Linden Travers

LINDEN Travers, who has died in Cornwall at the age of 88, was on the brink of major international stardom as a film actress in the Forties when she stepped out of the limelight, leaving her brother, Bill Travers, to carry the family name to movie houses all over the world. Thereafter she became widely known - not least on the Edinburgh scene - for her involvement in contemporary visual arts, as painter, gallery director and patron.

She was born in Durham in 1913. As a schoolgirl at Newcastle’s Convent De La Sagesse, she showed her natural artistic talent when she accepted the invitation of the nuns to help them teach her classmates elocution, drama and painting.

She had ample opportunity to experience the delights of the cinema as her father, William Linden Travers, was a highly respected and successful cinema owner on Tyneside.

It seemed both natural and inevitable that she should, at the age of 20, make her first appearance as a self-taught professional repertory theatre actress at the Newcastle Playhouse, and that this should lead in 1934, to her debut in London’s West End at the Glove Theatre, playing the ingnue lead in Ivor Novello’s play Murder in Mayfair .

In London, she met her first husband, Guy Leon. Their daughter, Susan, was born in 1939. Motherhood did not prevent Linden Travers becoming a well-known actress of both stage and screen, as she revealed her gift for light comedy and at the same time developed a reputation for playing the "femme fatale".

It was Carol Reed who recognised her talent as such in his films Bank Holiday and The Stars Look Down. Margaret Lockwood played the leading role in both. Linden Travers was eye-catching as the girlfriend of Tommy Trinder in Almost A Honeymoon, of Arthur Askey in The Ghost Train , and of George Formby in South American George.

Her performance as Helen Norwood in the 1937 film Brief Ecstasy , a psychological thriller directed by Edmond Grville, earned her praise from Graham Greene as film critic of the Times.

However, it was under the masterly direction of Alfred Hitchcock that her screen career blossomed. Her role as the glamorous mistress of the pompous Mr Tod Hunter, played by Cecil Parker, in The Lady Vanishes associated her name with those of Michael Redgrave and Margaret Rutherford and once again Margaret Lockwood was the star, but not in the notorious film which made Linden Travers a household name. In this she repeated her impressive stage performance in the title role of No Orchids for Miss Blandish .

The film adaptation of this James Hadley Chase thriller was considered in 1948 to be beyond the rules of decency laid down for the British filmgoer. It was banned in Britain for many years, but Linden Travers had made her mark as the kidnapped heiress who falls for the dubious charms of her gangster captor.

At this point in her career she was in a position to rival Margaret Lockwood as "the wicked lady" of British comedy, but in the same year, she found the happiness denied her in her shortlived first marriage when she married James Holman, and in 1949 her second daughter, Sally, was born. So it was that, in this year, she made her last film. It was an inauspicious film based on the life of Christopher Columbus. Her role as a member of the Court of King Ferdinand did not provide the challenge she deserved.

From then on she restricted her career to the occasional television play. She had, however, in her brother, Bill Travers, someone most capable of continuing her family’s association with the world of stage and screen. This was reinforced when Bill Travers married Virginia McKenna, and together they enjoyed success and worldwide fame with their performances in the films Born Free and Ring of Bright Water.

Linden Travers was content to settle into her married life in the Cornish landscape of her husband, not in Camborne, where he ran the family business, but in St Ives. In a house known as "Lorraine", overlooking the town and affording a fine view of Virginia Woolf’s "Lighthouse", she could concentrate on her painting in oils, and enjoy the lively cultural scene provided by the rich collection of artists then busily making their reputation in Britain and abroad as members of the St Ives School. "Lorraine" soon became associated in the minds of many of these artists as a place of urbane arts patronage with a garden which provided the ideal setting for the sculpture of Dennis Mitchell. Mark Rothko, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and Barbara Hepworth all knew the pleasure of being invited to "Lorraine" for memorable dinner parties.

In 1969, Linden Travers and her two younger sisters, Alice Wilton and Pearl Morant, proved their serious interest in the contemporary visual arts by together opening an art gallery in Kensington, the Travers Gallery. Naturally, its exhibition programme over the three-year period of its existence was focused on the work of Cornish artists. When Alice Wilton accompanied her husband, Clifford, who was a keen supporter of London Scottish, to the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield, she was attracted to the Demarco Gallery, knowing that it was committed to introducing St Ives artists to Scotland. She suggested to her niece, Sally Holman, that she should work as a Demarco Gallery assistant. This she did, helping to establish Scotland’s first picture rental scheme and as one of the gallery’s curators of "strategy-get-arts", the 1970 Edinburgh Festival Exhibition which introduced Joseph Beuys to Scotland.

As a result, Linden Travers found herself thoroughly "at home" in Edinburgh in the challenging world of the European avant garde artists from Dusseldorf, spearheaded by Beuys. In 1972, Beuys returned to Edinburgh to work with the Polish artist and theatre director, Tadeusz Kantor. This inspired Sally to follow in her mother’s footsteps by becoming one of Kantor’s Cricot Theatre actresses in Cracow’s Krystyfory Gallery in a production of The Water Hen by Stanislav Witkiewicz.

After the untimely death of her husband in 1974, Linden Travers travelled extensively in India, Nepal, Egypt and Thailand, often accompanied by one of her godsons. She developed her interest in psychotherapy to become qualified as a hypnotherapist.

She last appeared on television in a 1990 BBC tribute to Alfred Hitchcock to remind cinema-goers of her potential star quality.

She died at "Lorraine", comforted by her daughters, her son-in-law, the photographer Cornel Lucas, and three of her six grandchildren. At the funeral service in St Ives Parish Church, were her brother, Ken, and all her grandchildren, as well as Virginia McKenna, who, together with her daughters and two of her grandchildren, gave moving and appropriate readings.

The presence of her two granddaughters, Sophie Hardie and Charlotte Lucas, was significant of the fact that her creative spirit lives on in them. They embody her love of acting as well as painting. Within the last six months, Sophie has followed her mother’s example by becoming an art student and Charlotte has graduated, as her mother did, from RADA to make her debut as a professional actress at Salisbury Playhouse.

They confirmed the words of the sermon given by the Rev Andrew Couch: "Linden Travers was an inspiration to her family and to all who knew her."