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Sunday Wilshin - Muses & The Beau Monde

Sunday Wilshin by Bassano Ltd, late 1932

Sunday Wilshin (1905–1991) was a British actress and radio producer; the successor to George Orwell on his resignation in 1943.

She was born in London as Mary Aline Wilshin (corroborated by publicly available birth records; other sources give Sunday/ Sundae Mary Aline Horne (-) Wilshin) and educated at the Italia Conti Stage School.

A close friend of the actress Cyllene Moxon and of author (and former actress) Noel Streatfeild. All three, having shared a dressing-room at the Kingsway theatre during the run of a light comedy called Yoicks (1924), became regular fixtures on the London night-club scene and remained friends for life.

In connection with the bright young people, Wilshin commonly appears in accounts of a gathering whereat she was assaulted by the silent film actress Brenda Dean Paul. “a girl called Sunday Wilshin” who was assaulted by Brenda Dean Paul at Arthur Jeffress’ "Red and White Party".

”At about half past one a girl had to be prevented from pulling the hair of another woman who was attempting to get herself a drink. Half-full glasses and bottles stood all around, under chairs, behind curtains, under tables. The girl was wearing only a choker of pearls and a large red and white spotted handkerchief  fixed around her middle by a thin white belt. People wearing more clothes found it almost unbearably hot."

She was a child actress, appearing regularly in the West End from the age of ten. Throughout the twenties and thirties she was much in demand, both for her good looks and her skills as a character actress. By the 1930s Wilshin was a familiar face on the British screen as well as on stage (she was in Hitchcock’s Champagne in 1928 but her film career only really took off with the advent of talkies). She appeared in 21 films from 1922 to 1938, most comedy, drama and romance.

In 1932 Selene Moxon had tired of the social whirl of London. In July Selene and Sunday acquired a cottage in Little Saling in Essex. They became became part of the Gurdjieff/Fourth Way study group set up by Maurice Nicholl, two miles away, at Lakes Farm, just north of Braintree. The mysticism and search for spiritual peace that characterised these communities had a particular attraction then, as it did in the 1960s, to those seeking a way out of addiction and many more who were just no longer fulfilled by the endless round of late-night excesses.

However, like Streatfield, she had ambitions above and beyond looking decorative. In 1938 she turned her attention to radio drama and began a long association with the BBC, working firstly as an actress then as a producer. She is best known for her work with the overseas service, making documentaries and a series of interviews with writers and artists.

"She was kind, encouraging and fun, often wearing a dusty pink velvet trouser suit which was shocking at the time as the BBC did not allow its female staff to wear trousers (sic). Also a sarong at times. Sunday did her own thing of course."

She replaced George Orwell as the BBC’s specialist on India  and was responsible for the corporation’s output during the sensitive run-up to Independence and Partition. Some of Orwell’s last correspondence is to Wilshin – she was trying to persuade him to contribute a talk on poetry.

"Though Miss Moxon was around, Sunday’s close friend was Rosemary Sands, another BBC producer."

Popular with her staff, she was fondly, if a little patronisingly, remembered by Hallam Tennyson (another Indian specialist).

“Our boss was the delightfully dotty Sunday Wilshin. Sunday was one of the few women executives I have met who enjoyed her ‘feminine’ qualities and who made use of them in her work “.  

He noted her continued preference for a kiss-curl hairstyle and felt she was still a Pre-War starlet at heart.

"Hairstyle just the same – she said it came back into fashion every 20 years so no point in changing it!"

Not exclusively tied to film and radio work, she wrote books and, with Selene, edited and proof-read the work of others. She also made a brief venture into television –  presenting “Asian Club” in 1955.

She died in 19 March 1991, in Chelmsford.



Sunday Willshin

Youth at the Helm (TV Movie) Dorothy Wilson (a typist), 1938

First Night Rosalind Faber, 1937

Murder by Rope Lucille Davine, 1936

Someday Betty, 1935

Borrowed Clothes Lottie Forrest, 1934

As Good As New Rosa, 1933

To Brighton with Gladys Daphne Fitzgerald, 1933

Collision Mrs. Oliver, 1932

Marry Me Ida Brun, 1932

The Love Contract Mrs. Savage, 1932

Nine Till Six Judy, 1932

Dance Pretty Lady Irene, 1931

George Orwell. Orwell spoke on many BBC and other broadcasts, but no recordings are known to survive.

Michael and Mary Violet Cunliffe, 1931

An Obvious Situation Cella Stuart, 1930

Bedrock (Short) Bella, 1930

(uncredited), 1928

Hutch Stirs 'em Up Mrs. Grey, 1923

Petticoat Loose Nurse, 1922

Pages of Life Phyllis Mainwaring, 1922

The Green Caravan Maisie Gay, 1922



Low, Rachael. The History of British Film. Volume VII. Routledge, 1997.

Sutton, David R. A chorus of raspberries: British film comedy 1929–1939. University of Exeter Press, 2000.


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