Above and below: Enid Hollins during a tour of New Zealand. Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.
The Five Second Version
Late in life and living in London, former actor and playwright Enid Hollins became an occasional correspondent with English papers – making suggestions about writing for the stage and correcting details of the past – including the fact that she had been the first actress to play the lead role in a production of GB Shaw’s The Millionairess in the English language.
Few Australians or New Zealanders have made the transition from actor to playwright in their own country, let alone another country, as Enid Hollins did. Notable for some great successes acting on the Australian and New Zealand stage in the mid 1930s – she travelled to London in 1939. After war work and appearing in rep in the UK, she turned to writing for the stage and radio in the early 1950s. The tragic death of her husband in 1956 changed her circumstances and brought her career to a sudden end, although she wrote again for radio in the mid 1960s. She managed a publicity agency in London and died there in 1980.
Enid Naumai Hollins was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in June 1904.New Zealand BD&M, Birth Certificate 1904/11141. Her middle name is of Māori origin, a celebratory word approximating Welcome Her parents were George Frederick Hollins, a public accountant, and Jean nee Annan. Sometime in her first few years, the family relocated to Melbourne Australia. Previously associated with the Salvation Army, George and Jean moved address in Melbourne regularly. During Enid’s schooling they lived at the very grand Queen’s Coffee Palace (a residential temperance hotel) at 1 Rathdowne Street Carlton.
Enid completed her schooling at Methodist Ladies College in Kew, Melbourne in 1921 and on leaving, threw herself into amateur theatre.The Age (Melb) 16 June 1926, P14 She directed several productions for the MLC Old Collegian’s Drama club, including Alfred Sutro’s The Desperate Lovers in 1928, apparently the comedy’s first Australian outing.The Herald (Melb) 11 Jul 1928, P10
On stage in Australia
By late 1928 she had found work as a professional, a supporting role in the cast of the “clean and wholesome” comedy When Knights Were Bold at the Palace Theatre in Melbourne. If she ever had any doubts, this experience probably convinced her the stage was the place she wanted to be. Leading the company were English players working in Australia – including Compton Coutts(1886-1935) and Campbell Copelin(1901-1988), alongside Australians Nancye Stewart(1893-1973) and Agnes Dobson(1904-1987). And in May 1929, she landed a role as “a Movie Vamp” in Frank Neil’s(1886-1940) production of the farce Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath. A short engagement to visiting English musician Harold Lyons meant she briefly considered plans to travel to London to marry.Harold was part of Syd and Harry Roy’s visiting band in 1929. Harry Lyons played Sax. See here for photos But she did not marry Lyons.
Census and voter rolls show she turned to clerical work to get through the worst of the Depression, which is not so surprising, given how dire the economic situation was in Australia. Over the next few years she appeared in amateur theatre again – and can be found in cast lists for productions at Kelvin Hall.Kelvin Hall was at 53-55 Exhibition Street and later known as the Playbox theatre She was also closely associated with producer-director Brett Randall(1884-1963) and the Little Theatre (at St Chad’s, in Martin Street, South Yarra). In April 1935 she married fellow actor Jack Wiltshire at the Little Theatre, with considerable publicity.Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1935/7418
In 1935, seven years after her first appearances on the professional stage, she emerged again as an actor to be noticed. Through her membership of the Power House Dramatic Club, which performed at the Garrick Theatre, she appeared in Sorry You’ve been troubled, and London Wall, and received good reviews.See Table Talk (Melb) 28 Feb 1935 P15 and The Herald (Melb) 25 Mar 1935, P18 In early 1936, she had a major breakthrough when Producer-Director Gregan McMahon(1874-1941) chose her for the leading role in George Bernard Shaw‘s The Millionairess.The Herald (Melb) 8 Feb 1936, P30 Shaw had given the rights to Greghan McMahon, in recognition of his long standing support and this was the play’s first English-language performance.
While the play was not regarded as Shaw’s best, Enid’s strong performance was well received. Table Talk reported
“The acting was dominated … by the magnificent performance of Enid Hollins as the disappointed heiress whose father has only left her a beggarly 30 millions instead of the 200 millions he promised her. This young actress, who has been recruited from the amateur ranks, handled her exceedingly difficult role with ease and confidence, and despite the fact that she was on the stage, and the central figure in it, practically from curtain rise to curtain fall, never once did she show the slightest sign of strain, or reveal herself as anything but perfectly at home in the part.“Table Talk (Melb) 12 Mar 1936, P27
By the end of March 1936, she was appearing in a production of an Emlyn Williams mystery thriller – Night Must Fall, which toured through east coast Australian theatres, and then through New Zealand. In the leading role as “baby-faced Dan” the murderer, was Lloyd Lamble(1914-2008), who recalled his affair with Enid in a rather unkind anecdote, in his memoirs.Lloyd Lamble (1994) Hi Diddle Dee Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me. P103 Unpublished Memoir. Australian Performing Arts Collection. It is one of many passing anecdotes he gives, but worthy of note … Continue reading Another New Zealand tour followed, with comedies like Fresh Fields added to the repertoire. Enid’s JC Williamson’s contract notes her modest weekly salary in March 1936 as £7 10 shillings.Enid Hollins contract 13 March 1936, JC Williamsons Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne
Enid was now established as a regular on the Australian and New Zealand stage – performing for Brett Randall in “pleasant comedies” such as Ivor Novello‘s Full House, and appearing in full blown JC Williamson musicals like Over She Goes – and touring again. She began divorce proceedings against Jack Wiltshire in early 1939.Supreme Court Divorce cases. Wiltshire v Wiltshire 1939/72 Public Record Office Victoria. She claimed Jack had become infatuated with an actress she called “Judy Godfrey.” However, this … Continue reading Then, with a great deal of fanfare, she departed Australia in April 1939, bound for London on the SS Monterey and via the US. She arrived in London in June.
The very thorough US manifest for the Monterey records Enid’s above average height of 5’9″ (175 cms). She had brown eyes and brown hair, and an “olive” complexion.
Working in Britain
If the Depression delayed Enid’s career on the Australian stage, the outbreak of the Second World War did the same to her in Britain. Like so many who had arrived from around the Empire before the war, Enid felt duty bound to contribute to the British war effort. In 1941 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service,usually known by its initials – ATS the women’s branch of the British Army, working in Signals. In the same year she married Neil Smith, an officer in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps.
After demobilisation, she returned to the stage again to perform in repertory, but only a few years later she outlined the challenge for Australian actors seeking work in Britain – a challenge that she herself had faced. In a short and very pointed article carried by Melbourne’s Herald newspaper, headed “warning to young actors”, she wrote
“There isn’t an Australian actor or actress who doesn’t want to come to England. Yet how many of them have the least idea of what they are coming to? In Great Britain the theatrical profession is very overcrowded. During the war many new people entered it to entertain troops and workers in industry.” Work in repertory companies was vital she explained: “The Australian who comes here — and they come in droves—rarely gets a London engagement… Agents simply will not look at you without repertory experience and this you must find for yourself.”The Herald (Melb) 10 August, 1950, P15
It would seem her antipodean successes counted for little.
Enid was not the only Australian actor to find post-war Britain hard going and it is not surprising that she turned to writing. Dorothy Alison(1925-1992), who had arrived in London in 1949, did three years of office work in London while waiting for stage work, while Betty McDowall(1924-1993), who arrived in 1951, described working as an actor in London as “tough as hell”. Enid must have been pleased that her play Consented Together, won a £100 prize in a playwrights competition in August 1950.Although she would not have been so pleased with the judge’s comments. Ronald Jeans felt all the plays submitted were of a poor standard. He chose Enid’s because it had “an original … Continue reading The play centred around a contemporary theme, an aspect of British marriage laws – that prohibited a woman from marrying her divorced husband’s brother.
It is worthy of note that in early 1950 Enid thanked two production companies for feedback on her work. Perhaps it was intended to attract attention, but as she named them publicly – Linnit & Dunfree and Laurence Olivier Productions, it is quite likely to be true.The Stage, 16 March 1950, P5 Writing experience in Australia had already been hinted at before she departed. She had written short stories under a nom de plume according to one report, although further details of this remain elusive.Table Talk (Melb) 27 April 1939, P5
Over the early 1950s, Enid’s plays were often performed at the Gateway Theatre at 103 Westbourne Grove W2 (in the Notting Hill district) and sometimes she also directed these. One of London’s small club theatres, it survived on subscriptions and very low overheads. It was also sometimes responsible for original or avant-garde plays being staged, and seems to have been one of the locations where female writers could get their work performed.The best memoir of working at the Gateway seems have been left by English actor Frank Williams who started there as an “Assistant Stage Manager”, or as he recalled, “general … Continue reading Enid’s final appearance as an actor at the Gateway seems to date to 1952, when she appeared in the new play Worm I’ the Bud, giving “an excellent cameo-study of a not very wise but kind and deservedly privileged servant.”The Stage, 17 July 1952, P10
Mother is a Darling, the play Enid was best known for, first appeared in March 1951 at the New Theatre in Bromley, south of London. Former silent actress Bessie Love took the leading role of the mother – Mrs Lander – in the three act family or “drawing room” comedy. The humour revolved around her three young daughters “tackling the business of running a home and [managing] their scatterbrained mother.”Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 14 July P3 A year later – in January 1952, Frenchie and the Lily, “a modern love story about two young delinquents” ran at the Gateway. In the cast of these productions were a mix of up and coming actors, including a few Australians – like Vincent Ball, fresh from his RADA course and looking for opportunities.Argus (Melb) 9 Jan 1952. P5
Enid also wrote for radio. Her 60 minute play The Huntress appeared on BBC radio in December 1951, The Brother in February 1952. Her radio play Passport to Yesterday, a thriller, was performed in 1954 – in Britain, South Africa and Australia.The ABC Weekly, 1 May 1954 The tale of an English girl who wakes up on a beach but does not know who she is or how she got there, it was filmed for television in 1959, under the title Girl on the Beach, with a young Maggie Smith taking the lead role.An earlier television version appears to have been made in 1957, with Ann Morrish and Patrick Macnee
The tragic drowning of her husband while holidaying in Spain in 1956 wrought a great change in her life.A good swimmer, he was drowned in heavy surf at Tossa De Mar. See Marylebone Mercury, 22 June 1956 P1 Enid turned to managing his publicity agency – Portman Services Ltd. Under her management the business was a success, although how she felt about leaving her theatrical career we do not know. In 1966-7 she returned to writing for radio – a series of dramatizations with the title Scandal! for the BBC, in collaboration with British writer Fiona McConnell.The Stage, 7 July 1966, P14
Except for her one published script, we have little surviving today to help inform us of the nature of her written work. The newspaper reviews were mixed, and none of her plays were produced in major West End theatres. One 1952 writer noted a lack of consistency in her writing in its review of Frenchy and the Lily. It described the play as excellent at times, “but at other [times] it descended to the depths of the very poor.”Kensington News & West London Times, 18 January 1952 P3 Yet her best known piece – Mother is a Darling – toured widely in British rep and was generally well received, later being performed in Australia. HFW Deane and Sons published it in their Deane’s Series of Plays in 1954. We also know her writing was deemed good enough for radio and television productions and yet we know that at the time these media were desperate for content.Variety described the script of the 1959 TV production of Girl on the Beach as “indifferent”, despite Maggie Smith’s skills. See Variety June 24, 1959, P80
Through the 1950s and 60s, Enid maintained occasional correspondence on theatre matters with newspapers. In a letter to The Stage in 1964 regarding complaints of a lack of industry support made by fellow female scriptwriter Jean Rennie, she dismissed the complaint and remarked that “When a script comes back to me I know I have only myself to blame.”The Stage 23 July 1964, P11
Enid maintained membership of Actor’s Equity and the Writer’s Guild all her life.The Stage, 22 Feb 1979, P25 She also took to styling herself Enid Neil-Smith, perhaps in remembrance of her husband. Her politics were firmly of the left, as were Neil’s, both were active members of the Labour Party – determined to improve life in post-war Britain.
Enid Hollins died at her London home in 1980. She had no children. Her older brother Stanley had also appeared on the stage in Australia in the 1930s, but had long since turned to other interests. Enid returned to Australia at least once, for a long and anonymous holiday, in early 1964.
- Claudia Funder at the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia.
- Stacey Coenders, Archivist at MLC, Kew, Victoria, Australia.
- Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
- National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Papers Past.
- National Library of Australia, Trove
- State Library of Victoria
- British Newspaper Archive
- Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages
- New Zealand, Births Deaths & Marriages
- ProQuest Historical Newspapers
- Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain. Cambridge University Press.
- Enid Hollins (1954) Mother is a darling : a comedy in three acts. London : H.F.W. Deane
- Lloyd Lamble (1994) Hi diddle dee dee, An Actor’s Life for Me. Unpublished autobiography. Australian Performing Arts collection. Also at National Library of Australia.
- Richard Lane (1994) The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama. Melbourne University Press.
- Eric Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Rigby Ltd
- Frank Van Straten (2023) “Frank Neil – He lived Showbusiness.” Theatre Heritage Australia On Stage March 2023
- Frank Van Straten (2003) Tivoli. Thomas C Lothian
- Frank Williams with Chris Gidney (2002 )Vicar to Dad’s Army: The Frank Williams Story. Canterbury Press, Norwich.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
- Allan Ashbolt: ‘Gregan McMahon, (1874–1941)’, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 10 May 2023.
- Martha Rutledge, ‘Nancye Doris Lynton, (1893–1973)‘, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 May 2023.
- Rose Wilson: ‘Agnes Dobson, (1904–1987)’, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 May 2023.
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|↑1||New Zealand BD&M, Birth Certificate 1904/11141. Her middle name is of Māori origin, a celebratory word approximating Welcome|
|↑2, ↑26||HFW Deane & Sons script, 1954, State Library of Victoria|
|↑3||The Age (Melb) 16 June 1926, P14|
|↑4||The Herald (Melb) 11 Jul 1928, P10|
|↑5||Table Talk (Melb) 2 Dec 1926, P54 via State Library of Victoria|
|↑6||Harold was part of Syd and Harry Roy’s visiting band in 1929. Harry Lyons played Sax. See here for photos|
|↑7||Kelvin Hall was at 53-55 Exhibition Street and later known as the Playbox theatre|
|↑8||Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1935/7418|
|↑9||Table Talk 12 July 1928, via State Library of Victoria|
|↑10||See Table Talk (Melb) 28 Feb 1935 P15 and The Herald (Melb) 25 Mar 1935, P18|
|↑11||The Herald (Melb) 8 Feb 1936, P30|
|↑12||Table Talk (Melb) 12 Mar 1936, P27|
|↑13||Lloyd Lamble (1994) Hi Diddle Dee Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me. P103 Unpublished Memoir. Australian Performing Arts Collection. It is one of many passing anecdotes he gives, but worthy of note because Lamble partly blamed the unsteadiness of his first marriage on Enid|
|↑14||Enid Hollins contract 13 March 1936, JC Williamsons Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne|
|↑15||Supreme Court Divorce cases. Wiltshire v Wiltshire 1939/72 Public Record Office Victoria. She claimed Jack had become infatuated with an actress she called “Judy Godfrey.” However, this writer can find no evidence of such a person|
|↑16||The Bulletin, 10 April, 1935, P43|
|↑17||usually known by its initials – ATS|
|↑18||The Herald (Melb) 10 August, 1950, P15|
|↑19||Richmond Herald (England), 26 March 1949, P7|
|↑20||Although she would not have been so pleased with the judge’s comments. Ronald Jeans felt all the plays submitted were of a poor standard. He chose Enid’s because it had “an original idea and contained fewer technical faults.” See The Irish Times Aug 26, 1950, P5|
|↑21||The Stage, 16 March 1950, P5|
|↑22||Table Talk (Melb) 27 April 1939, P5|
|↑23||The Stage. 20 March 1952, P9|
|↑24||The best memoir of working at the Gateway seems have been left by English actor Frank Williams who started there as an “Assistant Stage Manager”, or as he recalled, “general dog’s body.” In time his own plays also appeared there|
|↑25||The Stage, 17 July 1952, P10|
|↑27||Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 14 July P3|
|↑28||Argus (Melb) 9 Jan 1952. P5|
|↑29||Sevenoaks Chronicle, (Sevenoaks, Kent) 9 Mar 1951, P3|
|↑30||The ABC Weekly, 1 May 1954|
|↑31||An earlier television version appears to have been made in 1957, with Ann Morrish and Patrick Macnee|
|↑32||A good swimmer, he was drowned in heavy surf at Tossa De Mar. See Marylebone Mercury, 22 June 1956 P1|
|↑33||The Stage, 7 July 1966, P14|
|↑34||Kensington News & West London Times, 18 January 1952 P3|
|↑35||Variety described the script of the 1959 TV production of Girl on the Beach as “indifferent”, despite Maggie Smith’s skills. See Variety June 24, 1959, P80|
|↑36||The Stage 23 July 1964, P11|
|↑37||The Stage, 22 Feb 1979, P25|