Hillcrest farm in Warton, North Warwickshire, was a rural place seemingly far removed from the bright lights of London and Milan. For a while after the war however, the farm was home to film actor Romilly Lunge.
Ernest Romilly Maundrel Lunge was my Great Uncle and was quite an interesting, but sometimes private, person. During the ‘70s after he’d moved to Ashby de la Zouch he allowed me to chat with him many times about his former pre war life acting on stage then in the movies, and learning to sing opera in the La Scala theatre in Milan.
The war, and earlier
He entered the war and joined the Royal Navy and ended up in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), working and with fine tuning sonar to better detect the German U-Boats. He told me the future Prince Phillip visited the Navel Base under a shroud of secrecy once, and showed the Greek Prince the highly secret research and development they were doing in anti submarine warfare. Also, he told me he’d been invited to secret cocktail soirées up the hill from Columbo. These were held by the famous celebrity staying on the island, none other than theatre and cinema playwright Noèl Coward.
He acted in films and on stage with quite a selection of well known actors and actresses before the war like Vivian Leigh, Lilli Palmer, Rex Harrison, Bruce Cabot, Enid Stamp Taylor, and was a character witness in the sad demise of Taylor. He became a romantic interest to Margarita Scott with skiing trips to the Swiss Alps in the ‘30s, and summers in North Devon at Woolercombe Bay. He spent a year living in Milan in latter half of 1929 and was voice trained briefly by the famous singer Caruso, then later with younger Beniamino Gigli. Hitchcock once interviewed him for the movie Secret Agent, and he made a film with the Sir Gerald du Maurier studios.
A changing Britain
After World War II he thought so many things had changed so much in war torn Britain, and that the Swiss Alps had now been discovered and invaded by the A listers as we’d call them today. The innocence had gone, he’d grown up, and I think he found his acting a bit embarrassing. Many fan letters from young admiring women did follow him though.
A move to Warwickshire
I remember him thinking about a movie back in the day called “Ow’d Bob” or something like that, had inspired him to be a farm and land owner – he never shied away from work or duty. After his quite eminent and prestigious father had died before the end of World War II, his mother moved back from Holland Park London to Ashby de la Zouch and took up residence there. So that brought Romilly to the vicinity and he chose the Hillcrest Farm, sister farm to Maypole Farm, as his home – just over the county in your very fine Warwickshire. It was 100 acres so quite large, and from 1947 to 1966 he ran the farm quite successfully. His mother died in, I think, 1948, so he hadn’t been there long. But he carried on and eventually sold up and moved to Ashby de la Zouch when I was around eight years old.
When we were growing up in the ‘60s, myself and my two brothers and parents spent time during school holidays down on the farm. Easter morning was spent in the hen coop looking for hidden Easter eggs. My father and his two brothers worked on the farm from around 1947 to around 1957 earning about 2/6p a week as farmhands.