Mrs Durling. Mrs Gregorious Brown. Yorkshire

When I was in my early twenties, I failed to realise the histories of the older people around me. After all – they were just that, old! Some thirty five years later, I now of course realise that all old people have amazing histories. They all have stories to tell, and how I wish I had spoken to my mime teacher when I was with her. To me, my teacher was Mrs Durling, but having researched her a little bit I have discovered that she married twice and also had a nickname. Nora was born as Nora Bond (possibly in 1905 but I don’t actually know); on her first marriage she became Nora Brown (or possibly Gregorious-Brown); and finally she married Robert Durling (possibly approx 1957). Her nick name, Noni, was a derivative of her first name.

I met Nora when I was a teenager with ambitions of hitch-hiking around the world, earning my crust through street mime performances. My travelling mime show never materialised, but the theatrical adventures that I encountered before my compromise life of routine, normal jobs gave me a lot of joy and I had a lot of fun auditioning for acting jobs (which I never got) and amateur dramatics.

Nora trained me well. She ran her own drama school, from the tiny kitchen of her house in Cookridge, Leeds. I didn’t know at the time, but for many years Nora had worked along side Pamela Hudson at the Pamile School of Dance, Blenheim Terrace, in the Woodhouse district of Leeds. Between them, they produced some of the best ever student rag shows at the Empire Theatre in Leeds – receiving rave reviews (circa 1949/1950). Perhaps their best-known pupil was Bernard Atha (stage name Peter Bray) who went on to become Lord Mayor of Leeds and furnished the freedom of the city on to Nelson Mandela.

Although I sought out a teacher of mime, what I found was a woman who taught me so much more than simply how to act without words. Nora was ‘old school’ and told me about Irene Mawer, the woman whose method of mime I was learning. Nora also taught me Classical Greek Dance. I never asked to learn this, but she tried me on it, and I loved it – so we continued. I wasn’t, and never would be, a professional dancer – but I still loved dancing and movement. I didn’t know at the time of the link between Ruby Ginner’s Greek Dance and Irene Mawer’s mime, but I did pick up on the reverence that Nora had for Ancient Greece. I passed all of my mime exams with flying colours and won the Mary Kilduff Trophy at the Wharfedale Music Festival the day before my twenty first birthday. Nora celebrated a few days later by inviting me into her front room – I had never been further than the kitchen before, but now I sat with her and Miss Doris McBride to drink sherry from tiny glasses.

I had no inkling at that time as to what was happening – but looking at it now, I can make a guess at what was happening. For a start, it turns out that Miss McBride was a huge cog in the wheels of the Ginner-Mawer School of Dance and Drama. She had trained with them full-time, gaining her diploma in 1922 and then joined them as a member of their teaching staff. She was also Miss Ginner’s assistant for some time. Miss McBride then opened her own school of dance in Yorkshire, with a studio in York Place, Leeds. One of her pupils was Cynthia Carr who has helped me with information about Nora. I don’t know Miss McBride’s exact connection with Nora, I don’t know whether Nora trained with Ginner and Mawer, or whether she trained under Miss McBride. Either way, they were friends and/or colleagues. Our sherries in the living room were so much more than I could ever comprehend – I am guessing that the two elderly ladies were rejoicing that the Ginner-Mawer ethos lived on, and that Nora ‘still had it’. I didn’t like sherry then, I still don’t. I just had the one (or two), the ladies however, well, they toasted my health, my birthday and their good fortune several times over!

Please like/comment/share/follow. Thank you.

Author: Janet Fizz Curtis

Janet Fizz Curtis is trained in the Irene Mawer Method of Mime and Movement and is now writing a book about the life of Irene Mawer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *