Violet Lamb – widow of the well-known actor Cyril Luckham – died peacefully in July at their much-loved home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. She was 98.
Born in Acton, her career began in 1928 when she auditioned successfully for Lilian Baylis at the Old Vic, and its director, Andrew Leigh. She stayed there for a year as a student, playing such small parts as Moth in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Falstaff’s page in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Hymen in As You Like It. She always considered this to be the happiest introduction to the theatre she could have had.
After leaving the Old Vic, she toured for a year in Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph. Subsequently she joined a Shakespearean company which toured mainly to schools and theatres around London.
After this she appeared in Arthur Brough’s company at Folkestone where she scored a particular success in a striking new play The Rising Generation. That led to an invitation to join the London and Country Players. Seasons followed in the mid-thirties, at Bexhill, Keithley, Aberystwyth, Barrow-in-Furness and Amersham. Her biggest success in those years was when she played – more than once – the title role in Peg o’ my Heart. One reviewer wrote of her performance: “Throughout the play, Miss Lamb ceases to be Miss Lamb and one sees and speaks of her only as Peg – and greater tribute than that, no-one can pay any actress”. Needless to say, this remained one of her favourite parts.
In 1937, she joined the Bristol Little Theatre, run by Ronald Russell and Peggy Ann Wood. Her parts there really began to prove her versatility, ranging from the title role in Anna Christie, Mrs Manningham in Gaslight, Irina in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters to Miss Matty in Cranford. While there she also became well-known for walking onstage through the fireplace during a performance of Shaw’s Major Barbara when she thought the curtain was down. That is still mentioned in certain theatre books.
In her second season there, the company was joined by Cyril Luckham. They became engaged during the production of the popular comedy Spring Meeting and were married in 1940. In those days, married couples were not encouraged – or even allowed – to continue acting in the same company. So after having to leave Bristol, they moved to Coventry where that rule was less stringent. But the theatre there was bombed soon after they arrived. Undaunted, they moved to Southport, where the Sheffield Rep had been evacuated, and where they could act together until the birth of their son, Robert, in 1942.
She continued to act at Southport after Cyril was asked to join the Liverpool Playhouse at the end of the war when it came under the inspiring direction of John Fernald. In the early fifties, the family moved to London and in the sixties Violet began working in television, appearing in such programmes as Z Cars and The Secret Garden (BBC).
By the seventies, she had started devising recital programmes which she and Cyril performed at festivals and in National Trust houses around the country. After Cyril died in 1989, she performed several of these programmes at the National Portrait Gallery with the actor David King. And after the latter’s premature death, Anne Harvey asked me to take over performing them with Violet, which I was delighted to do. Although she was well in her 80s by then, I remember being astonished by her energy and enthusiasm. I once asked her what the source of her energy was and she answered immediately: “Joy”.
For my part it was undoubtedly a joy to work with her.