Accountants, orchestras and Stella Ashley
A biography of production manager Stella Ashley
When Stella Ashley took a job as junior secretary to a firm of chartered accountants in Brighton some 20 years ago, the last thing she expected was that it would put her on the road to a career in television, but that is precisely what did happen. One of the firm’s clients was the Brighton Philharmonic Society (a semiamateur orchestra at the time) and when they eventually decided to form a fully professional orchestra Stella joined them as assistant organising secretary which involved touring with the orchestra (and instruments) round the South Coast, regularly visiting such places as Portsmouth, Hastings, Folkestone a.s.o. Five years later Stella moved to London for personal reasons and was offered a job with Ross Productions, a small new firm, engaged in making L.P. records of plays, and recording programmes for Radio Luxembourg mainly producing audience participation shows which were recorded in large theatres all over the country. These included shows like ‘People are Funny’, ‘Shilling a Second’ (Patrick Allen read a margarine commercial in this), etc.
From Fusion 31, published August 1963
Stella’s work now involved being production manager, production secretary, bringing on the prizes, sweeping the stage, making the props (she makes a special good line in custard pies) and acting as general liaison between the clients, agencies and the production company.
Five years of this and another turning point in Stella’s career came. The time – 1955, the scene: a party given by some BBC sound boys on the occasion of their leaving the BBC to join Associated-Rediffusion. The cast: Daphne Shadwell and Lloyd Williams, who had already joined the company, and Stella, the plot: Lloyd Williams refuses to release his assistant Daphne Shadwell to become a trainee director until she has found a replacement for herself. Stella seems a likely prospect and Daphne proceeds with some inspired hard sell. A few minutes’ conversation with Lloyd Williams and the deal is made. Stella agrees to start in a month’s time, in fact it turned out to be the very first day Associated-Rediffusion moved to Television House. She has never looked back since.
Stella Ashley’s career with the company has been quite a remarkable one, at least for a woman.
At first she worked for 18 months as Lloyd Williams’ P.A. which entailed office work during the day and rushing down to Studio 7 or 8 for productions such as ‘Visitor of the Day’ – twice a week, then, after another spell of routine, back to the studio for ‘And so to Bed’. A spell as manager of outside broadcasts followed (it was rather an innovation for a woman to do this job) – back to Ll.W. first as his personal assistant, and then, when he was made director of production, she became manager of the production section, a post she held for about four and a half years. Now – since Ll.W. left the company a year ago she has been working as manager, quiz programmes – completing the circle of her experiences back to the audience participation shows in which she first started. (Minus custard pies, of course.)
Listening to Stella in my office it seemed hard to believe that she had already devoted some 20 odd years of her life to show business. Moreover, her achievements, her wealth of experience, her executive position, appear to be in complete contrast to the quiet, unassuming person I found her to be.
Soft spoken, with a warm and ready smile, she soon dispels one’s inevitable image of the orthodox career woman determinedly asserting herself in a man’s world. ‘I never found being a woman a handicap in my job’, she said, ‘On the contrary – I feel in many instances it has been a great help’. Analysing this statement we decided that the reasons were obvious; a woman is far better in matters of diplomacy and her power of intuition is the envy of every man. Maybe it is looked down upon by the pure logic addicts but – as every punter will agree – the right kind of intuition is worth more than the biggest pile of form books.
About the author
We have not been able to find out anything about Anita Hawthorne. If you worked with her at Rediffusion (or elsewhere), please let us know more in the comments.
2 thoughts on “Accountants, orchestras and Stella Ashley”
Stella Ashley was my father’s cousin. Her mother, my grandmother’s sister, Lilian, had married one Richard Ashley, who had been in Concert Party after the First World War, so there was show business of a sort in the family. In the inter-war years ‘Uncle Dick’, as he was known, had also been a travelling salesman in (amongst other places) Pembrokeshire, and my father spent a number of school summer holidays with him there. This was a rare and precious treat for a poor little lad in the 1920s, especially as Uncle Dick had a motor car, almost unheard of then. As a result my father was close to his uncle and Aunt Lilian and, of course, his cousin Stella. All these people are long gone now, but I can remember vividly Aunt Lilian and Stella’s occasional visits to my father and their (to me and my sisters, anyway) grand bearing and speech – not to mention the fine tailoring they both wore. Stella was very kindly and even as a young boy I could sense her affectionate manner with my father, and the way she always called him by his given name, Norman, which nobody else ever did. What memories this article has brought back to me, and I think the piece captures well Cousin Stella’s charm. And the photograph; my father never kept a picture of her and I suppose it is now well over fifty years since I saw her last, but that is exactly Stella as I remember her. I am in my late sixties and I still live in Brighton, but the family that remembered Stella is sadly mostly passed away now. Stella was an only child and had no children of her own, so there are few who would remember her. This piece has evoked far off, but nevertheless warm and fond, memories from my boyhood. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, so the corny saying goes, but this time I think it was.
I have her suit case Stella Ashley 203 Drake House Dolphin Square London S W 1