Rosina Bassett/Baroness von Kuhne

(Ada) Rosina Bassett/Baroness von Kuhne 1909-2002

During my Irene Mawer research, I came across one of Mawer’s books ‘Twelve Mime Plays’.  Inside the flyleaf were written two names: Rosina Bassett 1934, and another name which looks something like Minnie A. S. Satchell, who was possibly Rosina’s “cousin ‘Minnie’ who had taught dancing in Derby in her young days.”  (Just Me! By Baroness von Kuhne/Rosina Bassett, P.61)

Rosina wrote her memoirs in a series of four chaotic self-published books.  Full of engaging memories and incidents, the memoirs leap about without order and without dates.  I am grateful to Pauline Stevens, Secretary of the Stroud Local History Society for helping me to piece together Rosina’s history.

From what I can gather, as a child Rosina trained under teachers called Miss Mary Grace Atkinson and Enid Jackman.  Jackman had trained at Ginner-Mawer when the School was in Earle’s Court in London and the way that Rosina Bassett describes her childhood Greek Dance lessons given by Enid Jackman chimes exactly with the way the lessons were taught at Ginner-Mawer “The Greek Class gave us an unlimited experience of Greek myths, literature and pottery and nature rhythms, the joy of movement in unfettered freedom.” (Just Me! by Baroness von Kuhne/Rosina Bassett, P.60)

It would seem that Rosina attended Ginner-Mawer as a young adult, where I am guessing she was a full-time student. She certainly enjoyed her time there “…my London days at The Ginner-Mawer School of Dance and Drama, days packed with delight, diligent work (both mental and physical).  New people to meet, new places to explore – museums, parks, theatres, and, most perplexing of all, new transport to get used to – the underground and numbered buses, to Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s, Westminster, St. Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield, where we saw ‘Rahere’ performed.” (Just Me! Baroness von Kuhne, p.60)

There then follows a paragraph, which I believe refers to Ginner-Mawer (I have commented on spelling and accuracy of Rosina’s information, I do believe the basis of it is correct, in that these famous people were connected with the School, and were often examiners):  “One of our examiners was John Guilgud (Gielgud).  We went to see him in ‘Monsieur Beaucare’ (Beaucaire – and I can not find any reference to Gielgud appearing in it); Laurence Binyon the poet gave us such valuable advice (in 1939 Binyon was a Patron of the Institute of Mime).  Another was Ninette de Valis (Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet), who rather overawed us when she adjudicated…Anna Pavlova had been a friend of our chief so we had frequent tales of her travels and art.  After training there came the joy of reunions at Portman Rooms, with wonderful red plush seating round the dancing space, at Mill Hill and Oxford, and, during the war, at Boscastle – wonderful hours of dancing, drama, sea bathing, cliff walking – usually in the rain!” (Just Me! Baroness von Kuhne, p.60)

After her training, and circa 1936 in and around the Cheltenham area, Rosina worked as a dance and drama teacher, including opening her own school, the Flame School of Dance and Drama.  Rosina was a member of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and was a teaching member of the relatively newly-formed Institute of Mime.  The Flame School would have already been operating when Ginner-Mawer opened at the Rotunda in Cheltenham in 1947.

Rosina taught various types of dancing, plus Physical Health Movement; Voice Production; Recitation, etc, she provided remedial speech therapy and treatment for what was then termed ‘physical defects’, such treatment was presumably some type of physiotherapy.

1959 – Rosina married the ordinary-sounding Arthur J H Claypole, a piano repairer and tuner, who later inherited the family title Baron Von Kuhne, elevating Rosina to the high social rank of Baroness.

During my research, I could see that Rosina had written some books, none of which were to be found in any of the usual second-hand book shops on the web.  The titles included ‘My Thoughts in Verse’; ‘Yesterday’s Child’; and ‘Just Me! Memories of Stroud, Gloucester and the district from the age of three to eighty’.  Following up the Stroud connection, I crossed my fingers and contacted the Stroud Local History Society where I was fortunate in having my message find its way to Pauline Stevens, Secretary of the Stroud Local History Society.

Already being aware of and having an interest in Rosina Bassett, Pauline contacted me to say that she might be able to borrow Rosina’s books and would I like her to look for relevant information.  Pauline gamely ploughed through all four of Rosina’s books and sent me screenshots where Mawer was mentioned – so I was able to get a feel for the way that Rosina wrote – and it was a most unusual style!  Although highly entertaining, with stories from her life, the narrative was random and wandering, leaving me unable to confirm exact dates, or precisely where Rosina trained.

On p.53 of her book ‘Just Me’ Rosina writes: “my most vivid memory of Ruby Ginner is in her French Peasant scene, tying on her kerchief, watching the French soldiers marching past.  Irene Mawer I remember best as Harlequin, before I was a student, at Stratford-on-Avon.  Her mime was so convincing we really thought he had a chair to clamber on to when he decided to hang himself!”  (NB – the reference to Stratford-on-Avon is presumably one of the Ginner-Mawer Summer Schools, which were known simply as ‘Stratfords’.)

Rosina’s married name was Baroness von Kuhne and I finally came across a single web entry for someone of this name.  The piece was in a blog by Andrew Vincent.  In an email to me, Andrew said that in 1966 he had attended the Flame School at the age of 4, and he was less than complimentary about his teacher:

“Rosina Bassett ran two schools – the Morning School for Little Ones and the Flame School, both in the same building.  The Morning School was essentially a kindergarten and the Flame School was for older children learning dance and drama.  My uniform was a horrible chocolate brown with a cap.  I hated it…” and by that, Andrew meant that he hated both the uniform and the school as well.  He also found Rosina Bassett/Baroness Von Kuhne to be a woman who was totally unsuited to teaching small children:

“My one year at Baroness Rosina von Kuhne’s Morning School, 1966-67, was the most terrifying period of my young life.  I was four and the Dread Baroness seemed 400 – a wizened old witch whose pleasure in life was dripping terror into the empty vessels of her charges.”  After breaking a minor rule (rolling down a grassy slope, at the age of 4) Andrew suffered the wrath of the Baroness “My trembling little legs carried me up the slope to the Baroness.  Her lined face crimson, her brow creased – she unleashed a screeching damnation out of all proportion to the misdemeanour…I spent the rest of the school day standing in a corner sobbing…the rest of the Morning School continued around me, even as the pee trickled down my leg and pooled on the floor.”

“You couldn’t run a nursery on the lines operated by Baroness von Kuhne now.  Complaints would be made and parents would pull their children out of class.  Baroness Rosina – or Rosie – was a tartar.”

Andrew’s school report reads: ‘Andrew has made a good start and has settled down well.  He joins in with all we do and is gaining more confidence in himself.’  “I probably only joined in because I had seen what happened to children who didn’t;

“One little boy, who was six, wasn’t able to join our line, so we had to tie him securely to his chair.” (From her memoir Just Me.)

“Time went by and I assumed Rosina had long since died, but one day I saw…she was holding a reunion…Baroness Rosina von Kuhne had become this frail little old lady, barely five feet tall…She was so kindly and she held my hand in hers, telling me what a big, strong man I had become…(she) must have been in her late 80s or even 90s…She remembered me and all the details of the school – the guns on the walls, the sloping lawn…  She was no longer that Harridan, just a sweet little old lady (who) lived to nearly 100.  Often the best way to exorcise your demons is to meet them in their dotage.

Well!  Andrew doesn’t pull his punches.  I don’t know where Rosina learned some of her dreadful tactics, but I am certain it wasn’t at Ginner-Mawer.  On p.52 of ‘Just Me’, Rosina states that one of her dance teachers in childhood was Enid Jackman and that Enid had trained with Ginner-Mawer in Earl’s Court.  Rosina describes Miss Jackman as being ‘rather shy and gentle in her approach’ (Just Me! P.52) Ann Cornford also attended Ginner-Mawer classes in Earl’s Court when she was a child, and had no similar stories of such unkind teaching methods.  So I am convinced that Rosina didn’t learn such awful techniques there!


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.

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