Beryl King Obituary | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Beryl King

Beryl Mayes (stage name King) obituary by Irvine Wardle

Beryl Mayes, (stage name King), who died in July aged 90, was a multi-talented graduate of the wartime Central School of Speech and Drama whose happy career seems to have been guided by an internal compass.  Her parents sent her to a secretarial college with the plan of propelling her into haberdashery; but instead Beryl, aged 17, landed the job of secretary to Central's long-remembered partners Gwynneth Thurburn (Principal) and Vera Sargent (Registrar).  At that time the school had taken cover in the Albert Hall, where Beryl had the daily experience of watching flying bombs on their fiery track past the Albert Memorial towards Kensington High Street, or reading Stanislavsky under an office table. On being found adept of rustling up stage costumes from blackout material, her employers realized that “Missie” (as they called her) was no ordinary secretary and awarded her a Pivot scholarship on the teaching course.  There followed by another stroke of luck when three demobbed servicemen - Richard Pascoe, Nicholas Selby, and Richard Mayes rolled up for the acting course, making lifelong friends with Beryl who married Richard Mayes in 1950, a marriage that proved radiantly happy.  

Beryl and Richard became the nucleus of a touring company, the Pivot Players, who began their acting lives by presenting a six-play season at a church hall in Whitby - which, together with Crete, became one of Beryl’s favourite places.  After college, Richard’s career took off with engagements at the Bristol Old Vic, the Whitby Pavilion, and later the RSC. The arrival of her first daughter in 1952 briefly arrested Beryl’s professional life.  Although Richard was regularly in work, they were broke until Beryl - obeying her compass yet again - applied for a job as lecturer in the drama department of Trent Park College  (subsequently a part of Middlesex University).  She had so little belief in her chances that she left the completed application behind the clock where Richard discovered it, sent it off. She sailed through the interview and got the job which she held for 26 years, numbering such future artists as the playwright Peter Nichols and flm-maker Mike Figgis among her students.   Besides becoming Principle Lecturer at Trent, she directed many student shows, and engaged in the development of the college’s Performing Arts degree, and took a year out to take an MA in Shakespeare Studies at York University.

In1979 she left Trent and joined the theatre-in-education team at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, this being a first step towards abandoning a secure academic job for the precarious world of freelance acting, which she took two years later.  Mrs Malaprop,  Madame Arcati and Aunt Ada Doom were some of the parts she played on regional stages, besides repeated engagements with Richard at the Court Theatre in Christchurch, New Zealand.  While there she also completed a government survey into drama education, visiting schools in remote parts of the country in a midget aircraft.

 Nothing was more important to Beryl than her family, but she remained an actor through and through and never stopped auditioning until the end of her life, appearing in plays, advertisements and, most recently, a pop video.  She made no concessions to age.   She had no interest in playing an old lady.  When she walked it was with a firm tread.  When she sat it was with a straight back.  When she spoke it was with unclouded intelligence.  On her final visit to Crete, she swam in the sea twice a day and died suddenly on a sunlit morning, just before the end of a perfect and happy holiday.

Beryl is survived by her daughters, Susan and Penny, her grandchildren Holly, Kate and Sam, and by two great-grandchildren, Isla and Alby.