Tribute to Angela Hughes, a former patient of our Wellbeing Centre who had a part as a child actor in 1958 Hollywood Movie, Inn of the Sixth HappinessPublished on: 26/07/2019
Angela Hughes was, simply, a lovely lady. (Here she’s pictured with our Wellbeing nurse, Lesley). She loved coming to the Wellbeing Centre at Wirral Hospice St John’s. The therapies and treatments helped her live as well as possible with her COPD but, most of all, she looked forward to sitting with people, like herself, with various challenging conditions, and just chatting.
“They’re my friends and it’s great to spend time with them!” She said.
It would be fair to say that Angela was small in height but she more than made up for it in personality. She had a really interesting life story and I sat down with her at the time to hear a bit more about it.
She was born, Angela Woo, in St George’s Place in Liverpool, at the heart of the oldest Chinese community in Europe, known locally as Chinatown, to a Chinese father, who died when Angela was two, and an English mother, Alice.
She says that the title ‘child actor’ overstated her role in the Twentieth Century Fox film, made in 1958, Inn of the Sixth Happiness. The film attempts to highlight the real life bravery of legendary Chinese missionary, Gladys Aylward, (the film is not completely accurate according to Gladys herself), who was played in the film by famous Hollywood actress, Ingrid Bergman.
The film depicts a period in the Second World War when Gladys led a group of Chinese children, orphaned in the Sino-Japanese war, to safety over the mountains of China. It was actually shot in the mountains of North Wales and 100 Chinese children from Liverpool played the orphans.
Angela said, “There was an advert in The Liverpool Echo and mum put me forward. The rest, as they say, was history.”
It certainly was. It’s also the reason that many people who were children in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s remember the song, This Old Man, so fondly. “♫This Old Man, he played one, he played knick knack on my thumb… ♫”
Happy Days indeed!
So, following her Hollywood ‘debut’ young Angela was enrolled in Margaret Cox’s dancing school in Parliament Street in Liverpool. She showed plenty of promise and was soon off to the Pavilion Theatre in Rhyl for a regular acrobatic ladder act and more dancing.
“I was extremely flexible as a teenager and I was soon recruited to the Circus.”
Via Billy Smart’s and Bingley Hall in Manchester, Angela moved on to the famous Dick Chipperfield’s Circus.
In those days tamed animals were part of the attraction and Angela would ride horses, elephants, camels, and rhinos as part of bringing in the crowds all around the UK.
“I also performed acrobatics and a ballerina act. We’d have fun being chased by, and chasing, the clowns around the Circus ring. The famous ‘bucket of water into the crowd, which turns out to be confetti’ was one of my jobs and it did get a lot of laughs”.
Angela’s first marriage produced “five wonderful children” who she clearly adores. “They’re always there for me and, of course, the 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren keep me very busy.”
Her second marriage to the love of her life, Tommy Hughes, was a happy one. Tommy has his own place in music history as one of the original members of Merseybeat favourites, The Swinging Blue Jeans. Sadly, Tommy died in 2013.
Originally The Bluegenes were a skiffle group formed in 1956 and Tommy played the banjo. However National Service cut short Tommy’s growing career and he missed out on their later considerable success in the 1960’s. Have a listen to Tommy talking about his career here https://www.vincetracy.com/podcastfile/tommyhughesswingingbluejeans8october.wav
Tommy and Angela used to sing ‘live’ together in his later years which underlined Angela’s own wide-ranging talents.
It was emotional for Angela to reminisce so I asked her about Wirral Hospice St John’s and her experience here.
“People are so lovely, caring, understanding. No one judges you they’re just as helpful as can be. I love meeting the people who are in a similar position to my own. There’s a lot of sharing. We’re like our own little community. They’re all very special people.”
Angela used to be given breathing exercises and strategies to cope with breathlessness. She had some strong, heartfelt advice for young people,
“Don’t Smoke, it’s that simple. There are enough people now, who started in the time before we knew its real effects, who are living with the consequences.”
Wise Words from a wise lady! I asked her how she viewed her own situation and, in a throwback to her Liverpool roots, she said (maybe using a different word),
“Stuff happens! I’m just glad that I have my family and the people here at Wirral Hospice St John’s to help me to cope.”
We loved having you around Angela, we remember you fondly and thank you for sharing so much about your fascinating life!
Author: Billy Howard