Born : 14 April 1917 Larne, County Antrim , Ireland
Died : 13 November 1998, London, England, UK
Valerie Babette Louise Hobson was born in Larne, Northern Ireland, in 1917, the daughter of a British naval officer who was serving on a minesweeper at the time. She was educated at St Augustine’s Priory, London and started dancing lessons at the tender age of three. At the age of five she was given bally lessons designed to give her poise, but these also provided valuable training for her stage career. She then trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and made her stage debut at the age of 15 in Orders Are Orders. Oscar Hammerstein II, who also saw her in the show, then spotted her lunching with her mother at Claridge’s and went over to their table and offered her a small part in his production Ball at the Savoy, starring Maurice Evans, at Drury Lane. In this show she demonstrated a flair for comedy, which sadly many of her future roles were not to allow her to develop. Ironically this was where she was to end her career over 20 years later.
Her West End success was to lead to a series of appearances in British B pictures. These included Two Hearts in Waltz Time, The Path to Glory and Badgers Green, a cricketing comedy written by R C Sherriff and produced by Anthony Havelock-Allan, who was later to become her first husband. Here as the daughter of a developer whose plans will wreck a village’s beloved cricket green, she complicates things by falling in love with the son of a protestor. Incidentally when these films were made in 1934, Valerie Hobson was still a minor and had to be chaperoned to the studio by her old nanny.
Her performance in these films led to tests for Hollywood and the offer of a contract by Universal Pictures. With her mother, the 17-year-old Hobson departed for the US, but was disappointed with the parts she was given. Ironically her first role, that of Biddy in the studio’s version of Dickens’ Great Expectations (1934) was eliminated from the final print. Years later Hobson was to have notable success as Estella in David Lean’s masterly version of the same tale.
The studio started her in B films (briefly as a platinum blonde), but her performances were to disappoint. As with everything there was one notable exception. The classic James Whale film, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The actress was also unhappy with the other horror films and minor thrillers she was offered. Even in the best, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) and Werewolf of London (1935), her roles did not inspire. “I’d been there 18 months and learnt a great deal, but I was getting tired of horror pictures and doing nothing but scream and faint . . . In The Bride of Frankenstein, I was carried by Boris Karloff over almost every artificial hill in Hollywood.” Universal in fact kept her screams in their sound library to use in subsequent horror movies. I thought she was great in both the Bride and the Werewolf films, but, on balance, I am a little prejudiced as she was one of my favourite actresses
Valerie Hobson’s brief Hollywood career came to an abrupt end when a financial crisis forced Universal to reorganise and her contract was not renewed. She returned to England in 1936 where in such films as the intriguing thriller No Escape (1936) she quickly established herself as a stylish leading lady. In this pre-war period Hobson reputedly also made more television appearances than any other actress. In 1937 she was cast opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr in Jump for Glory, in which she caught the eye of Alexander Korda, who promptly signed her up on a long term contract. In the event though, she made only two films for Korda, namely The Drum (1938), a tale of the North-West Frontier from a novel by A E W Mason, directed by Korda’s brother Zoltan, and Q Planes (1939) with Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier. I am a great Korda fan and his films Knight Without Armour (1937 )and Things to Come (1936) are amongst the best films ever made. Not Hobson films alas.
1938 saw the comedy-thriller This Man Is News and this was the first to display Hobson’s innate flair for comedy and was favourably compared by critics to America’s “Thin Man” films, with Hobson and Barry K. Barnes as a pair of wise-cracking, cocktail-drinking married sleuths. “It had an extraordinary success,” Hobson told Brian McFarlane a few years ago. “As a nation we hadn’t made a high comedy successfully until then. When they put it on at the Plaza there were queues literally round the block to see it.”A sequel, This Man in Paris (1939), was even better than the first. Both films were produced by Anthony Havelock-Allan, with whom Hobson fell in love, and they were married in 1939.
Korda’s production Q Planes (1938) had also consolidated Hobson’s stardom. As the sister of Ralph Richardson and sweetheart of Laurence Olivier, Hobson brought infectious sparkle to a lively and witty espionage thriller. Q Planes is great entertainment for those who love a thriller with a touch of Sci-fi. The love hate relationship between Hobson and Olivier is a must see. She followed this with two more highly entertaining thrillers, The Spy in Black (1939) and Contraband (1940), both co- starring Conrad Veidt, scripted by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell, who was to recall, “Valerie was a tall, strong, intelligent girl with glorious eyes and a quick wit. The Spy in Black opened in London the week that war was declared, was a great hit in both England and the US, and this prompted the second pairing of the two stars in Contraband, aptly re-titled Blackout in the US since a great deal of the film’s action takes place in a blacked-out West End.
During the war years Hobson’s career faltered. She had turned down David O Selznick’s offer of a Hollywood contract because she did not want to leave her husband. She was off screen for three years after The Adventures of Tartu in 1943, and as is the unforgiving nature of the movies, other actresses became more popular, notably those of the Gainsborough pictures. Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Jean Kent and Patricia Roc all became cinema goers favourites and were considered to be more versatile.
She did return to the screen as an MP who finds it difficult to adjust to life with a husband returned from the war in The Years Between (1946), then was cast as Estella in Great Expectations (1946), regarded by many as the finest screen adaptation of a Dickens novel. The film was produced by Cineguild, a company formed by Hobson’s husband along with Ronald Neame and David Lean, and the same group produced Hobson’s next film, a lavish costume melodrama Blanche Fury (1947) where she starred alongside Stuart Granger.
1949 saw the classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronet and then The Card in 1952. Both these starred the legendry Alec Guinness (“a wonderful film actor with the most subtle integrity”). In 1952 she and Havelock-Allan were divorced.
Good film roles were becoming scarce again when Hobson was offered the starring role of Anna in the Drury Lane production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The Kind and I. The show’s original Broadway star, Gertrude Lawrence, had planned to recreate her part in London prior to her untimely death. (Hobson had studied singing at RADA, and during her Hollywood stay had sung on Bing Crosby’s radio programme.). With Herbert Lom ( another favourite of mine) playing the King the show was a smash hit and a great personal success for Hobson. It opened in October 1953 and Hobson stayed in it for a year and a half, announcing that at the end of the run she would retire since she doubted anything in her career could top it.
She had married the MP, John Profumo and was happy to retire. The stage was set for a script that nobody wanted to play a part in. One of the most notorious scandals in British politics
In March 1963 her husband admitted his affair with Christine Keeler and resigned from his post as Secretary of State for War and Hobson’s name was again in the headlines. She did however stay loyal. A few weeks after the headlines she was due to open a home for mentally handicapped children in Dymchurch, Kent and Hobson was making her first public appearance since the scandal broke. She opened with what could have been described as one of her greatest roles. That of the loyal wife.
‘ I hope you will forgive me if I start on a more private note. The personal affairs of my family have been so greatly in the limelight recently that it has not been quite easy for me to decide whether or not I should have fulfilled this engagement. The invitation which I accepted with great joy last October, has turned out to be a little of an ordeal. But when I see you all and know how friendly and kind you always are I know that, in fact, it is one of my great joys. There are occasions when all personal circumstances come secondary’ At the end of the ceremony the actress received a prolonged ovation. A star to the end.
She became involved with the mentally handicapped as one of her two sons by Havelock-Allan was born with Downs Syndrome and she also devoted time to Lepra, a leprosy relief organisation. John Profumo, to his credit, after his resignation, worked tirelessly for charity, notably at Toynbee Hall, a welfare organisation for the poor and victims of alcohol and drugs, and his wife assisted him in this. In 1975 he was appointed Commander of the British Empire and Hobson, who accompanied him to Buckingham Palace, made it evident that it was a great pleasure that her husband’s public service had been recognised.
You could argue that she played her greatest role after she had retired. Hobson stood by her husband and they were to remain married until her death. The final scene.
No apologies. I was and still am her greatest fan.
His Lordship (1932)
For Love of You (1933)
Eyes of Fate (1933)
The Path of Glory (1934)
Two Hearts in Waltz Time (1934)
Badger’s Green (1934)
Strange Wives (1934)
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934)
Life Returns (1935)
Rendezvous at Midnight (1935)
Oh, What a Night (1935)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Werewolf of London (1935)
Chinatown Squad (1935)
The Great Impersonation (1935)
Secret of Stamboul (1936)
August Weekend (1936)
Tugboat Princess (1936)
No Escape (1936)
Jump for Glory (1937)
The Drum (1938)
This Man Is News (1938)
Q Planes (1939)
The Silent Battle (1939)
The Spy in Black (1939)
This Man in Paris (1939)
Atlantic Ferry (1941)
Unpublished Story (1942)
The Adventures of Tartu aka Sabotage Agent (1943)
The Years Between (1946)
Great Expectations (1946)
The Small Voice (1947)
Blanche Fury (1948)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Train of Events (1949)
The Interrupted Journey (1949)
The Rocking Horse Winner (1950)
The Card (1952)
Who Goes There! (1952)
Meet Me Tonight (1952)
The Voice of Merrill (1952)