Patricia Burke

Patricia Burke, actress

Born: 23 March, 1917, in Milan

Died: 23 November, 2003, in London, aged 86

PATRICIA Burke started her career in musical theatre in the Thirties but progressed to testing classical roles with the Old Vic and was a member of the company when they performed a memorable Taming of the Shrew at the first Edinburgh Festival. She demonstrated then just what a powerful actress she was with a wide and convincing range.

Thereafter, Burke was often seen in London’s West End, on television and (a particular love) in pantomime. She was also back at Edinburgh in 1950,

For all her ingnue looks and svelte appearance, she was a strong-minded woman with forthright views. She often went on CND marches and spent a night in jail with John Osborne: in separate cells.

Patricia Burke was born into a theatrical family: her father (a tenor) was working in Milan when she was born and after schooling in England and Australia she studied privately for the theatre. Her first stage experience came at the adventurous Q Theatre in Kew and this experience gained her a part in the revue I Hate Men with Hermione Gingold and Margaret Rawlings.

Burke progressed to other parts in the West End (Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant was her first major success) and at Regent’s Park Theatre before, in 1943, being cast in one of the war-time hits, The Lisbon Story.

This was a wonderful weepy that entranced audiences for nearly two years, and Burke became the toast of many on-leave servicemen. At the end, she was marched off to be executed by the Nazis singing that potent little number Pedro the Fisherman. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Then, in 1947, this adventurous actress joined the Old Vic Company and played Katherine to Trevor Howard’s Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. John Burrell’s direction received much praise and Burke’s lithe and lively Katherine was also acclaimed.

Indeed, Rudolf Bing had booked the company to be at the 1947 Edinburgh Festival and commissioned a new play (dealing with Mary Queen of Scots) from James Bridie to be presented by the Old Vic. That was never delivered and the company was rapidly asked to bring Taming of the Shrew north.

The cast, apart from Burke and Howard, included a host of young actors (Harry Andrews, Renee Asherson, Bernard Miles etc) and was well received.

Burke returned to the Festival in 1950 in the world premire of Eric Linklater’s rather fragile comedy The Atom Doctor. The production came from the Citizens’ in Glasgow and was directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Despite a cast led by Duncan Macrae, Lennox Milne, Laurence Hardy and the young Stanley Baxter, it made little impact.

Burke continued to appear in light comedies in London and became a regular on a host of quiz programmes. Her natural vivacity and informality proved a winner in those early days of television.

Despite having done shows for the troops during the war (especially in Burma), she was an ardent pacifist. She spoke regularly at peace protests in Trafalgar Square and in 1961, after a Ban the Bomb demonstration, she, Osborne and a few other ringleaders spent the night in West End Central police station.

This political activity didn’t prevent her carrying on her theatrical career and she appeared in the long-running musical Charley Girl.

In the Seventies, she retired from the stage to become a literary agent. She made several (none too memorable) films: perhaps her most successful being a big-screen version of The Lisbon Story, in which she starred opposite the tenor Richard Tauber.

Burke was married three times: first to Michael Kimpton, then to Group Captain Duncan Macdonald and lastly to John Collingwood. He survives her, as do a son and daughter of the second marriage.