Elizabeth Gamberoni, known as Betty by her family and friends, sadly died on 7 October 2012. She was a prolific writer and staunch supporter of AWL and was an Honorary Member.
Scroll down for details of AWL’s tribute evening on 1 July 2013, including souvenir programme, cast photographs, a photograph of the members of Bettys family who attended, and Montague Courts tribute to his sister.
Even as a child she was a force to be reckoned with. Only the most foolhardy crossed swords with Sergeant Major Court’s second daughter.
Let me take you back to a Christmas in the early 1930s. The Court family were in India, at a place called Jutog, and the children of the cantonment were presenting a pantomime: Dick Whittington before an audience of doting and very proud parents.
Maurice, our older brother, was playing the lead part and Betty was playing the part of a cook, aided by a kitchen-hand: a boy, I believe called Johnson. Betty detested junior Johnson for being a snitch and tell-tale. The script showed Betty apparently working hard in the kitchen and giving the boy a light cuff round the head for not doing his jobs properly. Instead, this charming panto scene suddenly developed into something that could have come from Rocky as Betty slammed into the hapless Johnson for some seconds before Maurice, deliberately late on cue belatedly leapt onto the stage and cried: “Hands off this good lad and bold...” The battered Master Johnson never bothered the Courts again.
Three or four years later, with Dad released from the army because of the after-effects of being gassed in World War I, the family had swopped the idyllic life of The Punjab and were getting our first ever taste of inner-city life; struggling to get used to new surroundings made more difficult because we had lost all our playthings by leaving them in Ruskin Park while we went home for lunch; normal practice on the maidans of India. The three girls went to Penrose Street School, Walworth - not the most salubrious of districts and on day one, a couple of ill-advised cockney playground bullies started to make fun of the way the Court sisters spoke. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
As the fur flew over SE17, they would have been excused for thinking that they’d grabbed a tiger by its tail. An uneasy truce was reached, and the outcome was PAX all-round, with the Court girls being treated with a deal of nervous respect.
All of which might lead one to believe that Betty was a belligerent little bugger. Not so. That was Betty. She never changed. The girl matured into a sharp-minded woman, with an extraordinary sense of humour - and very definite views, expressed in a forthright manner. Not always politically correct, mind you, and capable of delivering many conversation-stoppers. What you saw was what you got. I had my own rules of engagement with her: “Betty, no religion or politics. None!” That way, we got on fine.
Anyway back to the young Betty. Circumstances prevented any question of further education, so as a teenager she had a succession of jobs in City offices until the outbreak of war when our family was torn apart. Dad was critically ill in hospital on the Isle of Wight; Maurice was fighting in France, soon to be rescued from Dunkirk; Ivy was in the ATS; the three youngest, including me, were all evacuated to the West Country, and Betty was transferred into a munitions factory. That presented its problems. Betty didn’t do early mornings... not even if it involved Adolf Hitler! The result: she spent her time on an assortment of twilight shifts, when the tedium of the work allowed her to dream of trying to become an actress, and to fall in love with classical music and good literature.
After the war she was to get her taste of theatre in a variety of repertory companies, a period notable for one memorable situation when Betty as a page was supposed to stride on stage with a scroll for the King, saying: “Sire. Sire. Tidings from the battle.”
The King, who was an awkward and tetchy old pro and who had never bothered to learn his lines, was then supposed to read out a long address not only on the progress of the battle, but provide the denouement setting out the whole story of the play. But Betty and an accomplice had removed the speech.
Faced with a completely blank piece of paper, the King thrust it back at Betty and said: “My eyes trouble me, page. Read it for me.”
She responded: “Nay Sire. I am but a humble page.”
The scroll was handed backward and forwards until in the end the King said: “Never mind, it will keep till the morrow.”... and the curtain came down with the audience none the wiser about the battle, or the plot - and wondering what the hell had happened.
It was about this time that Betty helped an artist friend who was moving studios by bringing home to Methley Street, Kennington, a six foot tall set of Japanese armour with a fierce, bronze embossed face. The only place Mother could find to keep this monstrosity was in the dark cupboard under the stairs where it regularly frightened the life out of my wife and any other unsuspecting soul. That wasn’t the only problem. The real trouble was that the frame upon which it was mounted was riddled with a particularly aggressive form of woodworm, which soon spread to the cupboard and the stairs,; and threatened to do more damage to 5 Methley Street than three years of German bombing. It was the cause of tension for many months.
Betty was also responsible for one of the most embarrassing moments of my life when I was a very junior trainee-reporter on the Daily Sketch at the time of the Victory Parade down The Mall. Crowds were even bigger than we saw at the Olympic celebrations, and included Betty with a group of friends who espied me walking down the middle of The Mall with a photographer, in the moments before the parade started.
“Ooh look,” she cried. “There’s Monty!”
The crowd around her started cheering and waving flags, expecting to see Field Marshall Montgomery, hero of the Eighth Army and Alamein. Instead they saw a pimply-faced youth who wanted to dive into the nearest manhole.
That was Betty! And here’s to her.
Montague Court, 15 October 2012
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