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Frieda Standen

The versatile Manx pianist, actress and author.

Standen née Kelly, Freida Josephine; born Douglas 13th October 1910; died 7th October 20091

Father: Frederick Joseph Kelly; born c. 1862; died c. 1916. Boarding House Keeper.

Mother: Elizabeth Kinley; born Douglas c 1870; died 1968.

Sisters: Ellen F; born Glasgow c. 1896;2 Ena; born Douglas c. 1913.

Spouse: Cyril Standen

Son: Peter

Daughter: Michele

Frieda Kelly spent her early years at ‘Roslyn’ (later ‘Trevelyan’), a guest house during the summer season, at number 19 Palace Terrace, Douglas. She recalled her father complaining endlessly about the ‘Arctic conditions’ in the house during the winter. He was the oungest son of a Northern Irish family from Newcastle, County Down, a seaside town at the foot of Slieve Donard and the Mourne Mountains,3 and was therefore not a Manx Kelly. Educated at Ushaw College, County Durham,4 as a young man he spent some seven years in New York in a position at one of the Vanderbilt banks, before moving to the Island in 1888. In June 1904 he married Elizabeth Kinley, formerly an assistant school teacher and at some time the proprietress of a café in Victoria Street where the family lived ‘over the shop’. Although her father died when she was six years old, Frieda recollected that he was ‘a quietly spoken, gentle man’. She also recalled that during the summer months children of boarding house and hotel keepers were ‘very much left to their own devices’ as their parents were predominately involved with the day-to-day tasks of sourcing and preparing food, servicing the bedrooms across four or five floors and even contending with ‘the abundance of flies’ attracted by the pre-refrigeration ‘meat safes’. The summers were short and hectic and the winters long and - for children - often dull, as they were again ‘left to their own devices’, only this time in empty, forlorn, boarding houses.

   Frieda’s early schooling took place in houses attached to Victoria Street Methodist Church, and for certain lessons at Park Road School. She recalled that Archibald Knox visited the school to teach art. She recalled practising the ‘Maxina’5 and other topical dances on Laxey beach during the ‘halcyon’ summer of 1922, and with a group of friends started a school dramatic society, who wrote their own plays and rehearsed during playtimes or lunch times. In 1924 she was awarded the Form 3C prize at Douglas Secondary School’s annual prize-giving.

    From her earliest years Frieda enjoyed playing the piano, dancing and singing, and recalled that the first entertainment she took part in, for which she was paid, was at the age of five when she entertained the visitors in a neighbouring hotel. As a young pianist she was a pupil of Mrs T. B. Clague, LRAM, and during the 1920s enjoyed success at the Guild and in the Royal Academy/Royal College of Music piano examinations in the twelve and twelve to fifteen years of age classes.6 She also took part in the Port Erin and Port St. Mary Eisteddfods in the recitations and vocal solo sections.

A versatile all-rounder and accompanist

Around 1924 Frieda got a job at Blakemore’s in Victoria Street, one of Douglas’s best-known music shops dealing in piano hire and tuning, music for the Guild and concert tickets. They also employed a pianist to demonstrate the popular tunes of the day.  Before long she was playing the piano with a small band at the Groudle Glen Pavilion, and in April 1926 she played ‘delightful interlude music’ as part of a small ensemble at a Matinee Dansette given by the pupils of the Misses Rowe and Miss Sylvia Every. In 1928 she competed in the piano solo class at the Blackpool Music Festival, and the following year she was the pianist among the entertainers at the World Manx Association whist drive at the Palais de Danse. That same year she was one of two pianists who accompanied at a display of dancing given by the pupils of the St. Aubyn School of Dancing, and in April 1929 ‘Miss Freda Kelly’s Orchestra’ provided the music at the St. Aubyn School of Dancing’s Festival of Dance at the Villa Marina.

     In the final years before the arrival in Douglas of the ‘talkies’ Frieda recalled Dr. G. Tootell’s cinema organ playing at the Picture House and the Kathleen Rydings Trio at the Strand Cinema.7 She also remembered entertainments at the Balaqueen Hotel, Port St. Mary, the Arragon Hotel, Santon, the Ramsey Pool Ballroom and the Majestic Hotel.

More than one string to her bow

Frieda always had a great interest in fashion and design, and initially this is where her ambitions lay. In fact, she worked at Lyons fashion shop in Castle Street for three years before attending the Royal Academy of Music for a period, after which she returned to a career in fashion. Lyons fashion shop later moved to a site originally occupied by Marks & Spencer, and Frieda recalled that it was a favourite place for window shopping as the beautiful display windows were lit until 11.00 pm. Frieda certainly displayed a flair for fashion, and enjoyed servicing her own regular customers.

    The 1930s was a busy decade for Frieda Kelly as her musical talents became increasingly in demand. She became the pianist for a dancing school run by Mrs Rushworth and her daughter Doris. In December 1931, her recently formed New Regent Dance Band ‘gave a good account of themselves’ at the Douglas Christmas Hot-Pot Fund dance and whist drive in the village hall, Onchan, and the following year she was the accompanist for Douglas Choral Union’s production of The Geisha. Later that year it was announced that she had been awarded a Baume Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where she studied for a period of time, although she was back in Douglas in December 1933 as part of ‘an efficient little orchestra’ of just five musicians, including the violinist Kathleen Rydings, providing the music for Doris Lowthian’s Dancing Display at the Gaiety Theatre.

    Her first stage appearance took place in 1934 when she appeared in Douglas Choral Union’s production of Katinka in a modest role as one of six Russian dancers each with just one word to speak! Her acting debut proper began the following year at the Guild Drama Contest with Good Companion’s Society when she played the first of many character roles: a Cockney hag. In March 1936 she appeared in the Unnamed Dramatic Society’s production of P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave it to PSmith, and the following month with the same society’s ‘somewhat laboured production’ of Elegant Edward, based on Edgar Wallace’s tales of a rather insipid, bungling con man, at the Guild Drama Festival. By the 1937-38 season she was described as ‘a leading light’ and ‘a popular member’ of the Manx Amateur Dramatic Society.

     In March 1939 she was once again the accompanist for Doris Lowthian’s School of Dancing display of dance, ballet and mime at the Gaiety Theatre. Her hard work throughout the production was commended. In June she was back on stage as one of just two local amateurs in roles in the Fortesque Repertory Company’s production of the H. F. Maltby’s Lancashire comedy The Rotters - a tale of a disreputable family - at the Gaiety Theatre, and ‘scored an  immense hit as the Strange Lady, an ‘amazingly lifelike portrayal’ and ‘the best performance to date by an amateur player’.

The Island at War again

‘Sunday September 3rd dawned fine and sunny, giving promise of a lovely day. As the day progressed, a small collection of people gathered in the Villa Marina café . . . composed of several members of the orchestra which had played in the ballroom all the summer, a few of my stage professional friends from the Garden Pavilion, and a scattering of visitors’. The group tuned in to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s address on a radio to the nation at 11.00 o’clock. The silence that ensued was broken by the melancholy sound of the Mona’s Queen siren as she prepared to leave Douglas harbour. ‘That evening . . .  we, my showbiz friends and two of the musicians, went to the Picture House . . . as the programme finished, the Palais Band came in having finished their Sunday concert . . . and played the current favourites including South of the Border and all the World War I songs. The audience sang everything that was played’.

     Despite the pall of gloom and anxiety that swiftly descended on the Island, Frieda recalled that ‘entertainment was not in short supply’. The four Douglas cinemas, the repertory companies at the Gaiety (who relied upon unpaid local actors to keep going), the Villa Marina and the Palais de Danse continued to be well patronised by dancers. Later there would be occasional ENSA8 visits and concert parties from all over the Island including those based at Andreas and Jurby RAF stations. The Palais de Danse was open every evening, with Saturday the most popular with members of the forces. Many local lads spent their last evening before embarkation, joining in with the nostalgic songs were often played there, including Now is the Hour. In fact, it was at the Palais de Danse that Frieda first met her future husband in January 1939, and in December 1940 she and Cyril Standen married at St. George’s Church, Douglas, followed by a reception at the Falcon Hotel and a honeymoon on the Island.9

     Everyone quickly settled into the dismal routines dictated partly by the fact that the Island was essentially an offshore internment camp. In 1940 Frieda was fined 20s for an inadvertent infringement of the ‘blackout’ regulations at the Sally Mae frock shop, caused by a late customer interrupting the normal stringent blackout routine. She continued with her local musical engagements as accompanist at many hastily improvised entertainments: a British Legion Armistice Concert, piano recitals at the Sefton Hotel and occasionally with Harold Moorhouse’s band at the Palais de Danse. Douglas, it seems, was determined to remain cheerful and as lively as possible during the ‘phoney war’. Cyril Standen was transferred to Hutchinson Internment Camp10 and the couple occupied a flat on the Esplanade.

An exciting new venture.

In 1942 Frieda was a co-founder with Olga Cowell and others of the Service Players, a dramatic society instigated by a young naval officer named John Pertwee,11 which still thrives today. Male actors were selected from service personnel and female roles were taken by local actresses. The first production, Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall, took place in April at the Gaiety Theatre, and was ‘an outstanding success . . . a brilliant production’. Among the locals in the cast Nora Moore was commended, as was Frieda, who played a love-sick foolish girl ‘very creditably’. The proceeds were donated to King George’s Fund for Sailors’ and the Manx Prisoners’ of War Parcels Fund.

   In 1944 they purchased a bungalow in Onchan, and in September that year Frieda was the solo pianist at a ‘Grand Sunday Evening Concert’ at the Villa Marina with the orchestra of the Royal Naval School of Music (who were stationed at Howstrake Holiday Camp during the war) and the Onchan Ladies’ Choir.  In November that year she was the solo pianist in a nostalgic Sunday variety concert entitled ‘Memories’, and was the accompanist and piano soloist with Jack Hart’s Aeronautics Band and pupils of the Harriet Moorhouse School of Dancing. She performed pieces by Mendelssohn and Addinsell’s popular Warsaw Concerto. The critic praised her ‘agile finger work’, but felt there was ‘some lack of feeling in the Addinsell’. In June 1945 she was complimented on her piano solos and called ‘a tower of strength’ as the accompanist in ‘The Entertainment Stores’, a Bright Show by the Pioneer Corps at the Avenue Cinema, Onchan, starring ex-servicemen and local lady entertainers. The following month the Pioneer Corps, including Cyril, now Captain, Standen, presented an enjoyable concert party show at Cronk Ruagh Sanatorium, and in August the Onchan Ladies’ Choir and several hundred women from some thirty Manx organisations bade farewell to Countess Granville after eight years of ‘splendid work’ on the Island.

The post-war years

Amateur dramatics, particularly with the Service Players, occupied Frieda increasingly during the immediate post-war years and into the 1950s, and her appearances even in brief ‘character’ roles always attracted attention. She increasingly produced plays for the Service Players ‘B’ and ‘C’ troupes in the Senior Dramatic Societies class at the Guild in such plays as Fredda Collins’ one-act play The Foolishness of God in 1952, and her sterling work as the accompanist for some productions was invariably praised. There were pantomimes in the Onchan Village Hall devised by Harriet Moorhouse, the wife of local bandleader Harold Moorhouse, with music ‘in the capable hands of Frieda Standen’, and numerous social events such as the Women Legionaries Annual Dinner at the Sefton Hotel when she ‘officiated at the piano’. On a more ambitious scale were concerts such as the British Empire Cancer Campaign concert at the Avenue Cinema, Onchan, with Harold Moorhouse’s band, a children’s play devised by Harriet Moorhouse with the Lowthian School of Dancing and Frieda in her customary role of accompanist.12

    In February 1952 the sixth Cavalcade variety show took place at the Gaiety Theatre, with humour, song and dance from local amateur entertainers enough to ‘dispel winter gloom’. The orchestra was directed by William Owen with Frieda at the piano, and the proceeds, (the entertainers gave their services free) went to the Manx Deaf and Dumb Society. In April Cavalcade presented an Easter Parade Revue at the Gaiety Theatre. Frieda ‘ably conducted’ the orchestra. During that summer she was the pianist in a series of weekly summer shows at the Ramsey Pavilion (‘Palace of Varieties’) and her contribution was adjudged ‘a sheer delight . . . a busy evening . . . impressed everyone by the high quality of her work’. The usual format included songs from the shows, monologues, dancing, comic sketches, talent competitions and occasionally illusionists and novelty acts such as the high steppers and sand dancers that appeared in the November show at RAF Jurby.

     In 1953 there was a special Coronation edition of Cavalcade at the Gaiety, the main feature of which was a re-creation of an old-time music hall. Frieda herself directed the small orchestra. The tenth edition of Cavalcade took place at the Gaiety Theatre in March 1955 in the form of ‘a sparkling review’ entitled ‘Talk Town’, and included the usual array of entertaining acts including a xylophone routine, a musical saw act, comic sketches and popular songs from the shows. Frieda and Barbara Taggart were the piano accompanists.

     As the 1950s wore on she continued to appear in various plays with various societies. She appeared as Madame Raquin in the 1954 production of Zola’s Thérese Raquin with the Phoenix Players, and in 1956 was the accompanist for the Service Players’ production of Ivor Novello’s House Full, in which two enterprising sisters turn their London home into a card school for charity. Olga Cowell, Eva Kane and Eileen Peters took the major roles. In 1959 she produced Patrick Hamilton’s thriller set in a Mayfair house, The Rope, for the Service Players at a drama weekend which was judged to be ‘a notable exception to the pretty mediocre fare’. In November that year audiences braved the pelting rain and high winds to enjoy the Service Players’ presentation of John Chapman’s Dry Rot at the Gaiety Theatre, a popular comedy made famous by the irrepressible Brian Rix on television. Frieda was by now the vice-chairman of the Service Players, with Cyril Standen elected a Life Member and Jon Pertwee an Honorary Life Member. Agatha Christie’s new thriller The Unexpected Guest (dead body in the study, wife holding a gun; an ingenious plot, but, according to the critics, hardly gripping.) opened 1960 amateur plays season with Frieda providing ‘some atmospheric music’.

     One of Frieda’s last musical recollections was of the summer of 1964 when she was engaged as the pianist with the Derby Castle band, the last summer season there before the ‘Hall by the Sea’ was demolished. She had stepped into the shoes of Emily Christian, who had been engaged there the previous summer, and found that she had inherited something of a poisoned chalice. There were issues between the new musical director and some of the established musicians, the piano copies of the music were often hand-written and bedevilled with errors, and the Monday morning rehearsals with new variety artistes were chaotic with many musical numbers under-rehearsed through lack of time. ‘By the end of the afternoon, I would be dizzy with confusion . . . Monday evenings were diabolical as far as the orchestra was concerned. Tuesday was better . . . at least we had seen the acts and had a better idea of what the musical requirements would be’. She wrote warmly of some of the variety turns that season, particularly Roy Castle, who was ‘very appreciative’, and Pinky and Perky, an ‘act we liked very much because they used records and required no music from us’.

‘She touched a lot of people’s lives with her magic and sparkle’

Frieda remained active all her life, writing, painting or composing, and always remained fashionably dressed. She was associated with the Red Cross Society and was the recipient of their Long Service Badge. Frieda loved to look back over her long life and became something of a lively raconteur, entertaining friends with her stories of Island life in years gone by. During the 1990s she emerged in a new role as an authoress and many of her anecdotes and acute observations appeared in a series of entertaining books about her career, the entertainers that she knew and the Island itself (See below, Sources). She and Cyril were great travellers and her last book, Travels of Yesteryear is a delightful record of their journeys by car and caravan around Britain and Europe. She died of pneumonia in Noble’s Hospital on 7th October, 2009.

Maurice Powell, March 2019

Notes

1.      The 1911 census gives her name as Freda. There is an isolated reference to ‘Frieda’ Kelly in a local newspaper in 1916 but not again until the 1930s by which time she had adopted the name Frieda.

2.      Ellen was the daughter of Frieda’s father by a previous marriage. She is not mentioned in any of Frieda Standen’s books.

3.       The 1911 Isle of Man Census says ‘Dundrum, Down, Northern Ireland’, a nearby village on Dundrum Bay, County Down. There is a certain amount of uncertainty concerning the origins of Frederick Kelly and the years before he came to the Isle of Man. In 1843, 46 men from Newcastle, County Down perished when a fishing fleet was caught in a fierce gale, hence the local song ‘Newcastle town is one long street entirely stripped of men’.

4.       Frieda Standen says Ussher School/College.

5.       The Maxina or ‘New Maxina’, a variety of Tango/Two-step was first introduced by the British Association of Teachers of Dancing as a new competition dance in 1917; it partly derives from the Brazilian Maxixe of 1914.

6.       The forerunner of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, ABRSM.

7.       See Maurice Powell, A very Gifted Manx Lady, The life of Kathleen Rydings, Wibble Publishing, 2014.

8.       Entertainments National Service Association set up by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson in 1939, and first broadcast to the Empire in October that year. A huge number of stars were associated with ENSA – popular acronym ‘Every Night Something Awful’ - including Florrie Forde, Gracie Fields, George Formby, Vera Lynn and Sandy Powell, and many up-and-coming entertainers from the services who would become household names during the great years of radio comedy and the early years of television.

9.       Cyril Standen was discharged from the forces the result of an injury in France just before Dunkirk. He went to Norfolk for a few months, and after post-convalescence at the Majestic Hotel on Onchan Head, a military hospital during the war, was posted to the Mooragh internment camp as finance officer. He was ‘well known on the Island as a talented pianist’.

10.   The so-called ‘Artistes Camp’. Frieda mentions that Rawicz and Landauer, Charlie Kunz, the bandleader and ‘wizard pianist’, and members of the future Amadeus String Quartet were interned at the Hutchinson Camp.

11.   Sublieutenant John Pertwee (known professionally as Jon), later Dr Who, and the children’s scarecrow character Worzel Gummidge.

12.   See IoME 17th March 1952 for photograph of Frieda Standen with Harold and Harriet Moorhouse; also IoME 28th March 1938 for head and shoulders photograph of Frieda (Kelly).

 

Sources:

Standen, Frieda, Trivial Tales of Music and Man, Peel, Trafalgar Press, 1990; Those Were the Days, Douglas, The Manx Experience, 1992; Wartime Memories, Douglas, The Manx Experience, 1997.

Isle of Man newspapers/iMuseum.

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