Doreen Finlay

  • Doreen Finlay (1928-2005)

    Doreen Joan Shepherd was born on the 26th of March 1928 in Farnworth, Nr Bolton Lancashire. Her father was Joseph Shepherd and her mother was Sarah Ellen Shepherd (nee Harrison).

    Doreen attended Farnworth Grammar School. She was a keen amateur actor and it was through amateur dramatics that she first met Frank. They were both members of Pandora Players and Farnworth Little Theatre as well as both appearing in a production of JUPITER LAUGHS for the Farnworth Drama Festival.

    Amateur productions that we know Doreen appeared in are: DANGEROUS CORNER, Pandora Players (1949), MIRANDA (1951), TRESPASS (1952) and THE DEVIL'S DICIPLE (1958) for Farnworth Little Theatre.

    She trained as an actor at The Northern Theatre School, Bradford (see below) under Esmé Church where she was classmates with Tom Bell and Bryan Mosley. Other notable alumni include - William Gaunt, Dorothy Heathcote , Edward Petherbridge, Robert Stephens and Billie Whitelaw.

    As a professional she appeared with Frank at The Little Theatre in Sunderland as Gladys in NONE SO BLIND (1953). She also appeared with Frank and Tom Bell in MADAME TIC-TAC at the Lancaster Grand (1954).

    She worked in Rep at the Grand Theatre Blackburn for a season as juvenile lead with the Fortesque Players (1954) and toured for 12 months with the Northern Children's Theatre - see below.

    Frank and Doreen married in 1954 and had three children; Stephen, Cathy and Daniel.

    Although Doreen stopped acting in the late 1950's she remained very much involved with Frank's career. They travelled the world together, and she became a close friend of his agent Maggie Parker.

  • MIRANDA Farnworth Little Theatre (1951). Doreen as Miranda on the sofa. Frank is on the right with the pipe.

  • TRESPASS Farnworth Little Theare (1952) Frank, fourth from left and Doreen, seventh from left.

  • Norman Pickles and Doreen Shepherd. Right is Doreen's original script from the production.

  • Doreen returned to The Little Theatre in 1958 - now billed as Doreen Finlay.

    • THE PASSING SHOW by Robert Erskine

      Northern Children's Theatre
      Produced by Esmé Church

      Opened at the Playhouse, Halifax 5th October 1953 and then toured venues in the north of England.
      Civic Theatre, Bradford Saturday 26th December 1953 to Saturday 2nd January 1954.

      Doreen playing Ned (a Stable boy)

      In the cast are: actor Bryan Mosley best known as Alf Roberts in the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street.

      Television producer, director and writer Michael Darlow whose work includes; The World At War, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Johnny Cash at San Quentin and Bomber Harris.

      Artist and actor Norman Miller (erroneously billed as Millar)

    • Esmé Church & The Northen Theatre School

      Being invited to become Artistic Director of the Bradford Civic Theatre in 1944 may have looked like an odd choice for Esmé Church, a step down from her days as an actress and director at The Old Vic and in London's West End, working with Laurence Olivier and Tyrone Guthrie. Perhaps it was the influence of the war years, when The Old Vic Theatre Company and its sister ballet and opera companies from Sadler's Wells, moved north to Burnley to escape the bombs. The companies organised themselves to have four tours on the road at any one time.

      The programme for the opening show in Burnley in January 1941 read: "For too long London and the great metropolitan cities have owned altogether too much of the cultural life of the country. One of the most important and encouraging symptoms of the turmoil which we are now enduring is the dispersal of the treasures and art and culture throughout a wider area of the land, and a wider range of the people."

      When the company looked to return to London opinions were divided, some wanted to return and rebuild others felt they should stay out in the provenances. The Bradford appointment allowed Esmé to stay in the north and found her own school; The Northern Theatre School at 26 Chapel Street, with use of the theatres facilities. She also founded a touring company; The Northern Children's Theatre.

      The Northern School trained actors during the week, with classes for children and young people on Saturdays as well as evening classes. Esmé had an eye for talent, she was quick to spot the benefit of Rudolf Laban's work and invited him onto the staff to teach Movement, which he did, later bringing in his assistant Geraldine Stephenson.

      The Actor Training was a rigorous three year course that covered: dancing, acting, mime, singing production, choral speaking, speech training, fencing, stage gymnastics, microphone technique, make-up, puppetry, decor and property making. There were also a series of lectures from the English Department at Leeds university. Esmé wanted her students to have a broad knowledge of literature, art and music.

      Students in their third year would form the company of actors in the Northern Children's Theatre, touring all over the north of England in a range of venues. Her students included Tom Bell, William Gaunt, Bryan Mosley, Edward Petherbridge, Robert Stephens, and Robert Fyfe.

      However, the school was also the start for a number of other creatives. At the end of her second year Church told a young Dorothy Heathcote that she had no future on the stage; "My dear, you're very talented - quite fearfully so at times, but you are not the right size for your age, for the roles you can play - I think we have to face it." She then suggested teaching. Heathcote became an internationally renowned authority on drama, developing 'Teacher in Role' and 'Mantle of the Expert' and receiving an MBE in 2011.

      Also at the school was Playwright Donald Howarth whose SUGAR IN THE MORNING was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London. However, he was not the only one to find their way to the Royal Court. Amongst the youngsters coming to class on Saturdays were Bill Gaskill and briefly Tony Richardson. Gaskill and Richardson would be instrumental figures at the Court with Gaskill becoming artistic director from 1965 to 1972. Richardson, who would go on to direct the era defining John Osborne play LOOK BACK IN ANGER, was unsurprisingly, opinionated and argumentative and disliking Church's approach, set up his own company - Shipley Young Theatre.

      Another Saturday student was Billie Whitelaw., who worked in close collaboration with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett for 25 years and was regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of his works.

      Also of note is the work of Molly MacArthur (Florence Mary MacArthur)an artist and stage designer who also illustrated a number of books. Molly first worked with Esme Church in 1937 when she accepted an invitation to design an 18th-century AS YOU LIKE IT at the Old Vic. Molly was responsible for the design of virtually all of the Northern Children's Theatre productions during the 12 years of its existence.

    • NONE SO BLIND Little Theatre Sunderland (1953) Doreen playimg Gladys and Frank playing Sam Burrows

    • Frank and Doreen Finlay