdita – perhaps a source of inspiration?


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