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Actress who married New Theatre boss
4:00pm Thursday 3rd July 2014 in News
Accomplished actress, singer and dancer, Erica Yorke, who appeared many times in shows at the New Theatre, Oxford, has died aged 83.
She also appeared in the Royal Variety Performance in London and in the long-running television soap, Crossroads.
Born in Berlin to a German mother and Norwegian father on December 23, 1929, she and her mother came to England as refugees in 1940 and moved in with the famous composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and his first wife Adeline.
Her mother looked after the house and, in return, Vaughan Williams taught the young Erica English, got her British nationality, helped train her voice, sent her to acting and dancing schools and gave her sound advice: “Never sing in the bath, only amateurs sing in the bath.”
Her mother later returned to Germany where she died at the age of 87. Her marriage had been annulled during the war because she was Jewish. Her husband was last heard of on the Russian side of Berlin.
Meanwhile, the young Erica was carving out a theatrical and TV career for herself in England.
Her first big chance came when she was 15 when a principal dancer pulled a muscle on the set at the Lime Grove studios just before a TV show. She had learned the routine thoroughly during rehearsals as a member of the chorus and stepped in to take the part.
In 1951, she received a letter inviting her to take part in the Royal Variety Performance at the Victoria Palace in London, attended by the then Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) and Princess Margaret as King George VI was too ill to attend.
Miss Yorke was so surprised she assumed it must be a mistake and sent the letter back.
It was no mistake – she opened the show as the youngest solo artist in the cast.
Soon afterwards, she was chosen to play the nightclub hostess in Noel Coward’s Ace of Clubs, which ran for a year in London. Many other performances in plays, revues and musicals followed.
She appeared at the New Theatre, Oxford, many times. She played George Formby’s daughter in Too Young to Marry there in 1955, and starred in numerous pantomimes, often as the Principal Boy.
She also appeared in pantomime elsewhere – she played Tommy Tucker in Humpty Dumpty at the Coventry Theatre in 1968, appearing several times with 18 stitches in a gash on her head after a car crash.
Her appearance in Crossroads, the TV soap centred on a Midlands’ motel, came in 1970 when she played the part of Channel swimmer Lois Waters.
She was filmed training for the Channel swim supposedly in the Crossroads swimming pool. In fact, the shoot took place in the outdoor pool at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre at Headington.
Although known as Erica Yorke professionally, she was in private life Erica Dorrill, wife of John Dorrill, managing director of the New Theatre. They married in 1959 and lived in Kidlington with their daughter, Jacqueline.
After Mr Dorrill’s death, mother and daughter moved to Great Missenden, Bucks and emigrated to Cartagena, Spain, in 1981, where Miss Yorke died on December 4, 2013 from complications following a fall.
She leaves her daughter Jacqueline, 53, and granddaughter Tanya, 16.
This week’s obituaries:
4:00pm Thursday 24th July 2014
A FORMER city education official of more than 30 years who helped set up some of Oxford’s most recognised institutions has died aged 89.
4:00pm Thursday 24th July 2014
A WOMAN who was twice elected Mayor of Witney and served as a councillor for more than 10 years has died aged 68.