Famous family fled from blaze

BLAZE: Some of the damage to the Dotrice family home in Tredington, near Shipston, 50 years ago.

BLAZE: Some of the damage to the Dotrice family home in Tredington, near Shipston, 50 years ago.

First published in Past by

THE Journal reported how a noted theatrical family escaped from a raging house fire 50 years ago.

On January 10, 1964, the paper told how the wife and three children of Shakespearean actor Roy Dotrice survived a fire at their home in Tredington, near Shipston.

Among the children to escape was Michele Dotrice, who went to experience many on-screen calamities as Betty, the wife of disaster-prone Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em.

At the time of the fire, the 16- year-old was already well known for playing Little Nell in a television adaptation of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.

Along with her Mother, Michele helped to rescue her two younger sisters, including Karen, who within months of the fire would find global fame with her starring role as Jane in Mary Poppins.

Describing the night of drama, the Journal’s report said: “Mrs Dotrice and Michele got out in their night clothes with the two younger children, Karen (eight) and Yvette (three), by jumping through a window and onto the lawn.

“Michelle passed the children through the window to her mother. Their path to the staircase was barred by flames and smoke in the lounge, on the first floor. The house dated from the 17th century.

“The fire started in a fireplace in one corner of the room and spread to the window frame and floor, nearly half of which had burned away.

“Severe damage was done to the bedroom above, in which Michelle had slept until shortly before the fire, and to the study on the ground floor.”

After recieving news of the fire, Mr Dotrice rushed home from London and took his family to stay at Avoncliffe, a house near Stratford then occupied by the founding director of the RSC, Peter Hall.

Speaking to the Journal after the fire, a “badly shaken” Mrs Dotrice revealed how Michele owed her life to a chance holiday encounter just two days before. She described how the family had been staying in a hotel in Madeira when they met survivors of the Lakonia, a cruise ship that had suffered a fire and sunk near the island the previous year, with the loss of 128 lives.

She said: “It was this that made us change our sleeping arrangements when we realised what a terrible thing it was for people to be cut off by fire and smoke.

“Thank God we did, otherwise Michelle would have been trapped in her bedroom.”

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