A few months back, I got an e-mail from Tom Daniel, the man who’s been the brains, the initiative and most of the work behind some of the most wonderful song compilations I’ve come across, ever. Tom wondered if I would like to host a series of guest posts about Edwina Lyons, the dancer who was there, smiling and pretty, in so many films from the 60s.
I leaped at the offer, of course. We’d have liked to publish the posts to coincide with Edwina’s birthday in July, but that couldn’t happen because this blog was in the middle of a complicated linked-posts project. But better late than never, right? So, a belated happy birthday to a very lovely lady (and, as you’ll see in this and the next three posts, an amazingly vibrant, lively and strong person too).
(P.S. The posts are a combination of Tom’s writing and Edwina’s. To differentiate between the two, Tom’s words are formatted in blue, while Edwina’s remain in black). Over to Tom:
Not long after memsaab wrote her blog piece on Edwina, because I had been digging up videos that featured Edwina and passing them to memsaab who in turn passed them on to Edwina and other members of the Lyons clan, and because Edwina had been appreciative of them, memsaab thought we might want to get to know each other. I jumped at the chance and Edwina also agreed. And so began one of the most rewarding relationships of my life. After I got to know her better I, like memsaab before me, decided this woman’s life was worth documenting because here was a woman who had worked at the very core of India’s movie industry, as a dancer during the Golden Age of Indian Film. But even had she never been in the movies, she’s still a fascinating woman, I think, and worthy of a write-up.
Because memsaab is close friends with both Edwina and her brother, and because brother Terence comes in for some criticism in the articles, and because we weren’t willing to edit out the negative parts so the articles would pass memsaab’s scrutiny, she couldn’t see her way clear to publishing the articles in her blog. Edwina and I completely understand and there aren’t any hard feelings on either side. We’ve asked dusted off to host the articles on her blog and she has graciously agreed.
This is the first of four planned articles and is about her life before, during, and after the movies. The second and third will focus on the people she met while in the movie business, and the fourth will be about what it was like to be a support dancer in the movies and the day-to-day work of being in the ‘film line’. These articles will be liberally sprinkled with pictures and videos. The family pictures have been provided by Edwina. Although much of the family history was destroyed in a fire after she left for England, she had already taken with her some of them, with others being sent to her by brothers and sisters over the years. The videos and the pictures taken from those videos are mine from my YouTube (or DailyMotion) channel, unless stated otherwise. Not speaking the language, I provide translations whenever possible. There are no subtitles on VCDs and there are often none for the songs on DVDs. For those with subs, some are hardcoded or burned into the video. In other cases they’re selectable. If you see a grey ‘CC’ button below the video and beside the ’360p’ button, click on it to turn it red and turn on the subs. Or, if you don’t want or need subs (some are of very poor quality) click on the button if it’s red, to turn it grey.
Most of the writing will be in Edwina’s own words. Her vibrant personality just flows through her words and her writing style and I hope it charms you, the reader, as much as it charms me.
Mother Elizabeth (called Alice), Father John, Edwina, 1941
My Father was born in Bangalore India & educated there as well My Mother was from Iraq My Grandfather was from County Cork-Ireland My Grandmother was a European from England I guess but somewhere along the line there must have been some Indian but I honestly cannot say where how or why? I truly do not know!
My Grandfather & Father were in the British Army While My Father was a Soldier in the Army He met My Mother in Iraq & they Married & had their first child (My Sister Ceceila) there & then went to India to settle down We were 5 Girls & 2 Boys as Siblings
Ceceila Irene Terence Philomena Marie Edwina & Neville Lyons All Lions by Name & by Nature Ha!Ha! & Yes We were all Educated as well Spoke English as Our First Language & very Broken Hindustani as Our Second Language & hated speaking the Lingo too!
I was Born in a Military Hospital in 1941 & the Matron gave Me the Name Edwina after Lady Mount Batton I Personally like My Unusual Name ‘Edwina’ Makes Me feel a bit Posh eh! All My Family (Siblings) & Keith call Me ‘Edu’ My Very Good Friends here & all over the World call Me the same too & yet some of My Very Good Pals here call Me ‘Edwina’ as well My Children call Me ‘Mum or Mother’ & when They are in a Playful Mood call Me ‘Edu Girl’ My Children & I are Good Friends as well & have always been Very Loving & Respectful as well Edu is pronounced as Edoo & not Edyou so take Your pick
I am a Roman Catholic My Mother told Me that in Iraq there were only 3 Religions Catholic Jews & Arabs My Mother was Catholic & educated in a Convent in Iraq I was educated in the Convent of Jesus & Mary (Bombay & Poona)
From phone call – Although English was the main language spoken at home, mom and dad spoke Arabic to each other when they didn’t want the children to understand. That lasted until the kids got older and picked up enough Arabic to understand what they were saying. They all spoke Hindi when Hindi speaking friends and others were visiting, but she is and always has been most comfortable speaking in English. Here she is singing a line from Shake Rattle And Roll from the 1965 film Arzoo in her own voice, together with another line of dialog:
Back Row, L to R: Philomena, Terence, Marie. Middle: Father, Brother Neville making his first communion at age 8, Mother, Edwina age 11. Front: Nieces Brenda, Maureen. Missing: Sisters Ceceila, Irene. Picture taken in 1952.
My (Catholic) School Uniform was A White Dress with A Maroon Tie & Black Shoes with White Socks I always seemed to have had Long Hair in My Younger Days & either wore My Hair in A Pony Tail or in Two Plaits So much so I found it difficult to Forgive My Sister Marie for taking Me to the Hair Dressers in Byculla Bombay on My Thirteenth Birthday & giving Me (as A Birthday Present) ‘A Sabrina Hair Cut’ which was in Fashion then A Crew Cut with A Fringe & A Ready Made Cotton Dress from some Cheap Market Place & expected Me to be Happy! That was My Worst Birthday Ever & I was so Lost without My Long Hair that I refused to Forgive Her for A Very Long Period of Time !!!
For those that don’t know, the ‘Sabrina Cut’ was a hairstyle developed for Audrey Hepburn for the 1954 film Sabrina. I find it interesting that American trendsetter Audrey Hepburn could also influence fashion in far off India. A few years later, in 1961, her hairstyle influenced the design of the ‘Sadhana Fringe’, developed, it’s been said, to cover actress Sadhana’s broad forehead. I don’t know exactly how Edwina’s hair would have looked after this cut, but here are a couple of ways Miss Hepburn wore her hair in the film:
After the Sabrina Hair Cut I let it grow & never remembered cutting it again until I was carrying for My Michelle in 1967/68 when I finally decided to chop it all off as it got way too Long for Me to Manage & had it done Professionally at the Hair Dressers Even He was Apprehensive & asked Me a Dozen Times before He decided to Tie a Rubber Band Tightly around it almost like a Pony Tail only really Lower before giving it the clip with a Pair of Scissors Carefully & Neatly so it all stayed in Tack He told Me that I could sell it as an Extension Piece because it was in Very Good Condition too but instead I gave it to My Husband’s Niece & She used it for Various Hair Styles & eventually She went off to the USA & I never saw Her again Could not imagine Her still having it after all these Years though It was No Big Deal to Me then as I got used to the Various Hair Cuts after that In fact My Hair started to get quite Naturally Wavy which helped to change My Image too The Weight because of the Length of Hair I had sort of kept it straight for Many Years The Longest I would let it grow on & off would be about My Shoulder’s Length I was having a Very Busy Life here in the UK Bringing Up a Family & what have You that My Hair was the Least of My Worry Even now at the age of 69 I still contend with Shoulder Length Hair but try Very Hard not to Look like ‘Mutton Dressed as Lamb’ while I still wear a Pair of Denim Jeans & try to Carry it off Well
From when I can remember ‘We Lyons’ were not doing too badly till My Father took ill with Lung Problems & had to stop working so We all took it in turn to help out financially Terence & Marie were already in the Film Industry & My Sister Philomena also did a bit of the same till She got a job in a Bank & left
When My turn came I was 16 & started going steady with Keith & worked for Glaxo Laboratories where I met Him & which lasted only for 4 Months because they found out that I was under aged It was My turn to bring the Bread In so with Keith’s permission I joined the Line along with Terence & Marie & the Money was good or at least better than working in an Office Dancing came to Me Naturally but I was so so Shy because of My Upbringing & terribly Camera Shy In a Group I did better & hated any Close Ups of Me to start with & to this day I find it rather hard to sit & have a chat on a one to one basis with any man in fact My Father was very strict with His Daughters especially & My Mother was a Jewel of a Woman & I truly felt that My Father did not deserve Her She was an Absolute Saint & Loved Her Family to Bits!!!
So, at age 16 our young heroine dropped out of school, started on her first job and got fired four months later, met her future husband, and began working in films. That was a busy year! What was the first film in which she appeared? She worked steadily throughout 1958 but the films from 1958 she’s in are few and far between. This next paragraph was written before I discovered any films in which she appears released before 1959.
What I did mean that though I started in the Film Line in 1958 because of the Length of Time it takes them to release a Film it could well have gone into 1959 I only said this because You once mentioned that You have never come across any Dances of me in 1957/58 & Do Ustad was One of My Starting Ones as well There was One that I Vaguely Remember but cannot Remember when or Who were the Cast of this Film called ‘Light House’ & I think it was an Outdoor on Juhu Beach in Mumbai & I definitely was Very Very Young with Terence & the Usual Gang I think!
The 1958 film Light House starring Ashok Kumar and Nutan has never been released on VCD or DVD, but it’s believed to have been released on VHS. I know of four films she’s in from 1958, with Adalat having maybe the best quality video out of a very bad bunch. Here’s a cute bicycle and picnic number from that film. Take note of just how much the newcomer is featured in this song and dance number starring Pradeep Kumar and Nargis:
Nargis on the left, and Edwina
Her brother Terence, ace dancer and later choreographer Herman Benjamin, and her great friend Pamela Bonicci, are also in this one. We’ll get to know some of her friends and coworkers better in future articles.
Another one of her early films, as she mentioned above, was the 1959 film Do Ustad starring Raj Kapoor and Madhubala. The song Rik Rik Tik Tik from that film is a fine showcase for her blossoming talents and is made even more noteworthy by the presence of her boyfriend and future husband in the latter part of the song. About that she says:
Never saw the Video of ‘Do Ustad’ before & yes Herman Benjamin was Dancing with My Friend Pamela Bonicci & I was passed around in this Keith was on the Sets at the time & He too was dragged into Dancing with Me at the latter end only & that was His First & Last Ever He earned a Day’s Wage too I think it made Him feel Good but will not admit to Me
Edwina dancing with Raj Kapoor.
Edwina with future husband Keith dancing next to Madhubala and Raj Kapoor!
This next paragraph was written before I showed Edwina the previous video.
Madhubala was a Very Striking Looking Woman & have seen Her on Various Occasions but cannot remember any Dances (if any) I did in Her Scenes What I do remember is that every time they needed a Duplicate of Her Long Distance or just the Back of Her sitting at a Table or whatever they used My Sister Irene or Philomena if she was not available to do the Scene Though they did Oblige they were not regulars in the Line Philomena did some to start with but Irene never Irene used to work as a Ground Hostess for Pan American Airlines (PAA) & Philomena in a Mercantile Bank on the Switchboard & also tried to get Me to to work there but I told Her what to do with the Job Cannot repeat what I said though Ha!ha! The whole Lyons Clan had a taste of the Film Industry at some stage or other but Terence Marie & I hung in there the Longest Terence & Marie Longer than I I moved on when I Immigrated to the UK ‘Jack of all Trades Master of None’
My Husband Keith is an Anglo Indian too & so are His Parents as far as I know But His Father was Born & Brought Up in a Place in Pondicherry
Got engaged in 1959 (cannot remember Month)
Married on the 26 November 1960 – Leap Year
As this is being written, sister Irene’s daughter Glynis, the middle of the three little girls in the picture above, is visiting England from Australia and will be meeting with Aunt Edwina and Uncle Keith. That little girl is now a grandmother.
My Husband hated Me Dancing & being Handled by other Men especially in the Films because in those Days Women got a Bad Reputation for Earning A Living by Dancing But it was OK if A Woman sat on the Boss’s Lap in an Office seemed more Becoming! Very Very Narrow Minded Ignorant People who never saw further than their Nose! Also My Husband did not know how to Dance & must have felt somewhat left out so I even tried to teach Him to Jive to keep Him Happy Mind You then again it was alright that He worked in a Firm called ‘Glaxo Laboratories Ltd’ in Worli-Mumbai Filled with Young Females & only about A Half Dozen Males but that was OK too He was only there as a Semi Skilled Mechanic who Operated on their Machines in the Factory when they went wrong I know because that was My First Job that I tried to get when I had to bluff My Age & say that I was 18 when in fact I was just 16 & 4 Months later they came to know & retrenched Me That was when I was compelled to Join the Film Industry to Earn a Living
After Our Marriage in 1960 Keith & I decided to go to the UK Keith left for England September 1961 to prepare a home for us & I was 7 Months Pregnant I joined Him round about October 1962 (Nigel was 11 Months Old)
But nothing ever came easily for our young Mrs. Keith Violette. Even something seemingly as easy as going to the airport to take an airplane flight was fraught with drama.
Then there was this Incident when I was to Join Keith in the UK in 1962 & He booked the Flight from the UK for Me & Nigel & Most of the Lyons Family came to See Us Off at the Airport in Taxis We were just in Time to See The Plane Take Off without Nigel & I On It because I could not get My Hair to Look the Way I wanted It to Look at that Time! Anyway We All had to return Home & Repeat the same Performance the Next Day but This Time I Knew Better not Push My Luck What A Pillava?!!! Must have been an Omen? I was back in India Four Months Later & Three Months Pregnant Glutton for Punishment !!!
We were both struggling to keep Our Marriage together but were both very Immature having Married so Young & Being Worlds Apart Really Total Opposites & could not see the Wood from the Trees but just kept going aimlessly letting Time Fly By Things were not going as planned & We were living in One room & sharing all with a Lovely Anglo Indian Family but I was missing My Home Life in India & My Parents & Siblings so Keith borrowed the Money from His Sister (who went along with Him initially) & sent Us back with Me carrying again for Our second Child Edward (Eddie) & I went back into the Film Line to earn a Crust This lasted for almost another 5 Years & Yes I could have become the second Helen because of so many many chances given to Me by Surya Kumar (Robert Master) Satyanarayan & Raj mainly but I was not really interested for many personal reasons & was also approached by Many Producers who also promised to get someone to teach Me Urdu & Polish Up My Hindi
I won Dance Competitions when Keith was in the UK & I went back into the Films between 1962-64 & even Won the ‘May Queen’ when He was not looking
I was not a Teenager then I had 2 Children & a Family to take care of & I think I did a Pretty Good Job of it all !!! In the 60′s We were Lucky if We Owned A Radio & My Poor Parents did not even know what A Fridge Looked Like leave alone Owning One Poor Beggars !!! What You never had You never Missed I suppose?
Want to clear something here about My Parents They did not mind Me Dancing for a Living because We needed the Cash & My Father did Accompany Me to the Studios Initially until Terence took Control & He thoroughly enjoyed the Power He got from it What My Parents & I did not want was to go further & want for More like being a Star like Helen & Others because then that would be Dangerous Your First Break would cost You Your Self Respect & the Rest!!! Your Merits would only be a Stepping Stone & the Rest You paid by Kind !!! I was Never Cut Out For That Kind Of Life !!!!!!!!!! Thank The Lord !!!
The trouble with Me is that I like everybody so always seem to look out for the Good in People & cannot remember ever having anyone for an enemy & took most People at Face Value At that Time I think I was so Besotted with My Keith that nothing & No One Else really Mattered It is rather Hard to explain! To be quite Honest with You Tom My Brother Terence was an Absolute Thorn in My Side (I know I should not say this but I have to if I am to tell the story) & because He did not get on with 90% of the Male Dancers (Very Arrogant & A Constant Chip on His Shoulder) He tried to stop Me from Socializing with them all the more Mind You He did not do too Badly with the Female Dancers Do You know that I could write a Book on My Life & it would turn out to be ‘A Best Seller’ but then I would be Hurting too Many People in the Bargain so I let ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ !!!
To be quite honest with You Dancing was just something I loved doing & getting paid for something You enjoyed doing then became a Bonus & it made My Life more interesting for Me & nothing else really mattered I was not looking for Fame or Fortune but just a regular job to earn a living & it served the purpose then I was never encouraged by My Parents or Siblings either & My Husband Keith was never keen on Me Dancing in the Films too because of Our narrowmindedness in that Era which left Me with no choice whatsoever but to Marry & have a Family because I was Brainwashed into believing that it was the right thing to do for every female in any Family No regrets mind You but still not fair eh!!!
Keith eventually managed to get A House/Home & We then joined Him in the UK ‘Our 2 Sons & I’ in 1967 I was left totally confused through it all & cannot really spell things out on paper & Yes till Today it has been a Mental Struggle My Career was not Important !!!
What was the last movie in which she worked? As with the first, there’s no real way to be sure. Memsaab, in her article on Edwina, points to Duniya Paagal Hai from the 1967 film Shagird as being one of her last ones:
Edwina with Joy Mukherjee
In addition, I’ve found one she’s in released in 1968, the Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree film Brahmachari. The idiots at Eros Entertainment have blocked the YouTube version everywhere but in India, so this one comes from DailyMotion. Edwina looks elegant in her salwar kameez outfit, dancing behind Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree. And watch Shammi Kapoor take a good look at Edwina sitting behind Pran as he approaches Pran’s table at about 2:15 into the video.
When I left India for the UK in 1967 I left all Letters Photos & Personal Stuff of Mine in the Family Home then in Byculla Mumbai I was the First Sibling to Immigrate with My 2 Sons Nigel & Edward & took no Reminder (e.g.Photos) of the Film Line as Keith was Dead Against My Life in it I wanted to wipe the slate clean & start A New Life with My Husband
Then gradually the rest of the Siblings Irene Terence Philomena Marie & My Younger Brother Neville all started to Immigrate for the exception of My Oldest Sister Ceceila who stayed back in Gujerat India with Her Immediate Family I am the second last of them all They had to sell the Family Home after My Parents Died & All moved on First My Sister Philomena to Toronto Canada & the Rest to Brisbane Australia where they all are to this day with all their extended Families I am so glad that I was away from all in the UK God’s Blessings Big Time !!!!!!!! They all lived in each other’s pockets & My Brother Neville & I being the Youngest of them all was always made to feel that We were Outsiders so I thank the Lord for My Immediate Family & My Husband to this Day remarks that I was & Am Very Different from the Lot & He should know because We Married when I was 19 Years Old He must have been just under 23 Years of age This might sound peculiar but I felt closer to them all when I was well away from All Visited Canada Twice & Australia 7 Times Marie visited us in the UK once & again in India but the Rest did not care!!!
Anyway when I asked ‘The Big Boss’ Terence about all My Personal Letters & Photos etc He said that everything went up in Fire when they were moving or moved in transit after selling the Family Home or some God Forsaken Story that His Daughter Patricia started this Fire by Accident & I just left it at that I never even got a Memento of what was left & I did not bother to ask either I knew for sure that I got Our Parents Blessings !!! To this Day every time I come to India I Visit the Cemetery with Family & Friends (Miles Away from here) to Maintain the Grave that they were Buried In None of them give A Damn! “I’m Alright Jack pull the Ladder Up”
Life, after finally settling for good in England, was still a struggle. In addition to the two sons she already had (Nigel and Edward), Michelle was born on March 23rd, 1968 and Andre on November 30, 1971. She worked the entire time she was in England, often holding down two jobs. She worked for a time at the big Marks and Spencer department stores. A serious problem was not getting the promotions she was due as there was rampant discrimination at the time. She was forced to job-hop in order to get better paying jobs, and couldn’t ever count on getting pay raises through promotions. In addition to working full time, raising four children, and tending to house and husband, she also enrolled in and attended adult night classes for years and years in order to further her education and learn a vocation. It was the secretarial, bookkeeping, and accounting skills she gained from the classes that finally enabled her to get better paying jobs at various companies. She worked eight years for a doctor’s group, and eventually landed a Finance Officer’s job at St. Pancras Hospital in London where she ended her working career. Unfortunately, her health began to break down about fifteen years ago and she had to retire early and go on disability. She spends a good portion of the year in India, at their home in Naigaon about an hour outside of Mumbai. Sometimes Keith comes with her and other times she goes alone or with a son. Most of her comments here were written from India, where she was when I first met her online, the rest after she returned to England.
As for her husband Keith, three years Edwina’s senior, in the early years he also had a number of jobs but he eventually latched onto a job with the post office, working the night shift for years and years, and retiring after 30 years.
But life wasn’t all work and no play. Earlier she mentioned the seven trips to Australia and the two to Canada over the years. During the first 1980 trip to Australia to reunite with most of her family, this picture was taken:
Left to right: Lorna (Terence’s wife), Edwina, brother Terence, sister Marie.
Edwina sent me her official résumé and the jobs mentioned in that, along with a couple of others she had after the résumé was prepared, totalled up to 19 different jobs over a less than 30 year period. And that doesn’t even count the many ‘unofficial’ bookkeeping and other jobs where she was paid cash under-the-table.
Edwina at age 50 in 1991
You asked Tom so I am relating only what I know & can tell You & definitely not complaining so take what You want out of it & leave the Rest Life has not just been One Big Bed of Roses for Me & I was not allowed to Live Life the Way I Might Have Wanted It to be because of Circumstances beyond My Control !!!
By the Way I am still 69 & have Worn Pretty Well Not Wrinkled Yet & can still get away with Murder Never look Mutton Dressed as Lamb either!!! Still look Quite Presentable to the Eye If I May Say So Myself
He (God) Has Blessed & Protected Me through Thick & Thin from Day One & I am not Kidding !!! ‘I have had One Hell of A Life but I have Survived it All with A Smile because of My Happy Disposition’ Now I am pushing 70 Yrs of Age & still standing with A Smile on My Face So I have a lot to be Thankful For !!!!!!!!!!!!
The next article will feature some of the better-known people she encountered while working as a dancer in the film industry.
Text and images © Edwina Violette and Thomas Daniel