Tutored by giants of literature and singing with Magnus Magnusson – Maureen Price has had a fascinating life – and still relishes life’s adventures
My life has been one big adventure and still is! I have only to go shopping or to the theatre and something happens. Who else would get a taxi to Drury Lane, only for the driver to get lost?!
It all started in Southampton. My father was an engineer on the big ships and my mother a teacher who had to give up because married women were not allowed to teach before the War. I often wondered why she married a sailor when her father died on the Titanic!
During the War I was evacuated to Bournemouth, but was often home for the weekend until Southampton was blitzed, when we all moved to Bournemouth. My father was with The Queen Mary, carrying troops in the Pacific, and didn’t come home for over three years. My mother began teaching again – women were now needed.
I went to an ordinary small girls’ grammar school, where an excellent English teacher had the foresight to organise trips to the theatre. The London theatres were closed as the big actors were touring and I saw people like John Guilgud and Robert Helpmann. I had gone to the cinema regularly but it was theatre that attracted me.
The world opened up when I was lucky enough to get a place at Oxford to read for an English degree.
For me it was magic! I met many students who later became household names. I sang in a choir with Magnus Magnusson – a charming, quiet, reserved man. I was in a play with Shirley Catlin, daughter of famous author Vera Britten. She is better known now as Shirley Williams. I was too naïve to realise the wealth of talent of many of the lecturers. You did not have to go to lectures, but famously popular were C. S. Lewis and Lord David Cecil as well as a strange man who lectured in Old English language – by the name of Professor J. R. Tolkein!!
After university I went into teaching in schools such as my own had been, in Portsmouth and then in Brentford. At that time I was able to join a local operatic society and a local amateur theatre group.
After seven years of teaching, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I decided it was time to try something else, so I resigned and sat back and waited.
I read in a newspaper that a woman from the BBC Schools Service had been appointed to the London Independent TV Company, Associated Rediffusion. In those days the BBC and all the commercial companies were obliged to show programmes for schools every afternoon. Nothing daunted, I wrote and asked her for a job! She replied and I started work in central London, as Education Officer. We had to suggest topics for an eight-week term, which were then approved by an advisory panel. We had to devise eight programmes. These were scripted by a writer, while we wrote the teachers’ notes for schools we sat with the television director to see that he or she kept to the script. I worked on the first French language programmes and had to make sure the camera coincided with the spoken word. The rehearsals were in a big building on Kingsway, both for our programmes and the major evening shows. We shared the same canteen and often saw faces familiar from the previous night’s TV. I once stood behind Bing Crosby in a dinner queue. Not for long. He was whisked away by the Managing Director!
After four fascinating years, I began to look around again. I saw an advertisement for a Drama Adviser for the Inner London Education Authority, so of course I applied. Little did I know that the Deputy Education Officer had been on the approving panel at the TV studio and, seeing my application, said: ‘Include her on the shortlist’!
That is how I came to work for the ILEA, where I stayed for 25 years! All the variety was there. We worked in schools with drama teachers. We ran courses at weekends and in holidays. We were able to buy blocks of seats for children at theatres. The National Theatre was very good at allowing us blocks very early in the run of a play. We interviewed teachers for appointment to our schools and monitored their probation years. One of my claims to fame was approving one young teacher who said: ‘Well, I’m leaving to go on the stage.’ I looked at her pretty face and rather large and comic character and advised her to stay with amateur work, but that if she insisted, I would welcome her back eventually. Her name was Dawn French. She never came back!
It hasn’t been all work. I have travelled quite a bit – mostly in Europe and America – and continued with my singing and acting until my voice cracked up (too many high notes) and my legs wouldn’t dance any more. I don’t regret anything. I am convinced that we are guided to make the right decisions. As my mother used to say: ‘knock on every door and the right one will open.’ It may not seem so at the time, but looking back, it makes sense.
But I’m not finished yet…!
Sadly, Maureen died peacefully in Kingston Hospital on Wednesday 12th February 2020. She was a well loved and spirited member of the Hinchley Wood community and St. Christopher’s Church. She will be greatly missed.
Rest in Peace Maureen.