Recently I spotted on Sky Cinema that a film version of Blithe Spirit had been released, now this got my interest instantly because of the content of it , then as if by magic a couple of days later whilst reading the paper I saw the house that featured in the films of the play was up for sale and before I thought about buying it i was quickly brought back down to earth - Denham Mount is a cool £6.5 million !!
These two happenings started wanting me to take a closer look at the history of the play and that's when my interest really took off !!
Years ago I used to work in the theatre and often shows would come into the theatre I worked at and there was often rumours of ghosts doing things on certain shows and I remembered hearing a very interesting story from the stage manager about this very play Blithe Spirit. I was lucky enough to find the person again and I asked them to write about what happened when they staged Blithe Spirit !!!!
'I was employed in the mid 1980s, as the Deputy Stage Manager, for a two year long UK tour, of Noel Coward’s play, “Blithe Spirit”. Included in the cast and playing the ghost of the first wife, Elvira, was Rula Lenska.
One day, in the early days of rehearsals, Rula was going to a wig-fitting appointment in Covent Garden. She hired the next available black cab from the taxi rank immediately outside Waterloo Station.
During this journey, Rula passed pleasantries with the driver, who has always claimed that he didn’t recognise Rula at the time. I should also mention the cast list for the play had not yet been released.
The taxi driver felt as if his vehicle had been struck by a lightning bolt, and then claimed that he could see a woman sitting beside Rula in his rear view mirror. This woman told him that Rula "needed to make the wife more jealous, because she was really annoyed that her husband had remarried!" She also said that Elvira was a very sexual creature, and she should wear a rich, heady perfume when playing her - one she should only wear on stage. The strong, heady smell would introduce Elvira before you saw her and then remain for a few seconds after she left, adding to the illusion of being visited by a ghost.
The driver said this woman had told him her name was Kay Hammond; that she was the first actress to play Elvira; and that she knew, from Noel Coward directly, how he wanted Elvira portrayed.Finally, she asked that there should be a white rose in Rula’s dressing room, (and the dressing room of every actress who plays Elvira) in memory of Kay Hammond...
When Rula returned to rehearsal and told us the story, I made sure there was always a white rose present. There was always a single rose in Rula’s dressing room (and later Louise Jameson’s when she took over the role), in memory of Kay Hammond.
I later discovered that the taxi driver was the Jewish Medium Gerry Sherrick, who had been deeply involved in the infamous Enfield Haunting. It was purely by chance that Rula got into his cab. He and his wife, Lauretta, later came to see the show, and met everyone involved. He managed to contact Kay Hammond, while backstage at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. She said she was happy with how the show was being played and that it was close to Noel Coward’s vision of the piece.
Gerry Sherrick never took payment for any of his mediumship work. He was a devoutly religious man, who view his ability as a Gift from God.
A couple of days after Rula had this chance meeting with Gerry, it was still obvious that she was greatly unnerved by this unexpected event. She and I went to lunch and, on a spur of the moment, went into Bromley’s branch of WHSmith’s. At the time, the shop was on the High Street, opposite the theatre. As we walked through, chatting as we went, we approached a table that had books of all sizes and subjects. We were the only people anywhere near the table, about 6-8ft away, when a large book standing upright on the table rocked from right to left, before hitting the floor with a loud bang!
The book landed open and, on inspection, it was a book about film. It had landed open on a page featuring David Lean’s 1945 film, “Blithe Spirit”, with a photograph of Rex Harrison and……Kay Hammond!
Thank you to Beverly Oxford for taken the time to write about this for us .