Sunday, May 06, 2007

Winifred Holmes

Winifred Holmes, born Winifred Alice Young on 7 April 1903, was raised in India where her father worked for the Indian Civil Service. Educated at schools in Tasmania and England, she became a nursery teacher but soon abandoned this as a career to take up journalism as a nursery correspondent for the Evening Standard.

In 1933 she married John Bruce (Jack) Holmes (1902-1968), a documentary film director and producer.

She was a popular writer of poems in the early 1930s, some of which were published in Argosy, and her reputation meant she became part of a circle which included Eliot, Auden, Isherwood and Sitwell. Her verse was broadcast on the BBC and she narrated the verse commentary for the documentary Cover to Cover, which was the very first film to be broadcast over the BBC's new higher definition television channel from Alexandra Palace in November 1936.

During the war, she continued writing and became a talks producer for the BBC Home Service, working on Wartime Cookery Book and The Kitchen Front where she dreamed up nutritious meals that could be made from the unpromising ingredients available to the average household. Amongst the other topics she wrote about was 'Among the Nagas of Assam' (1939). Between 1943-45, she was also tasked by the Ministry of Information with assessing the morale of Londoners which she did by cycling around the East End, interviewing the local population about how they were coping with the bombing.

After the war, Winifred directed a number of film documentaries, including A Cruel Kindness (1948), Consider the Carpet (1948) and A Brother for Susan (1953) as well as scripting others. She wrote a number of children's books and the 'Simon and Sally' strip in Robin. She also contributed to the first 9 editions of Robin (1953-61) and may have contributed to later volumes. She also wrote books on Indian art and Asian films.

Holmes worked extensively in Asia with the Women's Council, originally founded in 1932; she was chairwoman of the organisation in the 1950s and 1960s. She lived in Singapore in the early 1960s and, in 1967, made a tour of 14 Asian countries. She was appointed OBE in the 1968 New Year's Honours list.

Following her husband's sudden death, she travelled to Nepal to make a film on family planning and was invited to return two years later; she drove from London to Nepal in a Land Rover to help set up a local documentary film unit in Kathmandu.

On 25 March 1972 she married Horace Owen H. (Sam) Coulson, an accountant in the City of London, and continued to work for the Women's Council until shortly before her second husband's death in 1992, aged 87. Winifred Holmes died in 1 September 1995, aged 92, survived by a son and two daughters.

An article by Suzy Menkes ('Asian Journey', The Times, 4 March 1968), described her as "a quiet, lucid woman with soft hair and a charming smile [for whom] public recognition for her years of voluntary service is far less important than the job itself."

Tekhi's Hunting. A story of the Naga Hills, illus. Jack Matthew. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1941.
The Voyage of the Indian Brig, illus. Jack Matthew. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1949.

First Baby. London & Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1939.
An Introduction to Indian Art. London, David Marlowe for the Royal India Society, 1948.
Seven Adventurous Women, illus. J. S. Goodall. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1953.
Orient. A survey of films produced in countries of Arab and Asian culture. London, British Film Institute, 1959.
She was Queen of Egypt. Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Shagaret el Dor, illus. Arthur Hagg. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1959.

Variation on a Metaphysic Theme and other poems. London, The Unicorn Press, 1933.
Peace Without Honour. London, Duckworth, 1937.

(Much of the above information was derived from an obituary in The Times, 20 September 1995.)

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