Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Clarence of Prudhoe (NZ096630)

The scene illustrated above will be instantly recognisable to most of a certain age – especially those with so much as a passing interest in movies. It is, of course, a still from the film It’s A Wonderful Life, featuring James Stewart (right) and his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, played by Henry Travers. And what hardly anyone knows about the latter is that Mr Travers was born on the banks of the Tyne at Prudhoe in 1874.

There is much confusion over the origins of our Henry, though, with biographies having him born in various places. He spent many years in Berwick, so most claim he was born there; others say Ireland. But his birth was certainly registered in Hexham registration district (which, in 1874, included Prudhoe), so that would seem to clinch it for the good folk of our Tynedale town.

He was born ‘Travers John Heagerty’, but would barely have known the place of his birth. At a very early age (around 2) his family moved to the aforementioned Border town (Tweedmouth, actually), and he spent his childhood there, before training as an architect. He enjoyed amateur musical/dramatical roles from the 1890s onwards, briefly visiting Broadway in 1901. He returned to England thereafter to enjoy many successful years on the stage.

In 1917, he returned to the States, where he trod the boards prolifically for the next two decades on Broadway. In 1933, he appeared in his first movie, Reunion in Vienna; and in the years that followed cornered the market in roles very similar to that for which, ultimately, he would be best remembered: bumbling but loveable old men. His career seemed to peak in 1942 when he was nominated for an Oscar in Mrs Miniver.

However, he will be remembered and loved by most as the kindly, confused and ultimately life-saving guardian angel to Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, in that 1946 classic. So when it comes around again next Christmas, see if you can spot a hint of a North-East accent…

You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?

He retired in 1949 and died in 1965, aged 91.

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