Obituary: Pamela Ruth Eyre

Actor who danced before Ninette de Valois and entertained the troops


She came from a dynasty of Jewish journalism but paradoxically the actor Pamela Ruth Eyre (née Sholto) who has died aged 95, turned her back on Judaism and what she dismissively called “organised religion”.

She was the daughter of Frederick Barouch Sholto, a City textile importer with a predominantly Jewish clientele, and Irene (née Greenberg , long term weekly columnist to the JC. Her grandfather was the late Leopold Jacob Greenberg, JC editor from 1907 until his death in 1931, and her step-grandmother, Florence Greenberg, author of Jewish Cookery, also a weekly JC contributor. Pamela’s uncle was Ivan Greenberg, who edited the paper from 1936 until 1947 when disagreements with the board led to his departure.

Instead of following in these familiar footsteps, Pamela pursued a career in the arts, studying piano and then taking up ballet at an early age. So early in fact that her father had to seek permission from the London Borough of Finchley to remove her from school when she was just 11, so that she could dance at Covent Garden for Ninette de Valois.

By the time she was 18, Pamela had resolved to make acting her career and wanted to perform in serious theatre. But she was first advised to acquire stage experience, and was introduced to the tiny Windmill Theatre behind Piccadilly, where the stage manager was Mr Vivian Van Dam known to all the dancers by his initials. Pamela danced there for a couple of years until the Second World War intervened. The Windmill was a demanding routine with five performances daily, but it engendered an exemplary discipline and camaraderie among performers, some of whom achieved fame and a few who remained friends for many years.

When war was declared in 1939, Pamela’s family evacuated to Chesham in Buckinghamshire, and shortly after she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where she took turns as night “firewatcher” for the school during the Blitz. In May, 1941 she was wounded by a nearby bomb explosion while on duty. Her mother was called and removed her to Chesham Cottage Hospital, where she recovered. At RADA she met the Attenborough brothers, who remained long term friends. On graduating, she worked in ENSA productions (Entertainment National Service Association,) nicknamed by troops as Every Night Something Awful.

But the acting involved touring the country and living – as actors then did – in squalid “digs” up and down the country. While the theatre was her chosen career, Pamela never forgot her earlier passions, including music. She did ballet exercises until an advanced age and frequently played her favourite keyboard pieces: her beloved Mozart’s sonatas, plus piano pieces by other favourites, including Beethoven, Schumann – particularly his Carnaval – and Debussy She would then play a piece by Billy Mayerl or accompany herself in a Noel Coward song.

It was about this time that she met Sid Bright, pianist brother of the famous band leader Gerald, who took her to his native East End synagogue.

Victory in 1945 saw Pamela touring with ENSA in the ruins of Germany, where she met and later married John Layton St George Eyre, a charming and educated captain who had been seconded by the Army to direct the ENSA troupe performances. On demobilisation he became a history master at Bedford School. From then onwards, she postponed her stage ambitions and became the wife of a schoolteacher and subsequently a housemaster, 50 miles from the West End of her dreams.

As a housemaster’s wife she had to supervise the staff and cater for over 100 boys, but still managed to drop into London to do “bit parts” and “voice-overs” that must have reminded her of the career she had relinquished. In 1970, John retired from teaching and soon afterwards they divorced and she lived alone in central London. But now aged over 50, she struggled to find stage roles. However, she was chosen to perform in a few notable West End productions such as For Services Rendered and A Chorus Line as well as Steaming and some parts in British films and in TV productions.

I will always remember her singing with a smile Noel Coward’s satirical number, “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington,” while accompanying herself on her Bechstein.

She is survived by her daughter Sally Maciver and her sons Giles and Jonathan Eyre.

William Sholto

Pamela Ruth Eyre: born August 10, 1922. Died April 22, 2018

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