Babs Wilson-Hill (Marie Thompson) top left in a show.The following article, written by Linda Anderson, a relative of Babs, appeared in my book, Sweethearts of Song; A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth
LINDA ANDERSON OF BIDFORD-ON-AVON WRITES:
MARIE GLADYS WILSON/THOMPSON (BABS WILSON-HILL)
Babs was born in Manchester on 12 September 1908, the second child of Gertrude and Harold Wilson. As a young child, she lost her father during the First World War. She missed her father dearly as she had been very fond of him.
When Babs was in her early years she was living in Chandos Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy and went to Loreto Convent School. By this time she had been having piano lessons and had also become a very able dancer.
Babs remembers her Aunt May, only eight years older than herself, teaching her a few dances. This sparked off an interest which was later to become her career. She decided to take the subject more seriously and began lessons with the Haines School of Dancing, Whalley Range and later at Sheila Elliot’s School of Dancing, Liverpool. Some of her early performances were in the theatre at the rear of Manchester’s Midland Hotel.
During her dancing years, Babs had been coached by Anna Ivanova who was with the Pavlova Company. Babs was later to become the Principal Ballerina in pantomime with Tom Arnold who produced performances throughout the country. She was in eight pantomimes altogether and was Principal Girl, Fairy, Witch, and Principal Dancer. She performed with and became a friend of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth and knew George Formby and his wife Beryl well.
George Formby was later to be responsible for Babs being sent to the Isle of Man during the Second World War. He saw her dressed in her WAAF’s uniform and was most amused! He wanted Babs to be part of a team in Jurby, Isle of Man, where a theatre had been set up at the RAF base there. Babs asked that this was to be secondary to her work as an MT driver. She had been advised not to be part of ENSA and so this was a good compromise. When she arrived at the Isle of Man she had her own personal transport waiting to take her to Jurby and was treated as a VIP, much to her surprise! A trunk of her costumes was shipped over to the island. Babs always made her own costumes.
One of the shows she was involved with went to London for one night where she was introduced to a member of the Royal Family. Later in the war, she was transferred to Ireland, Scotland and finally Stanmore, where at one time she was driving a 15cwt lorry and, as a Corporal, she was also driving a Staff Car. After coming out of the Services Babs went to live in Cobham Surrey. She had a very short, unsuccessful marriage and later moved back to Colwyn Bay.
Babs looks upon her move to Colwyn Bay as a successful one. She has had the advantage of both the sea, in which she was a regular swimmer for many years and the beautiful surrounding countryside. She is also surrounded by many very good friends. Over the years she has been very involved with The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
Her friendship with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth enabled her to spend many months with them in South Africa. When Anne and Webster were thinking that they would never be able to return to the UK, Babs bought a bungalow for them to live in which was near to her in North Wales. They remained in this home until they died.
Babs died on 28 September 2003* (only a few weeks before Anne died on 13 October 2003).
Linda Anderson.Babs in her beautiful garden in Colwyn Bay (photo: Linda Anderson) *only a few weeks before Anne’s death on 13 October 2003. Anne had met Babs when she appeared in her first pantomime in Liverpool. Anne was the principal boy, Babs the principal dancer. Anne (right) in Liverpool pantomime (1935/36) When the broadcaster, Leslie Green went to the UK in 1962 he met Babs and interviewed her for his programme Tea With Mr Green on Springbok Radio. Anne and I listened to the programme together. Here is an extract from my diary on 4 September:
4 September Go to the studio in the afternoon. Anne is there by herself and she tells me that Webster has had to do his two extra programmes before he goes (to Rhodesia) today. She told him to go home and have a rest after them if he’s tired so I might not see him. She asks if I’d like to listen to Tea with Mr Green because her girlfriend is going to be on today.
We do scales and exercises. The chemist phones and she arranges to have a silver Wellaton (hair rinse) sent up! She says her hair is a dull mousy grey and she has to do something to liven it up and stop her from looking old!
We listen to Leslie G and she tells me that Babs Wilson-Hill is her very best friend in Britain. She and Babs were in panto together in 1934 and she is very fond of her. They write to one another every week and tell each other all their worries and troubles. She is very well off – she has a lovely home and garden. She shows me a picture of her (which is on the wall). She says she misses her more than anyone else in Britain.
Leslie G introduces his programme by saying that it was due to Anne Ziegler that he is there because she had told him about Babs. He talks about the lovely garden – laburnum, willows, larkspurs, snapdragons… Babs sounds very like Anne, only more so – same laugh, the same intonation of words, very pleasant and slightly “county”. She has a house near Guildford in Surrey. Anne says that Babs wrote and said she made a terrible botch of the whole thing but she sounds terribly self-possessed to me. After it is over, Anne says that one can only have a friend like that once in a lifetime and she thinks everyone needs someone to confide in and tell their troubles to.
Jean Collen 12 September 2018.