Everyone at BROS TC was deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of Marion McLaren. Thanks to our Patron, Alan Titchmarsh, for putting together this lovely tribute with the help of Marion’s son, Neale.

Marion Jean Hall was born on 10th March 1934 in Middlesex Hospital Annexe. Her parents were John Edward Hall and Florence May Hall who were both in service. Her father was a Head gardener at Hanover Lodge, an estate on the edge of Regents Park owned by Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Beatty – Marion and I had gardening in common as well as amateur dramatics! She grew up in a bungalow in the grounds of Hanover Lodge, which led to her having a very eventful childhood before, during and after the war.

At the beginning of the war Marion and her mother were taking a stroll across Regent’s Park when the War’s 1st air-raid warning sounded. They had to hurry to safety of the nearest shelter. As they entered from one end, a beautiful lady came in from the other, and they met in the middle. Marion sat down opposite this smart lady in the narrow shelter. She was fascinated by this lovely lady dressed in a beautiful pale blue hat and coat. As Marion was not afraid to talk to anyone (as we all know so well) she commented on the lady’s “nice beads”. The lady just smiled at her (the beads she had referred to were real pearls). The siren didn’t last long and when everybody went to leave, they all curtsied and bowed. Marion’s mother explained that the lovely lady sitting opposite them was actually The Queen – later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Marion met the Royal Family many times but never so close as that evening in 1939 in that narrow little air-raid shelter.

As Lord and Lady Beatty were extremely high up in society, they regularly had parties at Hanover Lodge. Lots of famous people visited the main house. But as Marion’s Father was the Head Gardener she wasn’t allowed to go to the Main House, unless invited. This led to her hiding in the garden, watching the guests and copying their dancing, which fuelled her life-long love of dance. As a 6-year-old child during the war Marion was evacuated to Amersham, which was NOT a very good time in her life after the adventures at Hanover Lodge.
After the war, she and her mother moved to a luxury flat that came with her father’s new job at Fair Acres in Roehampton, as Hanover Lodge had been used for the War effort. Marion became great friends with a neighbour who was Margaret Lockwood (TOOTS) which led to Marion going to Drama School in the evenings. She went on to become a dancer doing Pageants with Ralph Reader CBE, and appeared at the Royal Albert Hall. Marion’s father did not want his daughter to go on the stage and insisted she go to secretarial college to study shorthand typing in order to get a proper job. She became a book-keeper and shorthand typist, a career she pursued until she had her children.

When Marion was on the rebound from a breakup from her fiancé, her friend Lily asked her to go to a dance with her. Her father thought it was too soon after the breakup and told her she was only allowed to spend the evening at Lily’s house. Marion, as a bit of a rebel, went to the dance, where she met her husband to be, Jack Neale McLaren. He was home on leave at his mum’s house in Putney, while doing his National Service in the RAF. At the dance, their eyes met, and it was love at first sight. He offered to walk her home, but he could only walk her to her friend’s house, as she was not supposed to be at the dance at all! Jack wasn’t put off and continued to communicate, whilst stationed at Kinross Scotland. When he was de-mobbed they courted and were married at St Margret’s Church Putney on 1st September 1956. They were a dedicated loving couple and had Neale in 1959 and Andrew in 1962, completing the family.
Marion supported her husband throughout his career in running several companies. She also became a Cub Mistress at 2nd Whitton Scout Group for many years and supported both her sons in their scouting activities.

When Neale and Andrew left home, Marion missed her acting and joined Barnes and Richmond Operatic Society which is where I met her in 1972 when we were partnered in ‘Half a Sixpence’. ‘Oooh!’ said my dad when my parents came to see the show. ‘You got the best-looking one didn’t you?’ And that was one of Marion’s greatest gifts – a face that lit up when she smiled, and which stage and screen audiences warmed to. She joined Teddington Theatre Club, participating in many shows at Hampton Hill, and was a talented seamstress which led to her becoming a wardrobe mistress. Marion was a great storyteller, as we can all remember.
It wasn’t always advisable to ask her how she was, since without fail she would regale you with the various vicissitudes of her health, and the functionality – or otherwise – of her range of kitchen appliances. But she had a great gift for taking teasing with good grace and would laugh and say ‘You are awful’ when we’d jolly her out of her latest series of trials and tribulations.

After returning to the world of am-dram she pursued her ambition to become an Equity member and achieved it under her maiden name of Jean Hall, which led to Film parts in Calendar Girls, 4 Weddings and a Funeral and many TV appearances, in several Only Fools and Horses episodes, EastEnders, and numerous adverts on TV and in magazines.

For over 40 years Marion appeared in many amateur shows, throwing herself into everything she did on the stage and behind the scenes. If anyone lived up to the title of ‘Trouper’ it was Marion. She was involved with the Towns Women’s Guild and a monthly Luncheon Club, and was still doing a weekly “Keep Fit Class” right up until the time she went into hospital in May 2019. After Jack passed away Marion bravely ventured off, on many singles holidays including a European river cruise. Against all odds and numerous illnesses she enjoyed her time as a wife, mother, grandmother, and a great grandmother up to the age of 86. She had an outstanding zest for life and will be greatly missed by all who knew her. Rest in peace Marion. And remember to take your tap shoes.

Alan Titchmarsh (with help from Neale McLaren)