RUTHERFORD, Dame Margaret (1892-1972)
Plaque erected in 2002 by English Heritage at 4 Berkeley Place, Wimbledon, London, SW19 4NN, London Borough of Merton
Theatre and Film
Dame MARGARET RUTHERFORD 1892-1972 Actress lived here 1895-1920
The plaque is smaller (16" diameter) than usual to fit onto the building's façade.
Dame Margaret Rutherford was one of the finest comedy actors of her generation with a successful career on both stage and screen. She is commemorated with a blue plaque at 4 Berkeley Place, Wimbledon, where she lived, with her aunt, between 1895 and 1920.
Margaret Rutherford was born in Balham, in south London, in 1892. In 1895 her family moved to India – her father, William Rutherford, was a trader of Indian silks. Tragically, her mother took her own life that same year and her father, who had long suffered from mental illness, was unable to care for Margaret on his own. Before Margaret was born, William had murdered his father and tried to take his own life. After his wife’s death, he would spend the rest of his life in asylums. Young Margaret, still just three years old, was sent back to the UK to live with her aunt, Bessie Nicholson, in London. This early trauma and her family’s history of mental illness haunted Margaret throughout her life and she suffered from intermittent bouts of anxiety and depression.
A New Start
Back in London, Margaret moved into her aunt's house at 4 Berkeley Place, Wimbledon. This late 19th-century brick house remained her home until 1920. Over Margaret's childhood and teenage years living there, Bessie helped foster her dreams of becoming an actor, paying for her private drama lessons. When Bessie died in 1925, she left Margaret (who was then working as a music teacher) with a small income which allowed her to join the Old Vic Company as a trainee actor. Though she initially played some lead roles there, over the next decade, Margaret struggled to get her acting career completely off the ground, at one point returning to a teaching career in Wimbledon. In 1933, however, she finally made her West End debut, aged 41, and six years later she played Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, opposite Edith Evans and John Gielgud.
Margaret went on to achieve notable success in films which included appearances in Passport to Pimlico (1949), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) and The VIPs (1963), playing the Duchess of Brighton alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, for which she won the Oscar for best supporting actress. She was also renowned for her portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in several films including Murder She Said (1962), Murder Ahoy (1964) and Murder Most Foul (1965).
Margaret married fellow actor James Buckley Stringer Davis in 1945. They were devoted to each other, and James supported Margaret throughout a number of difficult periods of debilitating depression when she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. In the 1950s, the couple unofficially adopted the writer Gordon Langley Hall, then in his 20s. Hall later had gender reassignment surgery and became Dawn Langley Simmons. Under this name, she wrote a biography of Margaret Rutherford in 1983.
In later life Margaret and James lived in Buckinghamshire, where Margaret eventually passed away at Chalfont and Gerrards Cross Hospital in 1972, aged 80. By the time of her death, Margaret had been awarded a DBE (1967) and was a highly respected and successful actor. She had made a particular specialty of portraying eccentric middle-aged ladies with quick-witted humour and sharp minds.