It was with enormous sadness that we learned that our beautiful friend, Dilys Mayor, passed away on June 12. The loss to her family and friends is profound, there being nobody like her. In this Rye News profile of November 2015, we learned that Dilys Mayor “stumbled upon Rye” in 1976, her choice of words belying the energetic elegance she brought to every aspect of her life, which began in Pinner, Middlesex in 1933. As a young county sprinter she once competed against the Dutch Olympian Fanny Blankers-Koen and there was always a nimbleness to Dilys that would convince you she’d won.
For many years, a tiny cottage in Barmouth old town became a vital bolt hole for Dilys and her three children following the death of her husband Alan. It was also a way of reconnecting with her Welsh roots, her father having been born in Haverfordwest. To many of her family and friends, she was known affectionately as the Duchess of Barmouth and even if, like me, you were comparatively new to the adventure of being her friend, it wasn’t long before you were addressing emails to Her Grace and signing them off with humble obeisances. Because nothing in the world was better than making Dilys laugh and then to await the reciprocal pleasure of having her crack you up.
As the article revealed, the roll call of talents was long and impressive. One could picture her reading it aloud over her usual cappuccino in The Apothecary and her imaginary rejoinder, “How disappointing they didn’t mention I was the finest swordsman in France”.
When Dilys took something on, her commitment was complete and meticulous. Her early engagement with the Rye Medieval Society quickly saw her become a lynchpin, heavily involved for a number of years in all aspects of organising, planning, fundraising and, of course, the street performances.
Harlequin, her East St emporium, offered many clues about the importance to her, of every aspect of the theatre. Nestled within her collection of costumes, books, Shakespeare First Folio postcards and Rye Pottery Canterbury Tales characters, Dilys would chat to customers with such knowledge and authority that some of them forgot to leave and a small queue would form, some of them idly wondering what was this tiny visitor attraction.
To the theatrical community in Rye, Dilys was everything. She was the playwright who created shameless pastiches of sacred texts by revered authors from Shakespeare to Lloyd Webber. Her Shakespeare in Rye, crammed with quotes and misquotes, last played at the 2019 Rye Arts Festival. Ryevita quoted its critics on the cover of the programme, “It may have a slim plot but you will come out humming the set!” The outrageously funny Mapp and Lucia adaptations played in all of Rye’s top spots from the Town Hall Chamber to Rye Museum and The Mermaid Inn. As actor-manager of her Rye Shakespeare Company, Dilys could direct, design a set, find the right costume in her attic and act the socks off most of her cast.
The recent long theatre interval saw a hardy group of assorted local actors spend lockdown evenings online, reading any fragment of script that could be shared in a WhatsApp group. An episode of the Archers was poignant because it centred around the bossy Linda Snell and her attempts to rescue the village panto. The Rye Players’ Snow White was on hold at the time, having just suffered the first of three postponements. Inspired, Dilys climbed into her loft and discovered a script by her son Andrew, that became last summer’s hit show, Canterburye Tales and which raised the money to keep Rye Players going. This month, the show was busily preparing for its revival at the Hastings Fringe, with Dilys as one of the cast (and all of the Wardrobe Department and Stage Management). It shall, of course, go on.
I should mention that Dilys knew her fashion and her elegant appearance was a hallmark: she was a knockout. And funny! Her letters, texts and emails teemed with wit and intelligence and there was a good chance she’ll have signed them Lady Otteline Morrell, Teresa Green or just Bugsy. She was pretty terrible at being unwell and how glad we are that she mostly didn’t bother until her mercifully brief final illness. By then she’d moved to Cyprus Place where she counted the blessing of being able to spend lockdowns among dear friends, Tony Dalgleas, Mike and Janet Stott and their small menagerie in a peaceful garden.
True to form, Dilys has left us wanting more and in the heartbreak of losing her, there is also joy and gratitude that we knew her. The family and friends of Dilys Mayor will commemorate her life in a service at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Rye, on Tuesday July 12 at 2pm. Her daughter Susannah, sons Toby and Andrew and their families are immensely grateful for the loving messages they are receiving from the very many people who knew and loved their wonderful mother, Dilys.
Image Credits: Courtesy: the Mayor family , Courtesy: Mayor family .