From Mill Owners Daughter to Stage Actress and Film Star
In a previous Bingley Hub issue local historian Alan Cattell looked at the history and demise of Bingleys two main cinemas. This month Alan continues the theme by tracing the background to Muriel Aked of Bingley who became a renowned stage and film actress over the period 1916 to 1953. It is entirely possible that Bingley cinema goers watched the Bingley actress at the towns Hippodrome and Myrtle cinemas during this period!
Muriel appeared in over forty sound films as a character actress usually portraying maids, spinsters, aristocratic ladies or dowagers. Her talents as a comedienne and occasional Shakespearian actress on stage and radio were also widely recognised.
Muriel Aked was born in Bingley on 9th November 1883 as the daughter of George Henry Aked a mill owner and his wife Emma (nee Bairstow). Her father was originally a founder of Botany Mills, Morton and latterly a partner in Airedale Mills, Bingley. The house in which the family lived is now the Five Rise Hotel, Bingley.
Education in Bushey but Links to Saltaire
George Aked chose a private education for his children and the 1901 Census shows that at age 17 Muriel and two of her sisters, Olive and Georgie were pupil boarders at Caldecote Towers in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire which had been opened as a Ladies Private School in 1891.
But why Caldecote?
The owner and founder of the school was Medina Sarah Griffith who had originally been appointed by Sir Titus Salt as the first Headmistress of the Girls High School in Saltaire in 1876 and who had established an excellent reputation. She moved from Yorkshire as she found the climate to be inclement. A contemporary commentator observed “In the beautiful grounds of Caldecote Towers to which she moved in later years, Medina delighted in producing outdoor pageants, tableux and Shakespearian Dramas”. The 1901 Census shows that at the time the Aked sisters attended the school, Medina aged 61 was School Mistress.
It is highly likely that George Aked chose Caldecote for his daughters because he knew of Medina’s reputation whilst at Saltaire and that Muriels interest in acting was also stimulated and nurtured during her time at the school. Muriel returned to live in Bushey from 1936 to 1953, so the location obviously had resonance for her.
1911 to 1915 Bingley
The 1911 Census shows Muriel as a lady of” own means” to be living in Bingley with her Mother, her Father having died in 1906. The World Film Encyclopaedia (1993) identifies that for a number of years she gained experience by performing successfully in amateur theatricals before her first professional experience in Liverpool.
1916 to 1920
She initially entered the theatre as a student at Liverpool Repertory for six months before making her first appearance there as a nurse in Alice Sit by the Fire. The Stage Year Book 1916 shows that in March 1916 she appeared in Hush, a comedy in three parts. Advertised in the book was advice on Theatrical Touring in the Far East and it would seem that this stirred her interest because in 1920 she toured the Far East with a repertory company. Records show that in May 1921, Muriel, an Actress returned to London from Bombay as a First Class passenger aboard the RMS Mandola
1920 to 1930
She made her first appearance on the London stage as the Woodcutters Wife in the Roses and the Ring at Wyndhams Theatre in December 1923. She worked during this period mainly as a stage actress but also appeared in two silent films A Sister to Assist Er (1922) and Bindles Cocktail (1926)
During the 1920’s and up until 1930 she performed at the Kingsway Theatre, Arts Club Theatre, Garrick, Lyric and Aldwych Theatres in London. She made her first stage appearance with John Gielgud (later to be Sir John Gielgud) in Prejudice (1928) and in the same year was one of the three witches in Macbeth at the Royal Court Theatre.
1930 to 1939
Below are a sample of the films Muriel appeared in during the period and the lead actors/actresses she appeared with. Her full film and stage Bibliography can be found on www.britishsites.co.uk Whilst still acting on the stage, she concentrated primarily on her film career which gained momentum as the decade progressed.
1940 to 1953
Muriel became an established part of the British film scene during this period whilst also continuing to act on stage. In the mid 1940’s she appeared on radio in a number of Shakespearean plays. The last film of her career was The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan in which she played Queen Victoria.
Film and Stage Critic Quotes
As testament to her undoubted talent, below are just a few examples of the of the critical acclaim Muriel achieved across four decades:
- 1923 – Muriel Aked has only to speak for a responsive roar to sound from the audience
- 1926 – Muriel Aked as Mrs Hellwith was so good I held it not to be acting at all.
- 1930 -The incomparable Muriel Aked has only to open her mouth to create storms of laughter
- 1942 The unforgettable Muriel Aked purveyed her customary essence of aunthood
- 1953 John Gielgud in his book Early Stages remembers the film drama Friday the Thirteenth in which “Ralph Richardson played a small part beautifully and Muriel Aked was brilliant.
In 1953 Muriel sold her home in Bushey to return to Yorkshire, where her sister Olive lived in Settle. On 21st March 1955 Muriel Aked died after a long and illustrious acting career, at her home…. Bushey, Ingfield Road, Settle at the age of 71.
The right of Alan Cattell to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by an electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. It has not been possible to trace all the original photographers but acknowledgement has been made where known. If any copyright has been infringed it was done unintentionally and sincere apologies are offered. If advised future prints can be amended.