I don’t know whether some of you may remember her or know that we had living in the village one of Britain’s most respected stage actresses of the 20th century. Dame Gwen Lucy Ffrangcon-Davies lived her last years in Tagley Cottage on the Finchingfield Road and is buried in the churchyard here.
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was born in London of a Welsh family. She made her stage debut in 1911, as a singer as well as an actress. In 1924, she played Juliet opposite John Gielgud as Romeo, and Gielgud was grateful to her for the rest of his life for the kindness she showed him.
In 1938, she appeared with Ivor Novello in a production of Henry V at Drury Lane. She played Lady Macbeth for almost an entire year in 1942 opposite Sir John Gielgud’s Macbeth. Gielgud reportedly said of her portrayal of Lady Macbeth that it was the one that all others should be judged by.
She retired from the stage in 1970, but continued to appear on radio and television. In the 1980s she appeared on the Wogan chat show, in which she recited word for word Juliet’s death scene. In 1991 six months before her death she was created a Dame Commander of the British Empire the oldest ever appointee to the Order.
Dame Gwen made her final acting appearance in a teleplay of the Sherlock Holmes story The Master Blackmailer opposite Jeremy Brett later that same year.
Her films included The Witches (1966) and The Devil Rides Out (1968), both for Hammer Films.
If you put her name into YouTube search you can see the 1983 interview made for the BBC. It is in 5 parts and last about 50 mins. She is interviewed by Susan Gau and it is probably filmed at Tagley Cottage. The film is called Dame Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies – A Life in the Theatre.
Richard Wright, June 2011