St Trinian’s pair tell secrets from filming

From left, Polly Baber, Lisa Holloway and Annabelle Heath with the original campaign book and script
From left, Polly Baber, Lisa Holloway and Annabelle Heath with the original campaign book and script

INSIDE stories from the Ealing Studios in the 1950s were revealed at a St Trinian’s anniversary event in Shoreham.

Original cast members Annabelle Heath, who has lived in the town most of her life, and Polly Baber, from Gosport, were in conversation before The Belles of St Trinian’s was shown.

Lisa Holloway, who runs The Space in London Road, Brighton, interviewed the pair at West Street Loft on Thursday about their experiences filming the first of the St Trinian’s series.

The event in Shoreham marked the film’s 60th anniversary, but the pair said they were ‘both a little upset’ that more had not been done nationwide for it. They hoped something would be planned in London nearer the actual release date, November 24.

Annabelle, who had the surname Covey at the time, played Maudie, while Polly, whose screen name was Pauline Drewett, played Celia.

They were both fourth formers in the film, part of a group of girls who steal a racehorse to protect their winning bets, and they remembered having a lot of fun.

Both said they did not realise at the time they were working with such big star names, like Alastair Sim, George Cole, Sid James, Joan Sims and Joyce Grenfell.

They even had their names higher up the credits than some of them, as the girls’ names were listed before the men.

Polly, who took along the original script, had particular memories of Alastair Sim, a Scottish character actor who appeared in a string of classic British films.

“He was very, very tall and I was very, very short,” she recalled. “When he was dressed as a woman, he didn’t sit down, he stood with his arms out.

“When we were pulled up on to the set, I had to go literally underneath him and every time, he would say ‘hello little girl’.”

She also remembered the group from a nearby school who made up the pack of St Trinian’s girls.

“They were really quite rough, so we kept out of their way.”

Annabelle added: “When I saw the group, I thought ‘I could get knocked about here’, so I went in front and then ran behind the camera and gave the others a turn.”

The scene she is referring to sees the girls charging through the school and Annabelle comes flying through a door first, seemingly running out of the screen.

Annabelle revealed her mum was also in the film, as she doubled for Renée Houston, as Miss Brimmer the art teacher.

“There is a scene where they all make their way to get the money. The art teacher is the woman with the paint brushes in her hair. When she goes up the ladder, her backside is my mum.”

Explaining how she got the part, Annabelle said she attended to the Corona Stage Schoool and was called to the Shepperton Studios to audition.

“I was very lucky in going last. We all had to say the same piece and the others all said it the same way. Then the director came over to me and asked me to say it a different way, and I got the part.

“This was my first speaking part. I had done a couple of parts as an extra.”

Meanwhile, Polly, who also went to Corona but later than Annabelle, had already developed a film career.

She explained: “I had done different films and one of the St Trinian’s crew had seen me, so I got the part from that. I started when I was two and it was a way of life.”

Her dad was keen on the stage, which is why she became involved, but she did not appreciate at the time what they were involved in.

Polly said: “Since we have grown up and now see all the people who appreciate the film, it means more. At the time, it was on with the next movie, on with the next show.”

She still wonders why it has became such a classic but noted it was ‘good clean fun’ and said Joyce Grenfell was very funny.

Annabelle said she loves doing film work and likes the technicalities of film making.

She talked about The Avengers, where she was Diana Riggs’ stunt double as Mrs Emma Peel for six months in her mid-20s, and actually drove the Lotus Elan.

“The first shot I ever did was driving from the countryside and I had to get the wheels on these two crosses for the camera. I did it,” she recalled.

Her latest role will be in Richard James’ White Lies for Lancing Repertory Players on July 31 and August 1. She also appears with Brighton Little Theatre and Southwick Players.