(Helen) Mary Malcolm was born on 15 March 1918 and brought up in Scotland, the daughter of Sir Ian Malcolm, Chief of the Clan Malcolm, and his wife, Jeanne, daughter of the famous Lily Langtry, who had been mistress of Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. For many years Mary thought she was the granddaughter of a King, but her mother’s father was actually Prince Louis of Battenberg, (father of Earl Mountbatten). After a time at the French Lycee in London, she lived in Germany, France and Belgium and studied painting and acting. In 1937 she married Sir Basil Bartlett, actor and playwright and had three daughters.
Working for the BBC
In 1942 the BBC was looking for women to replace male broadcasters who had been conscripted and she was recruited as a continuity announcer for the Overseas and Forces programmes, becoming a “Forces Favourite” and receiving numerous letters from soldiers on active service, to all of whom she replied.
Mary Malcolm became one of Britain’s most famous faces in the 1950s when she was chosen in 1948 to be one of the trio of BBC Television announcers who told viewers about forthcoming programmes and filled in gaps between programmes, which were all broadcast live. When there was a breakdown we had to apologise and tell viewers that efforts were being made to rectify the fault. There were little films shown to fill gaps, of a potter at his wheel, horses ploughing a field and a kitten playing with wool. On one occasion the interruption went on so long that Mary suggested everyone might make themselves a cup of tea.
At the beginning the BBC provided an allowance for a single dress per year and Mary had to provide everything else, including makeup, and clothes suitable for the type of programme she was announcing. The official BBC edict called for an evening gown simple or elaborate according to whether the programmes are straightforward or of specially grand moment. It would not be the thing to have a woman announcer introducing a Sunday religious programme in a ravishing gown, nor would it do to have a gala variety show introduced by a woman wearing a skirt and jumper. Mary and Sylvia Peters were not allowed to wear black, white, checks or stripes, which did not transmit well in black and white. Later they were allowed three dresses a year and a hair allowance., and could borrow jewellery from the Paris House Mary was famous for her spoonerisms, particularly with the weather forecast with its drain and rizzle and shattered scowers.
Life in St John’s Wood
After her first marriage was dissolved in 1960 she married Colin McFadyean, a senior partner at solicitors Slaughter and May and perhaps one of the first international business lawyers, and lived in Queens Grove where they developed a delightful garden. Mary was Chairman of the Friends of St Marylebone Housing Association for many years and was a friend to all the tenants and particularly encouraged the provision of gardens in their blocks of flats and converted houses. She wrote an autobiography in 1956 (“Me”).
With thanks to Alberto D’Cruz for additional information