The Way We Were: Please welcome to the stage...

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Born on July 14, 1899, Gwen Farrar was one of the six daughters of George Farrar and his wife, Ella.

George had prospered in gold mining activities in South Africa, and during the Boer War would be mentioned in despatches and awarded the D.S.O. Then in 1902 he was knighted, and after the Boer War he became leader of the opposition in the first Transvaal Parliament. In 1911 he was created Baronet Farrar, for his role in the creation of the Union of South Africa, whilst in other activities, at a farm that he owned outside Johannesburg many prize winning cattle were bred.

Having rented Chicheley Hall, it would be here that he would stay whenever he was in England, and he and his family were in residence when the First World War broke out.

Intending to serve in France and Belgium, Sir George was instead sent to South Africa, but in 1915 he died in a tragic rail accident. Afterwards, Lady Farrar and her daughters continued to live at Chicheley Hall, and in January 1917 it was announced that, with honours, at the recent examinations of the London Royal Academy of Music, Miss Gwendoline Farrar had qualified in violoncello playing, and was entitled to use the letters L.R.A.M.

Indeed, she was billed as such when performing at two concerts at the Electric Theatre, Newport Pagnell, which included Gervase Elwes, a world renowned tenor. During the closing stages of the war, with Miss Norah Blaney, a singer and pianist, Gwen performed at concerts and entertainments for the troops in France and Belgium, and the pair continued their partnership after the war, appearing at leading theatres all over the country, including London.

In fact she soon became celebrated as a world class entertainer and a brilliant cellist, who delighted ‘in making weird noises with her voice much to the discomfort of her partner,’ Norah. In 1926 they went to New York to perform, and having begun a short professional partnership with Billy Mayerl, a popular pianist, it was due to her organisation that in March 1928, on the evenings of Monday 12th and Tuesday 13th an excellent variety entertainment took place in the Electric Theatre, Newport Pagnell. Here she sang syncopated songs, imitated animals and poultry in the farmyard, and then played the cello.

In fact despite her excellent musicianship her act always had a comical element, and for the theatrical effect she would sometimes go off the stage dragging her cello behind her, or slung over her shoulder! A few years after the war her mother, Lady Farrar, died at Chicheley Hall, from internal injuries sustained whilst moving furniture, in preparation for a children’s party, and although some of Gwen’s sisters would continue to live at the mansion, she, having been left a considerable financial sum by her father, divided her time between her 17th century country home in Northants, and 217 King’s Road, Chelsea, which she maintained as a base for her musical career.

Renowned as a popular entertainer, she died after a short illness on Christmas Day 1944.

As for other musical talent from Chicheley, in the 1920s Lawrence Easson, the son of the local vicar, enjoyed radio fame when his song ‘I wish I could go where the birdies go’ was broadcast on 2LO and 5XX. “It is a delightful composition and was greatly enjoyed by hundreds of listeners in this neighbourhood. The words and music of the song revealed Mr Lawrence Easson as a composer of great promise and with an ability to suit the tastes of the music loving public. The song has not yet been published and printed.” Oh, how we’d wish the same for that more recent birdie classic, ‘Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep.’.....