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Now and Then: Dame Sybil Thorndike (1967)


Main image of Now and Then: Dame Sybil Thorndike (1967)
8 November 1967
16mm, colour, 20 mins
Production CompanyAdanac Productions
ProducersBernard Braden
 Barbara Kelly
PhotographyRichard Bayley

Bernard Braden interviews the veteran actress.

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Dame Sybil Thorndike endures as one of the greatest actors Britain has ever known; at the time of this unbroadcast interview, she was 85 and still performing. She attributes her career longevity to her physical strength, but watching and hearing her speak, it's clear that her incredible joie de vivre also played a part in her continuing activity. She expresses the hope that she will still be performing at the age of 100; sadly she didn't live that long and died aged 93. Earlier in 1967 she had done some radio work and spent the first few months acting in a play in the provinces. The play was intended to be a vehicle for her and her husband, actor and manager Sir Lewis Casson, but his failing eyesight prevented him from performing and he died two years later.

Both Thorndike and her husband were active socialists, although she confesses here that when she first met him she held quite strong conservative views, which she rapidly traded in for leftwing sympathies. She and Sir Lewis supported the workers during the General Strike in 1926 but she feels that, 60 years on, the unions have lost their way and at times bully the workers. Pressed on the subject of politics, she recalls the many great politicians she has known: including David Lloyd George, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. She was also a pacifist but, despite her strong views, accepted the honour of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1931. She could also answer to the title of Lady Casson, as her husband was knighted in 1945. The couple thus moved in elevated circles, but seem never to have adopted airs.

She professes a great love of classical music but also relates her enjoyment of jazz and her respect for the talents of modern musicians such as The Beatles. Asked who she admires, she cites the great actress Edith Evans, remarking particularly on her ability to adapt to both stage and film work. Thorndike was herself no stranger to the screen, beginning her cinema career in 1921 and working consistently in film and TV until the 1970s. But it is for her stage work that she is best remembered, in particular as Saint Joan, a role written for her by George Bernard Shaw, which she played for over 17 years.

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Video Clips
Complete unedited interview (19:34)
Thorndike, Sybil (1882-1976)
Now and Then (1967-68)