LETTER: Olivier’s legacy as a good man

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Everything seems to be focused on Sir Laurence Olivier at present, during this 50th anniversary of the National theatre in London.

Yet it is hard to believe that it is now 24 years since he passed away at Ashurst in West Sussex. I wonder what he would think of all the fuss being made by the present ‘luvvies’ and ‘darlings’ of the acting world?

I remember when living in Buckinghamshire, I did a project in 2002 about the time Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh lived just outside Aylesbury, at Notley Abbey from 1940 to 1960.

I remember being invited to look around by one of the last private owners, but sadly never took her up on the invite - my loss. I hear the place is a wedding and events venue now, perhaps something Olivier and Vivien Leigh would approve of in a way.

I heard from many people and stars, many sadly passed on now. One chap told me about how he often saw Olivier chopping down trees on his estate for use as firewood, etc at Notley Abbey.

Jean Simmons remembered going to Notley for an interview for her role as ‘Ophelia’ in ‘Hamlet’, during the late 1940s.

When entering the house, she noticed how immersed Vivien was in planting flowers and pruning roses in a flower bed near to the entrance of the house, she never even noticed Jean say hello to her, she seemed to be in a world of her own.

Ian Carmichael told me about the time he received a ‘well done’ message from Olivier during his initial period starting out as a young actor.

Googie Withers lamented at the loss of so many of her close actor friends of her own generation and included Olivier as one.

The most interesting memory for me was from the late great playwright Christopher Fry.

He was a guest at Notley Abbey in 1949, where his play ‘Venus Observed’ was under discussion, and suddenly Olivier described how perfectly he had prepared for his role in the play.

More than anything it was Olivier’s and Vivien’s involvement in village life that impressed me, their dedication to the events and people near to Notley Abbey, where their star qualities were second to their Mr and Mrs Olivier roles in tombolas, prize givings, home-made scones, cakes and village life generally, etc.

Olivier’s legacy in the entertainment world is without question, but his role as a husband, father, brother, man, etc, is also important, something we often forget in our celebrity fuelled world.


Thornbury Road, Walsall, West Midlands