Beryl Vuolo celebrates her 90th birthday this coming weekend. Happy birthday Beryl!
I had the pleasure of wishing her well this week. She's featured in this blog before - as 'Red Beryl', the actress and communist who was suspended from her civil service job back in the autumn of 1948 because her political loyalties were seen as making her unreliable. The story is told in outline here.
She starred in a Unity Theatre revue, 'What's Left', which among other things poked gentle fun at the Labour government's 'red purge' ... and then fell victim to that very same purge.
At her home outside London, she told me about her acting, her politics - she used to sell the Daily Worker outside Earl's Court station - and her moment in the political spotlight all those years ago. She showed me a scrapbook full of scores of press cuttings, theatre programmes and wonderful photos - a treasure trove of memories. Most were about the 'Red Beryl', issue, and serve to show just how much attention her suspension from the civil service attracted. She was front page news - and in the Evening Standard as much as the Daily Worker.
The great cartoonists of the time - and this was the heyday of the political cartoon, as practised by Low, Vicky and the Daily Worker's Gabriel - all made use of the story of the purging of Beryl Lund (as she was then known). And their handiwork is preserved in Beryl's own personal archive.
The press photo that sparked their interest is this - of Beryl as showgirl against a backdrop of a deserted, cobweb-ridden 'mass' Liberal rally.
Low made use of the image to lampoon the Tories - the exact reference is lost in the mist of time, but the model for the dancer in the 'Tory Unity Revue' is clearly, yes, Red Beryl.
Gabriel in the Daily Worker took a more predictable cartoon potshot - showing an MI5 man taking Beryl's place in the revue line-up.
In the News Chronicle (below), Vicky was much more mischievous - the high-kicking revue line up consisted of the Labour cabinet, with the diminutive, moustachioed figure of the PM, Clement Attlee, in the middle. The MI5 agent in the front row is focussed however on the three dancers out of sync with the rest, and kicking with their left legs. Nye Bevan's left leg is particularly evident.
Beryl Vuolo was a talented actress, and she did much more at Unity Theatre than appear in revues and parade as a showgirl. But as she looks back from the vantage point of her 90th birthday on a very active life, she can reflect with - I'm sure - both pride and nostalgia that she caught the attention of the best caroonists of the age.
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