April 1st is the anniversary of the tragic death in 1930 of 20-year-old actress Miss Nita Foy, at Twickenham Film Studios. The inquest into her death was reported in the Gloucester Citizen, 5 April 1930, in an article that raises more questions than answers. Despite the verdict, other accounts reveal that the coroner was quite critical of the director and studio manager. The details of the brandy, the mice and the director overrun with thousands of chorus girls convey the almost circus-like chaos of a film studio in the Thirties. They also add to the pathos of the young
actress’s untimely death.
Gloucester Citizen, 5 April 1930
A SHEET OF FLAME
YOUNG ACTRESS’S DEATH
TRAGEDY IN A FILM STUDIO
A verdict of accidental death “without any rider or censure” was returned at the inquest at Richmond (Surrey) Coroner’s Court today on Miss Anita Fay Tipping, the young London actress, whose stage name was Nita Foy, and who was found with her crinoline dress in flames at Twickenham film studios last Tuesday. Her dress caught fire in a dressing room while she was waiting her call before the camera.
Mr. Ernest Edelston, uncle of Miss Tipping, said her father and mother lived in America. When he and his wife heard she was in hospital, Mrs Edelston went immediately to see her. She said: “Don’t worry, auntie.” She died half an hour after speaking those words.
PUT DRESSING GOWN AROUND HER
Mr. Donald Esmé Clayton Calthrop, the actor, said Miss Tipping looked tired when she came along from the Piccadilly Theatre, and he took her along to his room at the Studio for a brandy and soda. He was going to call out to the property master for a siphon of soda, when there was a flash behind him.
Turning, he saw Miss Tipping was a sheet of flame. He looked round to see what he could do. “I think one’s brain stops at these moments, and I took off my dressing gown to put it around it.” He noticed her skirt was still burning, and he yelled out in the passage. There was the usual form of guard surrounding the radiator in the room, said Mr. Calthrop. Miss Tipping was wearing a gauzy kind of material which he believed was known as tulle. In bending down, owing to the length of the dress, the material must have brushed across the radiator.
MIGHT HAVE BEEN PREVENTED
Answering Mr. Joseph Owen, an inspector of factories, who asked, “Would the accident, in your opinion, have been prevented if there had been a fairly substantial fireguard in front of the radiator, not too close to the filament?” Mr Calthrop said, “Oh, yes, I should say so.”
Mr. George Samuelson, a director of the picture, said when he heard screaming it flashed through his mind that some white mice, which they had there, had got loose, and that that was why the girls were screaming.
Asked if he took any steps to see that there was no other chance of a girl being burnt, Mr. Samuelson said, “No, I thought that was for the studio. It was absolutely outside my province.” He said sometimes he had 3,000 girls to look after, and that there were people whose duty it was to do that.
Mr. James Carter, manager of the studio, said in future they would have special guards made.
The Untimely Death of Miss Rita Foy