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Vera Day, A Kid For Two Farthings

November 5, 2011
by Matthew Sweet

Vera Day knows horror when she sees it. In more than sixty years of movie acting she has been strangled by a gurning Boris Karloff, infected by the alien contagion of Quatermass II and involved in the writhing pseudopodia of The Woman-Eater (tagline: “SEE THE WOMAN EATER ENSNARE THE BEAUTIES OF TWO CONTINENTS!”) She survived all these terrifying experiences to give a grandstanding speech on the rules of poker in Guy Ritchie’s gangster flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s one of the most memorable moments in the picture, and she did it in one take.

Vera, like her contemporary, Barbara Windsor, is a product of that post-war moment in which an unmistakably East London accent was no longer a bar to being a movie glamour girl. Other blonde bombshells of the period had to mind their language: Diana Dors submerged any trace of Swindon under a sassy transatlantic drawl; the Stockport-born Sabrina had to be content with stooging silently beside the comedian Arthur Askey. (Although the fan mags declared that the 1955 trackside melodrama Stock Car would be the first to allow audiences to hear her speak, the producers broke the deal, and dubbed her.) But nobody silenced or elocuted Vera Day. She sounded like a girl from Forest Gate. Triumphantly, she still does.

“Every girl was a glamour girl in those days, whether she was blonde, brunette or redhead,” she reflects. “It was obligatory to have the 37-22-24.” She traces the hour-glass shape in the air. I suspect the same calculations were made by Jack Hylton, the band-leader and impresario who plucked her from a hairdressing salon and put her into a show at the London Hippodrome – and by the movie director Val Guest, who first put her on the big screen in Dance Little Lady (1954).

She soon became one of British cinema’s most prolific showbiz blondes. At the 1955 Royal Variety Show she shared the bill with Morecambe and Wise, Gracie Fields and Alma Cogan. She spent a season crooning for the diners at the Edmundo Ros supper club on Regent Street – and much longer performing live TV dramas and comedies. (“By raising an eyebrow,” said The Times of Vera’s turn in the title role of The Red-Headed Blonde, “she can put down an opponent as if with a feather dipped in acid.”) The film work also came briskly. In Too Many Crooks (1959) she’s the moll in a gang of thieves led by George Cole and Sid James – in one brilliant scene, she stuffs fistfuls of stolen banknotes down the front of her dress, as a distracted Terry-Thomas attempts to yank them out again. In Fun at St Fanny’s (1956), she is a conniving actress who infiltrates a private school attended by a very little Ronnie Corbett and the agreeably horse-faced comic Cardew Robinson. In A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), Carol Reed’s strange symbolist drama set among the stalls and shops of Fashion Street, she fights Diana Dors for the attentions of an East End bodybuilder. Reed, Vera recalls, would instruct actors by performing the lines himself. “It was strange, watching him being me, and then Primo Carnera, this huge Italian wrestler.”

The press took an interest in her, too. Picture Show reported, quite erroneously, that she had been injured in a car crash on the way to the Danziger studios. (A merciful deliverance if it had happened, given the quality of Danziger productions.) The Mirror asserted, more accurately, that a German film company had offered her a £15,000 contract to play a stripper. (“It’s one thing to give them rocket bases,” they thundered, “but that’s no reason for Vera to show Deutschland Alles.”) Her separation from her first husband, a Charles Atlas model and masseur called Arthur Mason, attracted the attention of the gossip columnists – as did the details of his brushes with the law. While they were married, however, the copy was good: “Given a couple of extra inches all round,” exclaimed the Daily Mirror in April 1960, ‘Miss Day (husband Arthur Mason) might begin to challenge Miss Monroe (husband Arthur Miller)”

Mason wasn’t much of a Miller. But Vera did survive a skirmish with Marilyn Monroe. She had a small part in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), and Monroe saw to it that it was as small as possible. “Marilyn insisted I wore a brown wig,” she remembers. “I’m a blonde and she didn’t want any competition at all.” But an attempt to sabotage her costume seems to have backfired. “Marilyn had this one white dress to wear which if you’ve seen the film you’ll know was very figure-hugging. One day the designer Beatrice Dawson called me to say they were making me a new dress. This dress when I got it clung to me like I couldn’t tell you. It was flesh-coloured and it looked as if I was nude. It was a dynamite dress. And I walked on that set and she nearly had a heart attack.”

Vera Day is now in her late seventies. I am pleased to report that she remains resolutely, furiously, ineluctably blonde.

Vera Day (left) with rival blonde Dian Dors (right) in A Kid for Two Farthings.

Carol Reed’s film of Wolf Mankowitz’s novel was filmed on location in Spitalfields in 1954.

Vera Day in 2006

portrait of Vera Day copyright © Definitive Images

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011

    She’s more beautiful now!

    I’d forgotten that ’50’s style for very high very pointy boobs!

  2. Louis permalink
    November 7, 2011

    I lived in Claremont Road, Forest Gate, from 1946 – 1968 and as a young boy quite often used to see Vera Day this lovely blonde lady walk past our house, but never new who she was until I got a bit older, and then went to see every film she was in, including “A Kid For Two Farthings”….Wow!!! did I grow up quick. She looks great would love to say hello again.

  3. March 30, 2012

    For many years I have been a great Vera Day fan since the late seventies with her famous tv & films shows including A Kid For Two Farthings,A Great Day,Dance Little Lady,Stitch in Time,Hell Drivers,Quatermass 2,Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,And The Same To You,
    Saturday Night Out,Dixon Of Dock Green,The Saint & Too Many Crooks.

    Vera is the lovely lady from the silver screen from the fabulous fifties & the swinging sixties with the famous stars such as Sidney James,Norman Wisdom,William Hartnell,Liz Fraser,
    Tommy Cooper,Patrick McGoohan,Jack Warner,Sean Connery,Dora Bryan,Diana Dors,
    Terry-Thomas,Roger Moore,Arthur Mullard,Vinnie Jones,Lenny McLean and Joan Sims.

    Vera Day is The Great British Actress icon for many years.

    Terry Christie
    From Sunderland,Tyne & Wear

  4. frank hadley permalink
    February 24, 2014

    love the short hair reminds me of bardot.

  5. Shirley Collier permalink
    March 12, 2016

    I remember Vera Day in her Arthur Mason days. My memory might be playing tricks but I think I remember seeing her at Larkswood swimming pool which was popular in the 50s. I am pleased to know she is still doing well.

  6. Agnes Daly permalink
    April 2, 2016

    Vera Day is the aunt of my very close school friend Pamela Nichols, who lived in Sutton Surrey. I once met her at my friend’s house. She was very lovely to talk to.
    I have been trying to contact Pamela Nichols for many years now and even wrote to Vera Day on facebook, but got nowhere. Maybe Vera or Pamela will read this and get in touch. Pamela and I both went to Ridge Road School in Sutton Surrey. It would be lovely to hear from either of them.

  7. Tony Lampert permalink
    April 9, 2017

    Just saw Vera Day tonight in Too Many Crooks with Terry Thomas, Sid James, George Cole and Bernard Bresslaw. I love these movies I missed when I was younger and they appear nightly on Talking Pictures TV which is like a goldmine for movie buffs, particularly British films of the 1930’s to 1950’s. Vera, like Liz Fraser, Joan Sims, Diana Dors, Joan Collins etc are a joy to watch.

  8. Ben Feather permalink
    September 20, 2017

    I wanted to know if anyone could help me get message to Miss Day ? I was told by my grandma that the Arthur Mason she was married to in the 50s was actully my great uncal and wanted to know if it was true or not.


  9. Stuart Horry permalink
    July 2, 2018

    Remember me Ivy’s son ? I would love to talk to you, have not seen you for 35 yrs ?
    07889 706901

  10. christopher sapsford permalink
    May 15, 2020

    My mother Anna Batt was good friends with Vera when they worked together at the Co-op in the early 1950’s before she starred in films.Vera will be upset to learn my mother passed away three years ago aged 84,my mum often talked about Vera with much fondness.

  11. April 7, 2021

    Hi – i am trying to see if Ben Feather is still on here as I am also related to Arthur Mason and believe him to be my grandad.
    He had my mother in 1951 so not sure if this was before or during Vera (awkward)

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