The 2019 ABF AGM took place on Wednesday 17th July. Dame Penelope Keith welcomed everyone and asked them to stand while she read the names of ABF Members who had died since the last AGM. A minute’s silence was observed in their memory.
Dame Penelope read some letters of thanks from beneficiaries – always observing their confidentiality.
Peter Bourke, Honorary Treasurer, guided the Members through the Annual Report. His amusing theatrical anecdotes lightened the pages of numbers.
There was then a surprise presentation to Dame Penelope to mark her 30 years of compassion and commitment as both ABF President and Chairman - a unique record. She was given a rousing ovation.
With the business of the AGM completed Dame Penelope announced that this year instead of a Guest Speaker there would be a tribute to Irene Sutcliffe, ABF Vice-President. She died this July, aged 94. Irene wanted no “fuss” - no funeral or memorial service – but the ABF had decided to make “a fuss”. After Dame Penelope’s memories with quotes from obituaries (READ MORE) other tributes and stories followed from Joan Blackham (a friend), Julien Ball (ABF Council and Irene’s executor) and Brian Murphy (colleague and ABF Vice- President). Irene’s life, her distinguished career and her long service to the ABF were remembered with gratitude, great affection and admiration.
Reen became a member of the ABF in 1975 and joined the Council in 1985. She agreed to become a Vice President in 2000. Her birthday was on July 12th. 3 years ago our AGM took place on the 12th July, and we on the Council thought it would be good to celebrate it and present her with a bouquet of flowers. I told you all it was her birthday and of course as she was a an actress I made no mention of her age, but Reen being Reen on receiving the flowers, announced in a very loud voice, ”I’m 92’’.
Alan Strachan, a good friend of Reen’s, directed her in Time and the Conways at Greenwich, and said she gave a superb performance. Sadly he can’t be here today, but he wrote an obituary for The Stage and The Independent , and there was also one in The Guardian so I would like to read you a brief resume of her career.
Irene Sutcliffe was born in Burnley, and trained at LAMDA. Her first professional appearance was in 1946 with the Harry Hanson Players. In 1947 she joined the Company in Stratford at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. After more rep, she returned to the classics to be directed by Robert Helpmann in Murder in the Cathedral at the Old Vic in 1952, with Robert Donat playing Becket. She returned to the Old Vic for two more seasons in 1960-62. In 1963 she joined Laurence Olivier’s company at Chichester and played the hostess in The Workhouse Donkey, and in 1964 she spent a year playing Mollie Ralston in The Mousetrap.
She had made her West End debut in 1952 as Patricia in The Millionairess at the New Theatre, which starred Katharine Hepburn as Epiphania, and her final appearance in London was at the Vaudeville playing a John Donne specialist in Wit, that was in 2000.
Irene’s first television role was as Desdemona in the Clemence Dane play Will Shakespeare in 1953 starring Peter Wyngarde as the bard, and she appeared in many series, including Dixon of Dock Green, Pathfinders in Space, Emergency Ward 10 among others, before her debut in Coronation Street in 1968 as Maggie, with Bill Kenwright playing her son.
She worked a lot on radio, acting in dozens of plays, and appeared on and off as Effie Cadwallander in The Dales, between 1962 and 64.
Her final performance on stage was at the Salisbury Playhouse in 2004 playing Mrs Whyte in Waters of the Moon directed by Joanna Reed.