Monday, 15 October 2018

Why Valerie Hobson’s a choice role for any actor

LIZ Robertson made her name starring in West End musicals with huge casts, so her forthcoming appearance at

LIZ Robertson made her name starring in West End musicals with huge casts, so her forthcoming appearance at the Kenton Theatre in a one-woman show marks another challenge for the lady who relishes the new.

“I find it exciting to challenge myself, to do different things,” she says, as she prepares to bring her show on the life of the actress Valerie Hobson to Henley.

After a successful career that saw her star in Hollywood movies and on the West End stage, Valerie Hobson had gently stepped out of the limelight to enjoy life with her Conservative MP husband when she found herself back in the full glare of publicity in a drama that has spawned films, television series and even a musical — the Profumo affair.

Her husband was Jack Profumo, a Tory minister whose dalliance with Christine Keeler led to his resignation from the House of Commons and one of the most difficult roles that Valerie Hobson had ever had to play — that of the wronged but loyal wife.

But, as Liz’s show documents, it was a role she played until her death.

“Valerie Hobson was very much of her generation. I think she got bored with her acting career and then she met Jack Profumo and they had a high-energy affair. They were both very glamorous and I think she saw herself becoming Lady Profumo to Sir Jack Profumo, but of course that never happened.”

There is a quirky theatrical link between the two actresses — in that they both played the role of Anna in the The King and I. Valerie played opposite Herbert Lom and Liz toured America with the iconic ballet star Rudolf Nureyev in the lead.

While Liz never met the Profumos, she once lived next door to their son David in Ealing and would see them when they came to visit him.

“It is an odd connection. Who would have thought I would end up doing a one-woman show about her?”

The one-act show is written by Max Tiarks and portrays Hobson after the Profumo scandal — while also flitting back to her younger days when she was a true star.

“I think she was very steely, probably quite cold, and she was not a very good mother. But she never felt sorry for herself, so why should we? As she said, ‘If you are clever and organised, a woman can have a jolly nice life.’ ”

When the scandal broke in 1963, it made headlines for months. Profumo, the then secretary of state for war, had — it emerged — been sleeping with the 19-year-old Christine Keeler, who was also having an affair with Yevgeni Ivanov, a Russian military attaché.

The timing of the story could hardly have been worse. It was the height of the Cold War, with a full-blown nuclear exchange having only just been averted during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Says Liz: “He [Profumo] could not tell Valerie because he was on his last chance. He had to resign and worked his way back through doing charity work in East London. It is a fascinating story.

“When I first saw the script I was so excited. The words come from her diaries and her jottings that she made. It describes the route she decided to go down after the scandal. She stayed with him and in some ways blamed herself for what had happened.

“It starts with them in their country home, where he has retreated in disgrace, and she begins talking about her life and goes back through to her time in films.”

Liz has performed the play in the Jermyn Street Theatre in London and it is obviously a part she loves.

“It is a role that stretches me, and that is what I want in my career — there is no point in standing still.”

Her CV proves the point. Born in Ilford, she started out at stage school at the age of three. When she was 16 she was a cabaret dancer at the Savoy, which in turn led to her joining the dance group the Go-Jos, and that took her to being the lead singer and dancer on the BBC’s The Young Generation.

But her career really took off when she landed a part in A Little Night Music, directed by the legendary Hal Prince.

Then there came a succession of hit West End shows — Side by Side by Sondheim, My Fair Lady and The Phantom of the Opera.

Liz worked on Broadway and performed in front of President Reagan. Mix in plays and one-woman shows — Just Liz was part of the Chichester Festival — and a picture emerges of a multi-talented star.

Liz was married to the lyricist Alan Jay Lerner until his death in 1988. They met when she playing the part of Eliza in My Fair Lady, for which he wrote the book and lyrics.

2018 will be the centenary of Lerner’s birth, and she plans to mark the event with a show celebrating his words.

But Liz’s next venture after Valerie Hobson? A lecture trip on the Queen Mary talking about her late husband.

That is the great difference between her and the role she plays at the Kenton — Valerie Hobson was only too happy to turn her back on her career, while Liz wants it to go on and on.

Valerie Hobson is on at the Kenton Theatre on Sunday, June 28, at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £18 with concessions £16. To book, call the box office on (01491) 575698 or visit the website at

The box office is open is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 3pm, Saturday from 10am to 1pm, and for one hour before a performance.

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