Terry Randall, better known in Rye as Terry Collier, who had a leading role as Lancashire Annie in the classic wartime film Millions Like Us celebrated her 100th birthday on Thursday October 30. Friends joined her for a cream tea party at the Coastguard Tearooms at Fairlight, where stills from her acting career decorated the tables so that everyone could see just what she got up to in her heyday.
Terry lived at Strand Court, Rye, until a few years ago when illness forced a move to an Abbeyfield home at St Leonards. A surprise guest for tea was Bruce Dowling, Mayor of Hastings, who stayed chatting despite a busy schedule.
Randall was Terry’s stage name, adopted when she went to Rada in 1934 at the age of 20. A career on stage, screen and TV followed: “No retakes in those days,” she says. “If you dried, you dried”. She worked alongside many actors and actresses whose names will still be familiar. Rex Harrison was one – but never a love interest: “Not my type,” she says firmly, “which is probably why we got on so well. I was the only girl not chasing him.” They were appearing in French Without Tears, an ENSA production in 1944 to entertain the troops.
The photos on the table showed other heroes of the past: Michael Wilding, Don Stannard, Michael Aldridge, Eric Portman, Frank Allenby, Rupert Davies (Maigret), Arthur Askey, Harry Welchman, Josef Locke, Ellis Irving, William Senior, Preston Lockwood (whom she knew as Reg and was a friend of the family) and the comic team Jimmy Jewell and Ben Warriss.
Leading ladies with whom she appeared included Anna Neagle, Irene Handl, Thora Hird, Dinah Sheridan, Megs Jenkins and Coral Browne. She was in several shows with Anna Neagle – playing Harriet Smith to Neagle’s Emma – a stage production for which she had to wear a blonde wig as her brunette hair had gone a delicious shade of red when dyed.
She won the lead in Ian Hay’s comedy Little Ladyship by reading the Lilly Palmer part at the audition as she knew she’d read it better than the part for which she was auditioning. Several readings later and the lead was hers. The show suited her as, once again, she could slip into a gymslip. In fact, many of the parts she played demanded a gymslip, the result of being petite and always looking younger than her years.
The dominant theme in the many reviews that fill her cuttings book is, though, that she was a “coming comedienne”, who had “a natural gift for comedy”.
That is something she will not be needing for her next performance: on Sunday (November 2) she will read the first lesson at St John the Evangelist, Church in St Leonard’s on Sea, the first centenarian to do so there. Terry Collier was a regular reader at St Mary’s in Rye and received many compliments – because she made sure the congregation could hear her, and because she read with sincerity. She never read without practising and always enjoyed doing it because, as she used to say: “It’s the closest I get to being on a stage these days.”
Main photo: Tony Nunn