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04 July 2012

Winifred Shotter

British film actress Winifred Shotter (1904 – 1996) was the pretty young thing in a number of the popular Aldwych farces, which were staged in London before and during the Second World War. During the 1930’s, she also performed in early British films with great success.

Winifred Shotter
British postcard in the Colourgraph Series, London, no. C 146.

Ralph Lynn, Winifred Shotter
British postcard in the Film Partners Series by Real Photograph, London, no. 81. Photo: British & Dominions.

Aldwych Farces
Winifred Florence Shotter was born in London in 1904. She was the daughter of Frederick Ernest Shotter and Harriet Payne Shotter. Her father worked as a tie cutter. She was the sister of the actress Constance Shotter. Winifred  got her big break in the early 1920’s when she was pulled from a chorus line to play Rhoda Marley in the farce comedy Rookery Nook by Ben Travers. She would go on to appear in a number of what became known as the Aldwych farces popular at London’s Aldwych Theatre. These plays, written by Travers, usually revolved around a misunderstanding, borrowed clothes and dropped trousers. The first was in 1925. Shotter appeared in Rookery Nook (1926), Thark (1927), Plunder (1928), A Cup of Kindness (1929) and Turkey Time (1931). Molly Weir wrote in an obituary of Shotter in The Independent in 1996: “Shotter was appearing at the Aldwych Theatre as an enchanting ‘flapper’ who had to be hidden for fear of discovery by prim visiting relatives, and she sent the house into screams of warning appreciative laughter as she raced downstairs from the bedroom and across the stage clad only in exquisitely revealing pink crepe-de-Chine camiknickers. Her ladylike terror as she reacted to Robertson Hare's horrified cries of ‘Oh calamity!’ enchanted the audience; Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls aided and abetted the chase. Winifred Shotter was classy, frightened femininity at its best.” In 1929 she made her film debut in Peace and Quiet (1929, Sinclair Hill), a short film made in Phonofilm. It was an excerpt of a Ronald Jeans revue, in which she played with Ralph Lynn. Several of the Aldwych plays were also made into films. The following year she played again opposite Lynn in the comedy Rookery Nook (1930, Tom Walls), produced by Herbert Wilcox. She also acted in the comedy On Approval (1930, Tom Walls), in which Walls was also her co-star.

Winifred Shotter
British postcard in the Film Weekly Series, London.

Winifred Shotter
British postcard. Photo: Twickenham. Publicity shot for Rocks of Valpre (1935, Henry Edwards).

Elegance and Charm
The farces filled the Aldwych throughout the 1930’s and the war years. In 1931 Winifred Shotter married Michael Green, a union that did not last. Shotter was kept very busy with a series of films during the early thirties. These films include Plunder (1931, Tom Walls), The Chance of a Night Time (1931, Ralph Lynn, Herbert Wilcox), and A Night Like This (1932, Tom Walls). In 1932 she played with Jack Hulbert and his wife Cicely Courtneidge in the successful comedy Jack's the Boy (1932, Walter Forde) for Gainsborough Pictures. She continued to make filmed Aldwych farces starring Ralph Lynn and appeared in Up to the Neck (1933, Jack Raymond), Just My Luck (1933, Jack Raymond) and Summer Lightning (1933. Maclean Rogers). She also appeared in more serious films such as the dramas Sorrell and Son (1933, Jack Raymond) with H.B. Warner and Hugh Wiliams, and the crime film The Rocks of Valpre (1935, Henry Edwards) starring John Garrick. She did make it to Hollywood, where she performed in one film, Petticoat Fever (1936, George Fitzmaurice) opposite Myrna Loy and Robert Montgomery. Reportedly, she found life in Tinseltown distasteful and returned home. In 1946, Shotter became an announcer for BBC television, but she also occasionally returned to stage and screen. In 1951 she married actor Gilbert Davis, one of the band of English actors who found fame in Hollywood because of his impeccable manners and excellent speaking voice. She retired from the stage and for tax reasons the couple moved to Montreux, in Switzerland. Her final film was the family comedy John and Julie (1957, William Fairchild). After his death she returned to England and lived for some years in Surrey. Winifred Shotter would pass away in 1996 at Redhill in Surrey. She was 91. Molly Weir in The Independent: “I think Winifred Shotter must be one of the last actresses who never lost her elegance or her perfect manners, or her charm. She adorned every occasion she attended.”

Ralph Lynn
Ralph Lynn. British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 174. Photo: Capitol Films.

Tom Walls
Tom Walls. British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 175. Photo: Capitol Films.

Sources: Molly Weir (The Independent), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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